Governor Seeks Spending Boost For Education, State Eases Unemployment Benefits Rule

Jan 10, 2019

New Mexico Governor Calls For Greater Educational Spending - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's newly inaugurated Democratic governor is proposing a half-billion dollar increase in annual state spending on public education after years of austere budgeting by her Republican predecessor.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday released a budget proposal that calls for a 13 percent increase in general fund spending to $7.1 billion for the fiscal year starting on July 1.

The proposal includes a 6 percent pay increase for teachers and educational staff and higher minimum teacher salaries. The plan also seeks $110 million in new school spending directed at students from low-income and minority families.

The governor is seeking funding for 100 new positions in child protective services.

A booming oil sector in the southeast of the state has provided a windfall in income for state government.

Former New Mexico Gov. Martinez Defends Trump's Border WallAssociated Press

Former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is defending President Donald Trump's call for a border wall and says "it's disgusting" not to call the situation on the U.S. Mexico-border a crisis.

The Republican who was the nation's first Latina governor told Fox News on Thursday that Democrats are "beholden to the far left" and should just come to the table and agree to Trump's plan.

Martinez left office on Jan. 1 after two consecutive terms, during which she rarely appeared on cable news outlets as governor. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she denounced Trump for referring to Mexican immigrants as "rapists" but warmed up to him before she left office.

Democratic Party of New Mexico chair Marg Elliston says Martinez was an out of touch governor and now is just carrying water for Trump and "his wasteful wall."

Albuquerque Acupuncturist Accused Of Sex Assault On A ClientAssociated Press

Authorities say an acupuncturist in Albuquerque has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was one of his clients last year.

Albuquerque police say 69-year-old Megumi Hirayama is facing a charge of criminal sexual penetration.

It was unclear Thursday if Hirayama has a lawyer yet.

Police say an investigation began last August after a report was filed by the alleged victim.

DNA evidence was sent to the department's crime lab and police say it tested positive for a male DNA profile matching Hirayama's known profile.

Police say detectives are looking for any other possible victims.

New Mexico Land Boss Bans Killing Contests On Trust Land Associated Press

New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says she won't allow coyote killing contests on millions of acres of trust land managed by her agency.

Garcia Richard, who took office at the beginning of the year, signed an executive order Thursday to ban such animal killing contests on state trust land. The Democrat was joined at a news conference in Santa Fe by animal rights and wildlife advocates who consider the practice barbaric and ineffective.

Ranchers and outfitters from across the state have argued over the years that the contests are a tool for managing packs of coyotes that threaten livestock.

Legislative efforts to end the contests have come up short in recent years, but Albuquerque city councilors in 2018 passed a resolution condemning the contests and supporting legislation for a statewide ban.

New Mexico Eases Unemployment Benefits Rule Due To ShutdownAssociated Press

The federal government's partial shutdown has prompted New Mexico to waive the unemployment insurance rule's requirement that applicants search for work.

The Department of Workforce Solutions says an emergency provision issued Wednesday by Secretary-designate Bill McCamley waives the requirement for furloughed federal employees for up to 180 days.

The department says federal employees affected by the shutdown who are on furlough or are required to continue work without pay are eligible to file for unemployment.

However, the department says employees who receive unemployment benefits and also later receive a retroactive payment from their employer for the same time period will need to repay the benefits received.

According to the department, over 450 employees from the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, Interior and Health and Human Services have applied for benefits.

New Mexico Vets Applicants For Supreme Court Vacancies - Associated Press

Candidates to replace two retired members of the New Mexico Supreme Court by appointment of the governor are being vetted by a nominating commission.

The nominating commission scheduled interviews and opportunities for public comment Thursday at the Supreme Court. Applicants include former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, Administrative Office of the Courts Director Arthur Pepin and several district court judges.

Once nominations are made, Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will appoint replacements for recently retired Justices Charles Daniels and Petra Jimenez Maes. The appointed justices will stand for election in 2020 to serve out the remainder of terms that end in 2026.

Democratic Justice Michael Vigil won election to the state's highest court in November against a Republican incumbent. Vigil joined Justices Judith Nakamura and Barbara Vigil.

New Mexico To Participate In Early Food Stamps Option - Associated Press

The New Mexico Human Services Department says it will participate in a federal waiver option that will clear the way for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to be issued early.

The agency made the announcement Wednesday, a day after the federal government asked states to issue February food stamps benefits on or before Jan. 20 so that they can be paid to the nearly 40 million Americans in the program should the shutdown continue.

The program is already funded for January.

New Mexico officials say the option will be a big relief to the 455,000 New Mexicans who rely on the benefits.

State Human Services Secretary David Scrase says the benefits equate to roughly $50 million that New Mexico families will be able to use at their local grocery stores.

Funding Awarded For Weather Radar In Southwest Colorado - Durango Herald, Associated Press

Colorado has awarded $1.7 million to set up a weather radar system in the Four Corners region, a blind spot in current weather and radar modeling systems.

The Durango Herald reports the state Department of Local Affairs awarded the funding for a system in southwest Colorado, clearing a major obstacle for the project.

The systems in Albuquerque, Grand Junction and Flagstaff take in weather data at elevations too high to accurately hone in on the region where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet.

La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham says a panel of area stakeholders has formed to find a location to set up the system.

Interim La Plata County manager Chuck Stevens says a timeline has not been set for when the radar system will be operational.

Lawsuit Contends Mormon Church Failed To Keep Child Safe From Abuse - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Another member of the Navajo Nation is suing the Mormon church, alleging he was abused in a now-defunct program that sent children into foster care.

Unlike similar lawsuits, the complaint filed Tuesday in tribal court doesn't seek policy changes from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It seeks unspecified monetary damages for decades of emotional harm.

David Jordan is representing the man identified as LB in court documents.

Jordan says LB was sexually abused three times by a church bishop who lived near his foster family in Utah in the 1980s. Jordan says LB reported the abuse but his foster family accused him of lying.

The church's media representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment but have said the church works to prevent abuse.

New Mexico School Named After Dolores Huerta Faces Closure - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A New Mexico charter school named after civil rights leader Dolores Huerta is facing closure over poor performance.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the New Mexico Public Education Commission voted last month not to renew the charter for La Academia Dolores Huerta in Las Cruces. The vote came after a recommendation from the Public Education Department.

State education officials cited declining student achievement, including three consecutive F grades with declining scores under the state's school grading system.

The school's head administrator, Melissa Miranda, suggested in a statement the school would appeal the decision.

The school opened in 2004 as a dual-language charter middle school and took its name after Huerta.

The Dawson, New Mexico-born Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez in 1962.

No Charges Filed Against Navajo Lawmaker In Pedestrian Death - Associated Press

Tribal authorities say a Navajo Nation Council member is not facing any charges after he struck and killed an intoxicated pedestrian who was crossing a dark New Mexico highway.

Police say Tuchoney Slim, Jr. was traveling on State Route 264 near the community of Rock Springs on Dec. 20 when the accident happened.

Navajo criminal investigations director Dale West said Wednesday that the pedestrian was clad in dark clothing and had been drinking. He says Slim did not see the man and wasn't negligent or impaired.

Emergency responders pronounced the pedestrian dead at the scene.

Navajo police did not release the man's name, citing the ongoing investigation. West says authorities are awaiting a toxicology report.