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Headlines: Lawsuit Over Drilling Near Chaco, Carlsbad On WIPP Fines...

Mar 12, 2015

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Groups Sue Feds Over Drilling In Northwest New Mexico - The Associated Press

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the federal government over the approval of oil and gas drilling permits in northwestern New Mexico.

The groups filed their lawsuit Wednesday as they prepared to rally at the State Capitol. They contend that more development and hydraulic fracturing could harm the environment and sites such as the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The suit names the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Interior Department.

The BLM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency is in the process of updating its management plan for the San Juan Basin in the face of an expected shale oil boom, and the groups have been pushing the agency to stop approving new drilling permits until the plan is in place.

UPDATE: Lawyer Says Police Shooting Case May Be 'Circus' If DA RemainsThe Associated Press

A defense lawyer says a case against two Albuquerque police officers facing charges from a police shooting might turn into a "circus" if a New Mexico district attorney isn't disqualified.

Attorney Sam Bregman told a Bernalillo County District judge on Thursday that District Attorney Kari Brandenburg should be removed from the case since she might face indictment in connection with alleged bribery.

Brandenburg made headlines in January when she announced she would seek charges against Albuquerque SWAT team member Dominique Perez and former detective Keith Sandy for the shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd.

But their lawyers say bribery allegations made by police against Brandenburg tainted her efforts to proceed without the appearance of bias.

The district attorney's office calls that argument "absurd."

District Judge Alisa Hadfield gave both sides 10 days to submit final arguments on Brandenburg.

Hearing Set On DA In Albuquerque Police Shooting Case – The Associated Press

A hearing is set on whether a New Mexico district attorney who is seeking murder charges against two Albuquerque police officers should be taken off the case.

District Judge Alisa Hadfield is scheduled Thursday to hear arguments in a case that come as Albuquerque police and the U.S. Justice Department finalize an agreement to overhaul the force.

SWAT team member Dominique Perez and former detective Keith Sandy are facing charges in the March 2014 shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd. That shooting sparked angry protests around the city.

But lawyers for the men want Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg removed due to a conflict of interest.

The lawyers say bribery allegations made by Albuquerque police against Brandenburg tainted her efforts to proceed without the appearance of bias.

Albuquerque Mayor Offers Reward In Dog Theft Cases  - The Associated Press

The mayor of Albuquerque is offering up a reward to help solve a recent series of dog thefts in the city.

Mayor Richard Berry announced Wednesday he has established a $5,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest and conviction of whoever is behind a rash of stolen dogs.

Pet owners have reported that their dogs have gone missing from their homes.

Authorities say they are worried the dogs may be used for dog-fighting, which is illegal.

Berry says the thefts are "unacceptable" and Albuquerque is an animal-friendly city.

NM Governor Requests Help In 1971 Murder CaseThe Associated Press

A fugitive living in Cuba wants decades-old charges accusing him of killing a New Mexico police officer dismissed on grounds that Gov. Susana Martinez has politicized the case.

An attorney this week filed a motion on behalf of Charlie Hill, saying Hill could not get a fair trial in the 1971 killing of State Police Officer Robert Rosenbloom during a traffic stop.

Responding to President Barack Obama's move to thaw relations with Cuba, Martinez asked federal officials to extradite. Her letter called Hill a "cop-killer" who belonged to a terrorist group.

Hill and two other black militants hijacked a plane in Albuquerque and fled to Cuba for political asylum.

Martinez's office said her letter was merely a request for help to get Hill in front of a judge and jury.

Xcel To Add Solar Power To Its New Mexico-Texas PortfolioThe Associated Press

Two planned solar generating stations are expected to boost Xcel Energy's renewable energy portfolio for electric customers in New Mexico and Texas.

The utility announced Thursday it has signed power purchase agreements with affiliates of NextEra Energy Resources, which plans to build solar farms near Roswell.

The agreements require the approval of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves says the cost of solar has come down and tax incentives have helped to make it more competitive with gas-fueled generation.

Most of the utility's renewable energy comes from wind generation, but Xcel is looking to add more solar before investment tax credits expire.

Through the subsidiary Southwestern Public Service Co., Xcel serves nearly 385,000 customers in New Mexico and the Panhandle and South Plains regions of Texas.

