Governor Signs Spending and Pay Increases, New Mexico Scraps A-F School Rating System

Apr 5, 2019

New Mexico Governor Signs Spending, Pay Increases - Associated Press

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has authorized a nearly 12 percent increase in general fund spending for the coming fiscal year that includes across-the-board pay increases for teachers and state workers.

The governor on Thursday signed a $7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 without major adjustments to the spending plan from the Democratic Legislature.

Spending on public schools alone will increase by $446 million to $3.2 billion. Substantial funding increases also are slated on economic development incentives and for child protective services, with enough money to fund 26 new positions.

Record-breaking oil and natural gas production in Southeast New Mexico has produced a windfall in state income.

The signed bill sets aside reserves equal to 20 percent of annual spending obligations.

New Mexico Scraps A-F School Rating System - Associated Press

New Mexico's governor has signed a bill to replace an A-F system for rating the quality of individual public schools with a variety of measurements.

Lujan Grisham made the widely anticipated move on Thursday to establish a "dashboard" style evaluation system and eliminate letter grades for schools.

School dashboards likely would include information on graduation rates, federal subsidies, student academic proficiency, and teacher performance.

A-F school ratings were a hallmark effort by the administration of former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Students at "F'' rated schools were given top priority on requests to transfer to a different school under the prior system.

New Mexico Says Its Border With Mexico Has Fallen Quiet  - Associated Press

New Mexico's Homeland Security Department secretary says the flow of asylum seekers to the state's border with Mexico appears to have tapered off during March after earlier arrivals of several large groups.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jackie White told reporters Thursday that the brunt of immigration pressure is being felt at ports of entry in neighboring Texas and not along New Mexico's portion of the border.

White said that the New Mexico Department of Health has dispatched a mobile health care unit to the border area as a humanitarian precaution in case migrants need care.

Six state police are stationed in remote Hidalgo County to reinforce the local contingent of four law enforcement officers. New Mexico has 18 National Guard troops at the border.

New Mexico Man Describes Abuse In Trial Against Ex-Priest - Associated Press

A New Mexico man has testified in federal court that a fugitive priest who was returned to the United States last year from Morocco made inappropriate physical contact with him as many as 100 times when he was a child.

The man testified Thursday during a jury trial in Santa Fe.

Arthur Perrault has been charged with aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact amid accusations he sexually abused the witness at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery — which fall under federal jurisdiction. The man says Perrault also abused him at an Albuquerque amusement park and church rectory.

Perrault has pleaded not guilty.

His attorney questioned the witness' decision to come forward with claims against Perrault after media reports emerged of other abuse accusations against the priest.

Lawyers Criticize 'Secret' Deal In Racino CaseAssociated Press

More questions are being raised about a lack of transparency and conflicts of interest as New Mexico stumbles through a process that will decide who wins a lucrative license to operate the state's sixth and final horse racetrack and casino.

A state district judge on Thursday instructed attorneys for the enterprises vying for the license to weigh in on a motion to dismiss a legal challenge over a study done as part of the selection process.

The lawyers have argued that the study was flawed.

Also at issue is a proposed settlement to resolve the challenge. Some attorneys told the judge it appeared to have been negotiated in secret by Hidalgo Downs, the state attorney general's office and the chair of the state racing commission.

The attorneys say it's possible that open meeting laws were violated.

Uber, Driver Sued Over Deadly Shooting In New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Uber is being sued by the estate of a man who was shot and killed by a ride-share driver earlier this year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports James Porter's estate is seeking damages from Uber and the driver, Clayton Benedict.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in state district court contends that Uber knew, or should have known, that by hiring Benedict, it would create an unreasonable risk to individuals who used its services.

Police have said that the shooting happened March 17 after Benedict picked up Porter and a friend and an altercation broke out along Interstate 25.

Benedict and Porter's friend were interviewed by police after the shooting. Benedict hasn't been charged.

Police say once the investigation is complete, it will be turned over to the district attorney's office for review.

