Headlines: State Lawmakers Pass Pot Bills, Senate Tables Abortion Bills...

Mar 16, 2015

Credit Rusty Blazenhoff via Flickr / Creative Commons

Senate Passes Bill Lessening Penalties For Pot Possession - The Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal

Two marijuana-related bills have cleared hurdles in the New Mexico Senate and House.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that legislation that would not include jail time for offenders having less than an ounce of pot passed the Senate on Saturday in a 21-20 vote.

According to the bill, anyone with an ounce or less of marijuana would get a ticket and a $50 fine. Anyone with up to 8 ounces wouldn't receive jail time but would be charged with a misdemeanor.

The bill now moves to the House, which passed a measure affecting employees at medical marijuana providers.

The House voted 34-24 in favor of legislation requiring employees pass criminal background checks.

Supporters say it will keep anyone with drug-related convictions ineligible from working at a dispensary.

NM Senate Confirms Nomination Of Child Welfare Agency HeadThe Associated Press

The New Mexico Senate has confirmed Gov. Susana Martinez's nominee to head the state's beleaguered child welfare agency.

Secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department Monique Jacobson's nomination sailed through with a 35-2 vote Monday.

About two dozen senators voiced confidence in Jacobson, praising her organizational and leadership skills.

Las Cruces Democrat Sen. Mary Kay Papen said New Mexico families and children "are very lucky" to have Jacobson as the head of CYFD.

Jacobson previously headed the Tourism Department with less than 100 employees. She now leads a 2,400-member department.

Laying out her goals for CYFD, Jacobson told senators at the committee hearing that she was ready for the job despite lacking a background in social work.

Several senators said Jacobson had made believers out of them.

Santa Fe facing $2.1M deficit in upcoming fiscal year

Santa Fe Is Facing A Budget Deficit Of More Than $2 Million In The Upcoming Fiscal Year - The Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

City finance director Oscar Rodriguez tells the Santa Fe New Mexican that the city has been operating with about $10 million less each year in gross receipts tax revenue for the past several years when inflation is factored in.

To keep from making cuts, the city dipped into reserves, deferred maintenance and tapped into bond money that was intended for brick-and-mortar projects.

Rodriguez says that strategy can't be sustained.

He says part of the problem is gross receipts taxes on retail purchases and services are a critical revenue stream, but they're volatile and fluctuate with the economy.

City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez has suggested that Santa Fe begin talking about tax reform.

Carlsbad Moves Ahead With Plan To Ease Housing ShortageThe Associated Press & The Carlsbad Current-Argus

The Carlsbad City Council has approved a zoning change that officials are hoping will help ease a housing shortage caused by the oil boom.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that the zoning change will allow for developers to build an apartment complex on two lots that were previously zoned for commercial use.

California-based Silverado Land Company has plans to build a complex of two-story, town home-style apartments. The complex will include a community center with a playground.

Despite a drop in oil prices, communities in southeastern New Mexico continue to face housing shortages because of the booming oil industry.

The region includes part of the Permian Basin, which has seen the number of barrels produced each day more than double over the last several years.

Health Insurance Exchange Warns New Mexicans Of PenaltyThe Associated Press

Officials with the state's health insurance exchange say some New Mexicans have another chance to sign up for coverage if they paid the penalty for not having insurance when they filed their tax returns this year.

The special enrollment period runs through April 30.

It applies to those who didn't have insurance in 2014, aren't currently enrolled and were unaware of the penalty.

New Mexicans who don't qualify for an exemption and went without health coverage in 2014 have to pay a fee of $95 per adult — or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater — when they file their taxes this year.

The fee increases to $325 per adult or 2 percent of income for 2015.

Officials say more than 52,000 New Mexicans selected a plan or were re-enrolled as of last month.

Martinez Criticizes Delay By Counties On Senate VacancyThe Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez is criticizing delays by some counties in submitting names of nominees to fill a vacant state Senate seat.

Senator Phil Griego resigned Saturday amid criticism about his role in a real estate sale involving a state-owned building. His district included parts of six counties, and each county must nominate a possible replacement.

Martinez called on the counties to submit their nominees to her by late Sunday, but the Santa Fe, San Miguel, Bernalillo and Valencia county commissions decided to postpone a decision on the matter until later in the week.