NM House OKs Bill With Option To End Rapist's Parental RightThe Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has unanimously passed legislation giving women the option to terminate the parental rights of a biological father when the pregnancy results from a rape.

The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Conrad James and Democratic Rep. Georgene Louis proposes to do away with child custody and visitation rights of the father in such circumstances.

The legislation gives the mother the ability to terminate or permanently suspend the rights of the biological father, ensuring that a convicted rapist will not have access to her child, nor petition for visitation or custody.

James says "Passing this bill is the right thing to do for New Mexico's children and mothers."

The legislation approved Wednesday now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Carlsbad Approves Resolution Addressing Nuke Dump Fines - The Associated Press

Carlsbad officials have approved a resolution that makes several recommendations to state and federal officials as they fight over fines stemming from the radiation leak at the federal government's nuclear waste dump in southern New Mexico.

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway's nuclear taskforce announced Wednesday that the city has signed off on the resolution.

A similar resolution is being considered by Eddy County officials and the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.

The resolution describes the negotiations between the U.S. Energy Department and the state Environment Department over more than $54 million in fines as "deadlocked."

Carlsbad officials also say they're concerned about the DOE's position that the fines would have to be paid out of the budgets of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Injunction Issued On Services For People With DisabilitiesThe Associated Press

A federal judge is ordering New Mexico state agencies to reinstate services for people with disabilities pending reassessments.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera this week issued an injunction, ruling that there'd been violations of peoples' rights to due process.

Groups which requested the injunction contended that people receiving benefits and services through a Medicaid program were being harmed, and Herrera agreed.

The state had argued that any harm was only speculative.

When the lawsuit was filed in 2014 after the state implemented a new assessment system, state officials said the system replaced an obsolete process and trimmed a lengthy waiting list for services.

NM Senate Panel To Consider Two-Tier Driver's Licenses  - The Associated Press   

A New Mexico Senate committee is set to consider a driver's license bill that proposes a two-tier system allowing for issuance of two licenses.

The bill by Republican Sen. Stuart Ingle of Portales and Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming calls for one driver's license that complies with federal requirements and the other not intended for acceptance by federal agencies.

The House last month rejected an amendment akin to the long serving senators' proposal and approved a bill 39-29 to end the state's practice of giving driver's licenses to people even if they can't prove they are in the country legally.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee is scheduled Thursday afternoon to take testimony and vote on the Senate bill first and will likely consider the House bill later on.

NM House Oks Bill To Deny Driver's Licenses To Truant Pupils - The Associated Press

The New Mexico House has approved a bill that would take away the driver's licenses of habitually truant eighth through 12th graders.

The House voted 36-32 Wednesday to send Albuquerque Republican Rep. Jimmie Hall's bill to the Senate.

The proposal calls for suspending or denying driving privileges of any public school student who racks up 10 or more unexcused absences in a year until the student turns 18.

Lawmakers opposed say the bill will push students into driving without a license. Supporters say it helps keep students in school.

The Public Education Department reports 21.5 percent of high school students were habitually truant in fiscal year 2014.

The Southern Regional Education Board notes that a majority of states link license eligibility to school attendance, according to a fiscal impact report.

Senate Confirms Secretary Of New Mexico Human Services - The Associated Press

The state agency that oversees the distribution of support services to low-income New Mexicans has a new leader.

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed Brent Earnest in a 38-0 vote as the secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department.

Gov. Susana Martinez chose Earnest to replace Sidonie Squier, who resigned in November.

Earnest was the deputy secretary of the department from March 2011 until December 2013.

Earnest says he knows there is a large task ahead in managing a nearly $6 billion budget and reforming the state's public assistance programs.

Earnest also spent six years as a fiscal analyst for the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee.

$6.2B Budget Bill Moves Through New Mexico Senate Committee - The Associated Press

A $6.2 billion spending proposal for the next fiscal year has been left largely intact by a New Mexico Senate committee.

Adopting a budget is a must-do assignment for lawmakers before the session adjourns March 21.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved the budget bill Tuesday. The full Senate could vote on the plan as early as Saturday.

The measure cleared the House last month.

