Headlines: Martinez Signs Spending Bill, A Ton Of Marijuana Seized ...

Jun 17, 2015

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New Mexico Gov. Martinez Signs Capital Spending Bill – The Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed a capital spending bill that includes around $45 million for needed highway infrastructure projects.

The Republican governor signed Wednesday the $294 million measure at St. Luke's Health Care Clinic in Las Cruces and said it would be seen as a "job-creation bill."

She vetoed around $1.1 million in projects — many she said weren't fully funded.

Last week, the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate passed the capital spending bill following a four-hour special session that came after an agreement between Martinez and Senate Democrats.

The capital bill, which pays for roads, school improvements and water projects, came after months of negotiations and partisan squabbling that drew fire from unions, mayors and business leaders.

Feds To Hold Meetings On Nuclear Dump CertificationAssociated Press

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to hear from the public as it considers an application for recertification of the federal government's troubled nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico.

The agency has scheduled two stakeholder meetings in Albuquerque today. A similar meeting was held Tuesday in Carlsbad.

The U.S. Department of Energy submitted its application for recertification just weeks after a drum of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured in February 2014 and allowed radiation to escape.

Parts of the underground repository were contaminated and it remains closed.

The Energy Department didn't address the radiation release in its application, but the EPA has spent months seeking answers to technical questions regarding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Recertification is part of a process that's required every five years.

The two meetings today will be held from 2:30 to 6 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

CBP Officers At New Mexico Port Seize $1.6M In MarijuanaThe Associated Press

Federal authorities in New Mexico have seized more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana from a truck hauling steel pipes and say the drugs are worth an estimated $1.6 million.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers say a flatbed trailer hauling a shipment of 80 20-foot-long steel pipes arrived at the Columbus port of entry last Friday night from Mexico.

The truck was secured and the shipment off loaded Saturday.

CBP officers examined the load and determined 12 pipes were filled with steel containers.

They drilled into one container and found a green substance that tested positive for marijuana.

Authorities say 108 steel containers were removed from 12 of the pipes and 949 marijuana-filled bricks were found inside. The marijuana weighed a combined 2,095 pounds.

No arrests have been made yet.

Intel Layoffs To Affect No More Than A Few Hundred Per SiteThe Associated Press & The Oregonian

The chief executive of Intel has confirmed that the company has an upcoming round of layoffs, although he did not say exactly how many people will lose their jobs.

The Oregonian reports that CEO Brian Krzanich said in a memo to employees Tuesday that the layoffs will involve "generally no more than a few hundred employees" at any site.

It's the first time Intel has given any indication of how many people it plans to lay off. A previous internal memo to managers reviewed by The Oregonian indicated that the company planned to minimize discussion of the layoffs.

But Krzanich says he felt obligated to respond after media reports about the cuts.

Intel declined to comment on Krzanich's memo or elaborate on its layoff plans.  Intel has a large plant in Rio Rancho.

Report: BIA Hindering Energy Development On Tribal LandsThe Associated Press

A new report from the investigative arm of Congress largely blames the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for hindering energy development on tribal lands.

The BIA has the final say in approving a majority of documents that would clear the way for solar, wind, oil, gas and other projects, although a process is in place for tribes to take control.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office wrote in a report released this week that the BIA is slow to identify ownership of land and resources, and lacks adequate staffing. The office says that leads to missed opportunities for tribes to generate revenue.

The BIA says it's getting ready to deploy a system nationally to better track data and would provide more guidance to tribes on how to take over certain federal responsibilities.

New Mexico AG Names Widow Of Slain Officer To Review Panel - The Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has named the widow of a slain Rio Rancho police officer to taskforce reviewing the state's criminal justice system.

Balderas said Wednesday that Julie Benner, the wife of the late Gregg "Nigel" Benner, will join the Violent Crimes Case Review Team.

Authorities say Benner was shot and killed by 28-year-old Andrew Romero during a traffic stop last month in the Albuquerque suburb. Romero was a repeat offender who critics say slipped through the justice system before his encounter with Benner.

Earlier this month, Balderas said circumstances that led to Romero's release will be part of an inquiry by his office.

Balderas previously announced his intention to complete a case review analysis to address problems with the state's criminal justice system.

New Mexico AG Wants More 'Transparency' In Campaign FinanceThe Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he wants to increase "transparency and accountability" in the state's campaign finance reporting process.

Balderas sent Secretary of State Dianna Duran a letter Wednesday describing what he sees as shortcomings in the current system of campaign finance reporting.

The Democrat says he'd like to see the reinstatement of mandatory fines for violation of the Campaign Reporting Act during the upcoming legislative session.

He also recommended that Duran establish a robust notification system to better track enforcement of campaign reporting legal requirements and that she employ a dedicated officer to conduct statewide trainings.

Ken Ortiz, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

DOE Official: Workers To Practice Before Nuke Dump Reopens Associated Press

An official with the U.S. Department of Energy says workers at the federal government's troubled nuclear waste repository will practice with "dummy drums" before limited operations resume next year.

Monica Regalbuto with DOE's Office of Environmental Management testified Tuesday during a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C., that workers will start by moving non-radioactive drums.

When officials are confident the work can be done safely, workers will switch to dealing with real waste. That's expected sometime next spring.