They say it's essential to get public input.

The legislative session adjourns Saturday, and Martinez called the situation an emergency. Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell called the delays a political decision by Democrats.

Torrance and Lincoln counties forwarded the names of two Republican nominees.

Bernalillo County To Pick Nominee For Vacant Senate SeatThe Associated Press

Bernalillo County officials will meet this week to discuss applicants to fill a vacant state Senate seat.

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners is set to meet Wednesday at noon and choose a candidate to recommend to Gov. Susana Martinez.

Senator Phil Griego resigned Saturday following growing criticism about his role in a real estate sale involving a state-owned building.

Griego was one of several lawmakers last year who approved selling the property. The buyer later commissioned Griego to act as an agent and monitor the sale proceedings.

The senator represented Senate District 39, which encompasses parts of six counties.

Each county must select a possible replacement. Martinez will make the final decision.

Bernalillo County is accepting applications until noon Tuesday.

Father Of Slain Aid Worker Speaks At New Mexico Conference - The Associated Press and Daily Times

The father of an international aid worker killed while being held captive by Islamic State militants spoke about his daughter at a service organization's conference in New Mexico.

The Daily Times in Farmington reports that Kayla Mueller's father appeared Saturday at the midyear conference of the Southwest District of Kiwanis International.

Carl Mueller, who belongs to his local Kiwanis chapter in Prescott (PREHS'-kiht), Arizona, said he wanted to thank members who have lent their support.

Mueller's appearance came just a day after he and his wife met with President Barack Obama in Phoenix.

The 26-year-old Kayla Mueller was captured in August 2013 after leaving a hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mining Bill Draws Concern About Threats To New Mexico Water - The Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico House is considering legislation that would allow mines to remain on standby for as long as 100 years without obligation of restoration.

The Santa Fe New Mexican says the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee has heard two debates on HB 625.

The bill, which has the support of New Mexico's largest copper mines, would permit mines to defer operations for up to 100 years and reopen with little public notice.

Mine operators would only need to send a letter to the state. In addition, mines in standby mode wouldn't need to be reclaimed or restored to a more natural state.

Opponents say the bill undermines critical portions of the Mining Act, which protects groundwater from pollution.

NM Senate Panel Tables Late-Term Abortion, Notify Bills - The Associated Press

A New Mexico Senate panel has tabled a second abortion-related bill, this one requiring parents be notified at least 48 hours before a minor ends a pregnancy.

The Public Affairs Committee's 5-3 vote Sunday blocks the bill from moving forward.

The action came after a similar party-line vote — with Democrats voting in the majority — earlier on a bill that proposed banning late-term abortions.

The New Mexico House of Representatives had approved both bills that generated hours of intense testimony and debate, sending them on to the Senate.

Body Of Woman Found Near Albuquerque Skating Rink - The Associated Press

Albuquerque police have identified a woman whose body was found behind a roller skating rink.

Police spokesman Simon Drobik said Sunday that 31-year-old Cheyenne Cantrell of Española appears to have died under suspicious circumstances.

Drobik says the office of the medical investigator has not yet released the cause of her death.

Police say a family heading to Roller Skate City around 1 p.m. Saturday came across the body in a vacant lot just north of the rink.

Santa Fe County Commissioners Discuss Senate Replacement - The Associated Press

The Santa Fe County Commission has decided to solicit applications for potential candidates as Gov. Susana Martinez pushes to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of New Mexico Sen. Phil Griego.

The county commissioners held an emergency meeting Sunday to consider the next step. They voted to seek applications and postpone making a final decision until Friday.

Griego resigned Saturday, saying a controversy surrounding the sale of a state-owned building that he brokered last year had become a distraction.

The Democrat drew criticism because he was one of the lawmakers who approved a proposal to put the property up for sale.

Kansas Earns No. 2 Seed, Faces New Mexico State - The Associated Press

Kansas, after winning its 11th straight regular-season Big 12 Conference title, will open the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional against 15th-seeded New Mexico State.

The Jayhawks will remain close to home when the open tournament play on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Aggies won their fourth straight Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship with an 80-61 win over Seattle.