The spending plan includes pay raises for new teachers and state police officers. Most department budgets remain flat, but the bill boosts spending for education, the state's child welfare agency and tourism.

Gov. Susana Martinez and lawmakers have highlighted education as a priority with some of the lowest performing schools in the nation. The bill calls for a $37 million bump for education initiatives.

Senate Approves Gambling Compact With New Mexico Tribes - The Associated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved a proposal that would allow a handful of Native American tribes to continue with their gambling operation.

Gov. Susana Martinez's office has spent three years working with the tribes to craft a new gambling compact since existing agreements are set to expire in June.

Supporters say the compact would bring stability to New Mexico's gaming industry, protect jobs and increase revenues to the state.

But some lawmakers said they couldn't support the measure because it would exclude the Fort Sill Apache tribe, which wants to build a casino on land in southern New Mexico that was put into federal trust in 2002.

Under a provision in the compact, tribes wanting to put a casino on land acquired after 1988 would have to negotiate separately with the state.

Moves Highlight New Mexico Fight On Oil, Gas Development - The Associated Press

Dueling New Mexico House and Senate moves are highlighting a battle over the authority of counties to regulate oil and gas development.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the House passed a measure Tuesday on a 37-28 vote that would limits local control. The bill also gives the state Oil Conservation Division and Oil Conservation Commission exclusive authority to regulate oil and gas extraction.

The bill goes next to the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate Conservation Committee tabled two bills that sought to limit county authority to regulate oil and gas or penalize those that do. Lobbyists for the oil and gas industry, agriculture representatives and some private landowners spoke in favor of the two Senate bills.

NM House Panel Oks Bill To Allow Hemp Farming For Research - The Associated Press

A Senate bill that would allow farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp for research only has sailed through its first New Mexico House panel.

The Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee Wednesday unanimously approved and moved Albuquerque Democrat Sen. Cisco McSorley's proposed legislation to the Judiciary Committee.

McSorley's proposal would allow the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to set up regulations and fees for the processing of hemp for research and development, not for sale.

Hemp has a negligible content of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Many products made from hemp, such as oils and clothing, are legal.

The federal government currently allows growing hemp for research. A bill pending in Congress, if passed, would approve cultivation for commercial production as well.

Portales Residents Go A 2nd Day Without Water - The Associated Press and Portales News-Tribune

Portales residents are now entering a second day with no water.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reports that residents were lining up Wednesday to fill buckets with water from temporary sources.

City officials say crews are expected to finish repairs by later afternoon or early evening.

The Portales News-Tribune says the main break happened around 10 a.m. Tuesday when a contractor working on a wastewater project hit a water pipeline.

City manager Sammy Standefer says the town's water supply had to be turned off to isolate the leak.

Some local vendors as well as a Walmart have a limited supply of drinking water available and more limited supplies on the way.

Several businesses and schools, including Eastern New Mexico University, decided to close for the day.

Urban Outfitters Seeks Review Of Decision In Navajo Case - The Associated Press

The Navajo Nation's case against Urban Outfitters is on hold while the company seeks review of a decision to dismiss one of its own claims.

Urban Outfitters lost its bid to have the tribe's federal registrations for "Navajo" marks canceled on the basis they are generic and descriptive.

The Navajo Nation argued it has not waived its right not to be sued on that matter. The U.S. District Court in Albuquerque agreed after examining some aspects of federal law.

Urban Outfitters is asking the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to review the lower court's decision.

The tribe sued the clothing retailer and its subsidiaries in 2012 to keep them from using the "Navajo" name or variations of it on their products.

'Breaking Bad' Creator Wants Pizza-Tossing Fans To Stop - The Associated Press

One thing the creator of "Breaking Bad" finds bad is fans who have been throwing pizzas at the New Mexico home that was featured on the show.

Vince Gilligan said during a "Better Call Saul Insider Podcast" this week that the Albuquerque home's owners have encountered rude fans tossing pizzas onto their roof.

The home stood in as the house of main character Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, during its five-season run on the AMC network.

The cheesy move is meant to mimic White, who hurls pizza onto his roof in a Season 3 episode.

Gilligan says there is "nothing funny, original or cool" about their actions and he doesn't consider the perpetrators true fans.

Also, he says pizza is too good to waste.

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