Landmark Energy Bill Awaits Governor's Signature, Senate Nixes Pre-Existing Conditions Bill

Mar 12, 2019

Landmark Energy Bill Heads To New Mexico Governor's DeskAssociated Press

Landmark legislation mandating that New Mexico get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045 has cleared its last legislative hurdle and is headed to the governor's desk.

The measure passed the House on a 43-22 vote following a lengthy debate Tuesday.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has advocated for the legislation and is expected to sign it.

The measure sets aggressive quotas for renewable energy production and would establish funds to ease the economic pains of shuttering a coal-fired power plant in the northwest corner of the state.

Republican Rep. James Strickler of Farmington warned that tens of millions of dollars in annual wages and benefits will be lost once the San Juan Generating Station and the adjacent mine are closed in 2022. He said Native Americans make up two-fifths of the workforce.

Hundreds Of Migrants Being Cared For In AlbuquerqueAssociated Press

About 300 migrants are being cared for in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after being released from federal custody in El Paso, Texas.

The nonprofit organizations in El Paso that have been housing asylum-seekers are running out of room, forcing men, women and children to be bused Sunday to Albuquerque after being released from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

City officials say the migrants are staying at hotels while they are processed to be sent around the country to stay with their families or sponsors as they await formal hearings.

Albuquerque Communications Director Matt Ross says the migrants, who are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, turned themselves in at the border and are officially requesting asylum.

Second New Mexico Tribe Launches Sports Betting – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A second New Mexico tribe is now offering sports betting.

Pojoaque Pueblo's Buffalo Thunder Casino opened its sports book Monday, joining Santa Ana Pueblo, which started its operation last fall following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal sports gambling ban.

News of Buffalo Thunder's move first emerged on gambling industry websites. The operation north of Santa Fe is partnering with Las Vegas Dissemination Co. in conjunction with the South Point Hotel and Casino and National Sports Book Management.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that federal officials have indicated that state gambling compacts with the tribes allow for sports betting.

The New Mexico Lottery board has been seeking to cash in too, but a measure pending before the state Legislature would prohibit the lottery from creating games tied to the outcome of sports.

State Senate Panel Rejects Bill On Pre-Existing ConditionsAssociated Press

A bill aimed ensuring medical insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions in New Mexico has been voted down by a state Senate committee.

A Senate panel voted Monday to sideline the Democrat-backed initiative to enshrine into state law provisions of former President Barack Obama's health care law that protect medical patients with pre-existing conditions.

Advocates for the legislation says provisions of the Affordable Care Act are at risk from a lawsuit by Republican state attorneys general and the Trump administration's push for cheaper, skimpier health plans.

Republicans who object to the legislation joined with Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants in a 4-3 vote.

New Mexico Forestry Division Gets First Woman LeaderAssociated Press

An associate director with The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico has been chosen as the first woman to lead the state forestry division.

Laura McCarthy's hiring was announced Monday by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which oversees the division.

McCarthy will be the 11th state forester since Ray Bell, who was the first to hold the post in 1958 and was known for caring for Smokey Bear the iconic cub.

McCarthy started her career as a wildland firefighter. She has more than 25 years of experience in forestry-related work, including for the U.S. Forest Service and the Forest Guild.

McCarthy will oversee 75 full-time employees and more than 300 seasonal firefighters and will be responsible for fire suppression on 43 million acres on non-federal, non-municipal, non-tribal lands.

New Mexico Land Office Lower Leasing Fees For 2019Associated Press

The New Mexico Land Office says it will be lowering fees this year for agricultural leases on state trust land.

State statute calls for the agency to annually update the fees assessed to ranchers and farmers who lease trust land for livestock grazing.

The amount is determined by a formula that accounts for private land lease rates, cattle prices, livestock production costs and other factors. The formula has been used to determine grazing rental rates since 1988.

Revenues earned by the agency help support public education.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says agricultural leases are an important part of the agency's business, as about 8.8 million acres are leased to ranchers and farmers.

She says the leases represent a dedication to supporting the state's agricultural roots.

California Water Agency To Store Extra WaterAssociated Press

A major Southern California water agency has agreed to store extra water in a key reservoir in an effort to preserve a multistate drought plan for the Colorado River.

The board of the Metropolitan Water District voted unanimously Tuesday to take over the obligations of the nearby Imperial Irrigation District.

Imperial's demands for $200 million for a separate project to protect the Salton Sea threatened to blow up the drought plan ahead of a deadline next week.

Metropolitan says the efforts to preserve the salty lake southeast of Los Angeles shouldn't stall the plan to protect the river that serves 40 million people. Its action essentially writes Imperial out of the drought plan.

The U.S. government could impose its own rules for water going to California, Arizona and Nevada if seven states can't reach an agreement.