Regalbuto was pressed by Sen. Martin Heinrich about how soon full operations can resume at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which has been closed for more than a year because of a radiation release.

Regalbuto told the New Mexico Democrat that will depend on the installation of a new permanent ventilation system.

Massive New Mexico Development Clears Major Hurdle – KUNM, Associated Press

A planned community west of Albuquerque that developers say could someday be home to as many as 90,000 people has cleared a major hurdle.

The Bernalillo County Commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday to approve a master plan for the development known as Santolina. The project would rival some of New Mexico's largest cities once completed with nearly 40,000 homes, plus commercial and open space.

Commissioners spent a lot of time discussing Santolina’s jobs forecasts – developers say the plan would bring two jobs for each home built. This sparked a debate on the definition of the word “job.”

But critics say the jobs predictions are inflated. Pablo Lopez is with Contra Santolina, a group opposing the development. He said people here have concerns greater than new jobs.

“The people’s interest is the agriculture in the South Valley, preserving our water rights, and having sensical, logical development for Albuquerque.”

Developers envision Santolina as only one component of a larger, long-term growth plan for the Albuquerque metro area. Tom Garrity runs a PR firm that’s working on behalf of the project.

“There are 300,000 people that are anticipated to move here over the next 40 years. Santolina is only going to be able to accommodate 75,000 of those. Where are all the rest going to go? They’re going to go all over Albuquerque.”

Opponents have promised legal action over the commission’s vote.

Ex-New Mexico Corrections Officer Gets Prison In Drug CaseAssociated Press

A former corrections officer has been sentenced to 366 days in a New Mexico federal prison for conspiring to distribute drugs in the Doña County Detention Center.

Prosecutors say 27-year-old Francisco Balderrama of El Paso, Texas also was sentenced Tuesday to three years of supervised release.

Balderrama was arrested in October 2014 on a criminal complaint charging him with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and providing contraband in a prison facility.

Prosecutors say Balderrama conspired with three co-defendants to smuggle heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine into the Las Cruces detention center in June 2013 for two inmates being held there.

They say Balderrama pleaded guilty to the drug conspiracy charge three months ago.

New Mexico Appeals Court Overturns Convictions In DWI CaseAssociated Press

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has overturned the convictions of a man in a 2011 fatal DWI case.

The panel ruled that a Santa Fe trial judge erred by not suppressing evidence from the warrantless search of defendant Juan Cordova's home that resulted in his arrest.

The ruling also calls into question the circumstances of how Cordova was arrested and tested for being drunk.

It's unclear if the ruling by the appeals court will result in a new trial for Cordova.

The state Attorney General's Office was reviewing the opinion Tuesday before deciding whether to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Cordova was convicted in December 2012 of vehicular homicide and other charges in the death of a motorcyclist near Chimayo and sentenced to 29 years in prison.

Professors Appointed As Co-Deans At UNM Law SchoolAssociated Press

Two deans might be better than one.

That's the hope of University of New Mexico Provost Chaouki Abdallah, who says no one person can address the full spectrum of today's challenges.

Abdallah announced Tuesday that Alfred Mathewson and Sergio Pareja will serve as co-deans at the UNM law school. The professors will begin their new duties Aug. 1.

The University of New Mexico is taking a page from Case Western Reserve University law school in Ohio, which has had co-interim deans since November 2013.

Pareja described the decision as an innovative and bold approach. He joined the UNM law faculty in 2005 after nearly nine years in private practice in Colorado and Indiana.

Mathewson joined the faculty in 1983 after working as a corporate, securities and banking lawyer in Denver.

Carlsbad Man Is Sentenced For $13K In Fraudulent VA ClaimsAssociated Press

A Carlsbad man has been ordered to pay more than $13,000 in restitution for submitting fraudulent claims to the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in Albuquerque.

Prosecutors say 57-year-old William Arviso also was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Santa Fe to two years of probation.

They say Arviso pleaded guilty last November to 10 counts of theft of government property.

Arviso admitted that he submitted false travel claims to the VAMC from Sept. 27, 2011 through Jan. 25, 2012 and received monetary reimbursement for travel that he was not entitled to.

Prosecutors say the $13,613 in restitution represents the money Arviso fraudulently obtained from the VAMC.

Is Texas Spending $800M To Create Its Own Border Patrol?Associated Press

Texas is going on a spending spree aimed at securing the Mexican border, but the spending raises questions about whether the state is creating its own border patrol.

The state's new Republican governor, Greg Abbott, this month approved $800 million for border security over the next two years — more than double any similar period in the previous 14 years under former Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas is doing so at a time when the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has subsided.

Items on the state's shopping list to reinforce the border include a second $7.5 million spy plane, a 5,000-acre training facility, two dozen corruption investigators and 250 new state troopers.

Critics say there is little accounting of how the money is spent or whether it is effective.

Group Threatens Lawsuit Over Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout - Santa Fe New Mexican

A wildlife conservation group says it plans to sue the federal government after officials denied Endangered Species Act protection to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Center for Biological Diversity said it is joining with other parties to file suit in the next 60 days against Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who has oversight of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The organization says in a letter that sections of the Endangered Species Act were violated when the agency decided last September that listing the cutthroat trout subspecies as endangered isn’t warranted.

The move reversed a May 2008 finding by the Fish and Wildlife Service that the listing was warranted but with lower priority than other threatened species.