Legislative Finance Committee Seeks Education Spending Boost, Archbishop To Open Abuse Records

Jan 14, 2019

New Mexico Legislature Suggests 15 Percent Spending IncreaseAssociated Press

New Mexico state government would increase spending on public education by 15 percent under a budget proposal from the Legislature's lead budget-writing committee.

The Legislative Finance Committee on Monday released a plan to increase annual state general fund spending in all by 11 percent, or $673 million, to $7 billion for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Lawmakers are taking a guarded approach to spending from an anticipated $1.1 billion budget surplus that is linked closely to a boom-and-bust oil industry.

The budget proposal calls for an annual spending increase of $417 million on public education that includes major investments in preschool. Spending on at-risk students would rise by $113 million.

Another $90 million would go toward extending the school year by five weeks at many elementary schools.

Ex-UNM Law Prof Sedillo Lopez Appointed To New Mexico SenateAssociated Press

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a former University of New Mexico law school associate dean and civil rights activist, has been appointed to a vacant state Senate seat in Albuquerque.

The Bernalillo County Commission voted unanimously on Monday to appoint Sedillo Lopez to finish out the term of Democratic state Sen. Cisco McSorley. He resigned last week to serve as director of the state Probation and Parole.

The county commissioners chose Sedillo Lopez out of 19 candidates who announced last week they would seek the seat.

Sedillo Lopez lost in the Democratic primary last year to Deb Haaland for an open U.S. House seat representing Albuquerque. Haaland went on to win the U.S. Congressional seat in the general election.

New Mexico May Add Renewable-Energy OfficeAssociated Press

New Mexico's commissioner of public lands wants to create a new office to encourage the development of renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar on state trust lands.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard announced Monday a request to the Legislature to authorize funding for a state Office of Renewable Energy. She also is seeking authorization to expand oversight of oil and gas development in the southeast corner or the state by hiring four new district managers.

The State Land Office oversees 14,000 square miles of land and additional underground resources that are used to help fund schools, universities, hospitals and other public institutions. The agency is funded by income from state trust land.

Garcia Richard campaigned on pledges to expand opportunities for renewable energy development. New Mexico is experiencing record-setting oil production in the Permian Basin that straddles the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Santa Fe Archbishop Pledges To Open Priest Abuse RecordsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The head of the largest Roman Catholic diocese in New Mexico has pledged to open sealed records related to priest child sexual abuse cases.

Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester agreed to the disclosure as he and two other top archdiocesan officials were questioned last week under oath as part of bankruptcy court proceedings.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the public meeting included several victims whose claims are now intertwined with the archdiocese's pending bankruptcy reorganization.

While the archdiocese already has paid millions of dollars to settle abuse claims, Wester has said it cannot sustain the financial impact of continued litigation.

It was also revealed during the meeting that the archdiocese continues to pay thousands of dollars annually to assist two priests who have been credibly accused of molesting children.

Former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse Sr. DiesAssociated Press

A Ganado man who served six months as Navajo Nation president during a time of political upheaval has died.

Milton Bluehouse Sr. died Monday morning. He was 82.

His son, Milton Bluehouse Jr., says doctors recently discovered his father had late-stage cancer.

The elder Bluehouse became president in July 1998 after two tribal presidents facing ethics charges left office.

Albert Hale resigned rather than face prosecution on corruption charges. Thomas Atcitty took over but was removed by the Tribal Council on ethics charges.

Bluehouse had been serving as a tribal lawmaker when Atcitty appointed him vice president.

Bluehouse tried to recapture a tribal legislative seat in 2010. He echoed the words of the late Annie Wauneka at the time, saying even if he lost "I'll go and do more."

Report Says Shrinking Ridership Hampers New Mexico Commuter RailAssociated Press

New Mexico's only commuter rail line has marked another year of shrinking ridership.

A report released Monday by the Legislative Finance Committee shows there were more than three-quarters of a million trips taken during the last fiscal year. That's 37 percent below the peak of 1.2 million during the 2010 fiscal year.

Ridership has declined every year since, with the last fiscal year marking the lowest level since service was extended to Santa Fe in late 2008.

The report says each passenger trip cost $34 in 2017. Fares covered just 8 percent of that, with federal grants and gross receipts tax revenues making up the rest.

A project of former Gov. Bill Richardson, the train began operating in 2006.