New Mexico Plan To Boost Spending Heads To Senate Floor - Associated Press

Adjustments to a $7 billion annual general fund spending plan for the state of New Mexico would devote greater resources to economic development subsidies and drop a requirement that the University of New Mexico revive recently disbanded sports teams.

The lead Senate budget committee on Monday endorsed a $703 million increase in general fund spending for the fiscal year starting July 1. That represents an additional $19 million beyond the House-approved bill.

The amended bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

Senate amendments could boost current year spending by $60 million on a closing fund to encourage business expansions.

Minor adjustments were made to a plan for public education spending of $3.25 billion that represents a 16 percent increase over current-year spending.

Ban-The-Box Bill Sent To New Mexico Governor - Associated Press

A bill that would remove criminal history questions from initial job applications in the private sector is headed to the governor's desk.

The bill from Democratic Sen. Bill O'Neill of Albuquerque cleared the Legislature on a 45-15 vote of the House with all Republicans who were present in opposition.

A similar bill was vetoed in 2017 by former GOP Gov. Susana Martinez.

Under the new bill, private employers may take prior convictions into consideration after an initial review of the job application and a discussion of employment.

Similar "ban-the-box" regulations that eliminate prior convictions from check lists on job applications have been adopted in at least 11 states that include California, Illinois and Washington.

New Mexico Mulls State-Run Pot Shops, Subsidized Medical Use - Associated Press

New Mexico would become the first U.S. state to set up its own government-operated marijuana stores and subsidize medical cannabis for the poor under a bill brokered between Republicans and Democrats, as a new wave of states weighs legislation that would legalize recreational sales and consumption.

The idea for state-run pot shops comes from a trio of GOP state senators who broke with local Republican Party orthodoxy to embrace legal marijuana. It is a decidedly big-government approach that also would require that marijuana consumers carry receipts of purchase or confront penalties.

Those provisions were sown into Democrat-sponsored legislation that contains currents of social justice including medical cannabis subsidies for poor people with debilitating medical conditions.

Several powerful conservative Democrats still stands in the way of a Senate floor vote on legalization.

New Mexico Officials Say More Work Needed To Clean Up Jet Fuel Spill - Associated Press

After excavating thousands of tons of soil and treating millions of gallons of water, New Mexico regulators say the U.S. Air Force still has work to do to clean up contamination at a military base bordering the state's largest city.

The state environment department has released a draft of this year's strategic plan for addressing the jet fuel contamination at Kirtland Air Force Base.

The fuel leak — believed to have been seeping into the ground for decades — was first detected in 1999. The greatest concern was potential contamination of drinking water wells in Albuquerque neighborhoods that border the base.

Environment Secretary James Kenney says 2018 data indicates groundwater extraction and treatment is having an effect on the plume.

Under the proposed plan, that work would continue along with more modeling and monitoring.

UNM Board Of Regents Selects Officers - Associated Press

The University of New Mexico Board of Regents has elected a former state treasurer and management school dean as its president.

The university said in a statement posted to its website that Doug Brown was chosen for the position at a meeting Monday.

Brown previously served on the board following an appointment in 2003, and then was appointed state treasurer in 2005.

He led UNM's Anderson School of Management for five years until his retirement in 2014.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Brown and four others to the Board of Regents after taking office this year. Their appointments were confirmed by the state Senate last month.

Other officers selected Monday include Kim Sanchez Rael, who was chosen as vice president, and Sandra Begay, who will serve as board secretary and treasurer.

Deadline Set For Abuse Claims Against New Mexico Archdiocese - Associated Press

A deadline has been set for victims of clergy sexual abuse to submit a proof of claim in the ongoing bankruptcy case filed by New Mexico's largest Catholic diocese.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma approved the June 17 deadline in an order announced late Friday. He also spelled out a comprehensive claims process, which includes the Archdiocese of Santa Fe publishing notices in dozens of newspapers and other publications.

The claims will be sealed and remain confidential unless the claimant indicates otherwise.

The archdiocese dropped a bombshell in November, announcing it would seek bankruptcy protection after spending more than $50 million over the years to settle hundreds of lawsuits alleging child sex abuse by clergy members.

Archbishop John Wester said he's hopeful mediation can begin following the claim deadline.

Armed Security Guards To Begin Patrolling Rio Rancho Schools - KOB-TV, Associated Press

Rio Rancho schools will have armed guards on their campuses starting this week.

KOB-TV in Albuquerque reports that retired law enforcement officers and ex-military members will be volunteering as security guards for Rio Rancho Public Schools beginning Monday.

District officials say the additional security comes after six months of careful consideration.

The guards will be heavily present at high schools but other schools will be covered.

The extra security comes a month after a 16-year-old boy fired a gun inside a Rio Rancho high school. No one was injured.

Other measures the district has taken include more cameras, improved fencing and electronic doors.