Trail Coalition Gets OK To Issue Permits To Cross State LandAssociated Press

The New Mexico State Land Office has given a coalition the OK to issue hiking and horseback riding permits to cross state land on the Continental Divide Trail.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard made the announcement earlier this week.

The trail spans 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, crossing five U.S. states. About 820 of those miles are in New Mexico.

Recreationists previously had to obtain permits in person from the State Land Office in Santa Fe. Now they can get them online through the Continental Divide Trail Coalition.

The one-year permit costs $35. Permit holders can add up to 10 family members.

The coalition received approval to issue the permits for two years. After that, the State Land Office and the coalition will consider renewing the authority.

Albuquerque Police Arrest Father In Girl's Beating DeathAssociated Press

Albuquerque police say they have arrested a father in the beating death of his 5-year-old daughter, who officers say suffered bruising with patterns consistent with the tread of a shoe.

Officer Simon Drobik says 36-year-old Brandon Reynolds is charged with child abuse resulting in death. Drobik says authorities responded to a call early Friday of a child who was not breathing.

A criminal complaint against Reynolds says he told officers that he became upset with his daughter after she told him she did not want to do homework, and he began spanking her before "blanking out."

The complaint says a neighbor told police she had heard Reynolds yell, "Get up!" She also says she heard someone being struck with a sound similar to a shoe hitting a couch.

The Latest on NM Legislation: Heavy Spending On InfrastructureAssociated Press

11:40 a.m.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is racing to meet a deadline to approve or veto more than 400 bills passed during the first legislative session of her tenure.

The Democratic governor has until noon Friday to act on legislation or see it vetoed by default.

Lujan Grisham says she is trying to provide feedback and guidance to legislators when she rejects bills or deletes tax and spending provisions by line-item veto.

Lujan Grisham approved most provisions of a bill that will expand taxes on internet sales, nonprofit hospitals, auto sales, e-cigarettes and upper-income households. She vetoed portions of the bill that might have reduced taxes on tobacco products.

The approved bill increases a tax credit for working families with children to offset effects of the 2017 federal tax overhaul.


11:50 a.m.

New Mexico's governor has signed a gun control bill aimed at ensuring that people under protective orders for domestic violence relinquish their firearms.

The bill was signed as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham confronts a deadline at noon Friday to approve or reject legislation from the state's Democrat-led Legislature.

Federal law already prohibits gun possession and purchases for people subject to a protective order in some instances and bans ownership for convicted abusers. The new state law is designed to provide clear procedures for people to give up their weapons or have them taken away.

Repeated revisions to the bill by lawmakers added a required "credible threat" finding by a court before a gun must be surrendered.

A similar initiative was vetoed in 2017 by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.


2:40 p.m.

Spending of more than $900 million on infrastructure projects across New Mexico has been approved by the state's Democratic governor.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the capital spending bill Friday, while declining to fund about $9.5 million in projects that were deemed unprepared by line-item veto.

The funded projects run the gamut from an apartment complex for the blind in Alamogordo to electric vehicle charging stations in Santa Fe. Lujan Grisham says projects for small, rural communities were neglected under her Republican predecessor.

Amid a windfall in state income linked to a booming private oil sector, the legislation clears the way for $850 million in direct general fund spending on construction projects and equipment purchases.

NMSU Raises Tuition Again As Enrollment Drops Associated Press

New Mexico State University has increased tuition by 6% for the upcoming school year.

The Board of Regents approved the increase Friday, saying that scholarships and tuition discounts have reduced out-of-pocket costs for most students. They said the extra revenue will allow NMSU to make strategic investments and increase employee salary.

Regents increased tuition by 3.5% last year.

But despite the increases, NMSU is struggling with a budget shortfall of $3.8 million that's in part due to years of decreasing enrollment. This spring, the university had about 22,400 students enrolled in all of its campuses, a 4% decrease over the prior year, which had itself seen a 2.4% drop.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said the school still offers the most competitive average net cost in the region.

New Mexico Gov Appoints State Police Veteran As Next ChiefAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has picked a veteran New Mexico State Police officer as the force's chief — a position that had been vacant since the governor took office in January.

Tim Johnson's appointment was announced Friday.

The governor says Johnson brings a diverse background of experience following a nearly 20-year state police career. She also touted his plan to boost the number of female recruits, saying women make up about 7% of the force — far below the national average.

Johnson will take the helm following the tenure of former Chief Pete Kassetas.

Kassetas was accused of lewd and discriminatory behavior in a lawsuit settled for an undisclosed amount before he left office last year.

Lujan Grisham says state police's new leadership team will be held accountable to a high professional standard.

Ex-Spy Valerie Plame Eyes Run For CongressAssociated Press

Valerie Plame, a former spy whose identity was leaked to the press by the President George W. Bush Administration, is considering a run for an open U.S. Congressional seat in New Mexico.

The former CIA operative told The Associated Press on Friday she is meeting with New Mexico residents and will make a decision soon.

Plame says she'd be honored to represent the New Mexico district which represents northern and eastern New Mexico. It is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Rey Lujan, who is stepping down to run for U.S. Senate.

Plame, a Democrat and critic of President Donald Trump, is the author of the memoir "Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House."

The book was made into a movie starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

Ex-Inmate Wins $2M Lawsuit In New Mexico Over Hot Prison VanAssociated Press

A former New Mexico inmate's attorney says he has won a $2 million verdict in a lawsuit accusing two officers of leaving him and others in a prisoner transport van to suffer on a hot summer day in 2013.

The decision comes more than three years after Isaha Casias sued the New Mexico Department of Corrections and the officers.

Attorney Matthew Coyte says the verdict was reached late Thursday in federal court in Roswell.

Casias says he passed out in the van. When officers finally returned and opened the back door, he said he fell from the vehicle and hit his head and back on its bumper.

An attorney for the corrections department and officers did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Congressional Panel To Tour Chaco Canyon, Hold HearingAssociated Press

Members of Congress are gathering in Santa Fe this month to hold a hearing on the impact of oil and gas development on sites that tribes consider sacred.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing takes place April 15 at the state Capitol.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva is the chairman of the subcommittee, and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland is the vice chairwoman.

They'll be joined by other Democratic leaders in the days leading up to the hearing to tour Chaco Culture National Historical Park near the Navajo Nation, and to meet with tribes and environmental advocates.

Native American leaders repeatedly have called on federal officials to ban oil and gas exploration around Chaco Canyon. The site features massive stone structures and other remnants of an ancient civilization.

Warrants Issued For Alleged Vandals Of Border Patrol MuseumAssociated Press

Police in West Texas have identified 16 people they say vandalized a museum that celebrates the work of U.S. Border Patrol agents.

The El Paso Police Department says a two-month investigation led to warrants for the activists. Members of the group posted stickers on museum's walls and left explicit notes in the guestbook on Feb. 16.

The group posted video of the incident, which it describes as a protest against the detention of migrant children in Tornillo, New Mexico. That detention center has since been closed.

Authorities say the stickers caused $3,000 in damage.

Police are asking the suspects to turn themselves in and have not made any arrests. Five of the suspects are from New Mexico. Police say others live as far away as New York and Florida.

New Mexico Man Sentenced For Role In Dog Fighting OperationAssociated Press

A New Mexico man convicted in New Jersey for his role in a multistate dog fighting operation has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Robert Arellano will also have to serve three years of supervised release under the sentence imposed Thursday.

The 65-year-old Albuquerque man was among four people convicted on multiple counts last year. Arellano also pleaded guilty to three felony counts in a related federal case in New Mexico that was consolidated with his New Jersey case for sentencing purposes.

Authorities say Arellano kept dogs at his home for dog fighting purposes from 2012-2016, bringing in dogs from New Jersey and Indiana so they could be used to fight. He also had dog fighting videos, records, how-to materials and photographs.