The most common reasons given for not riding the train include inconvenient schedules and long travel times.

New Mexico Lawmakers To Focus On Public Education Overhaul - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

An overhaul of New Mexico's struggling public education system is at the forefront of legislative priorities as an expanded Democratic majority arrives at the state Capitol for a 60-day session on Tuesday.

The inauguration of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to succeed a two-term Republican has opened up a floodgate for progressive-led initiatives on matters of climate change, abortion rights and gun control.

Martinez's departure also sets the stage for attempts to increase the minimum wage and possible authorization of recreational marijuana.

The new governor and allied majority leaders of the state House and Senate say the No. 1 priority is bolstering resources for public education.

House Speaker Brian Egolf says the goal is to break free of a vicious cycle of poverty.

No Guns Allowed In Gallery During New Mexico Joint Sessions - Associated Press

The New Mexico Legislature is prohibiting people from carrying guns in the House gallery during Tuesday's opening session and any other joint sessions of the two legislative chambers.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that a legislative committee's approval of the ban follows expressions of concern by top House and Senate leaders regarding mass shootings around the nation.

The House Gallery overlooks the chamber floor where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will deliver her State of the State address Tuesday.

The committee also voted to ban weapons carried openly on opening day, but House Speaker Brian Egolf said the panel will meet Monday and may rescind that decision.

The new restriction won't prohibit people from carrying guns in the Capitol and displaying them in most sections of the building.

Panel Chooses Finalists For New Mexico Court Of Appeals - Associated Press

A nominating panel has chosen six finalists whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she prepares to fill a vacancy on the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

The nominating commission met Friday in Santa Fe to evaluate nine candidates who submitted applications for the post.

The finalists include William Daniel Slease, chief disciplinary counsel for the state Supreme Court, Administrative Office of the Courts Director Arthur Pepin and Santa Fe attorney Jane Bloom Yohalem. Slease and Yohalem are also among the candidates being considered for two vacancies on the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The others in the running for the appeals court position are Zachary Arthur Ives, Martha Anne Kelley and Kerry Christopher Kiernan.

Shutdown Puts Strain On Hundreds Of Native American Tribes - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Fallout from the federal government shutdown is hurting hundreds of Native American tribes and entities that serve them.

The pain is especially deep in tribal communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment, and where one person often supports an extended family.

The effects are being felt far and wide.

In New Mexico, a lone police officer patrolled a reservation the size of Houston during a massive snow storm in late December.

Elsewhere, federally funded road maintenance programs are operating on skeleton crews.

Tribal officials say some programs are on the brink of collapse and others are surviving with tribes filling funding gaps.

At the Indian Health Service, about 9,000 employees are working without pay at hospitals and clinics. Much of the administrative work, though, has come to a halt.

Carlsbad Struggling To Attract Chains Amid Oil Boom - Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

The oil boom in southeastern New Mexico may be attracting business to communities, but some chains say they are struggling to keep employees because of better-paying positions in the oilfield.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Defer said a labor shortage is affecting the city's ability to attract national chains.

He says many of the businesses rescind their interest when they learn of the city's shrinking workforce.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Carlsbad had only a 2.8 percent unemployment rate in May.

That's just more than half of New Mexico's unemployment rate of about 5 percent and well below the U.S. average of about 4 percent.

Defer says communities like Carlsbad are also facing a housing shortage.

Program Using Storytelling Events To Save Navajo Language - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

A group of Navajo Nation elders is using traditional storytelling to try to pass down their native language to the next generation.

The Gallup Independent reports the Dine Council of Elders for Peace is beginning to hold storytelling events in Gallup, New Mexico, as a way to keep youth in New Mexico and Arizona engaged in the Navajo language.

Organizers plan events around storytelling, games and star-gazing.

Group member Mary Jane Harrison says the younger generation has lost much of the Navajo language. She says storytelling is important because the stories also contain real-life lessons.

Noreen Kelly is the program coordinator for the Dine Council of Elders for Peace. She says the group hopes to expand the events and make them more convenient for younger tribal members to attend.

Community College Buying National Guard Armory In Tucumcari - Associated Press

The New Mexico National Guard's armory in Tucumcari soon will be used by college students, not soldiers.

Mesalands Community College says the New Mexico Higher Education Department and the State Board of Finance recently approved the college's plan to purchase the facility for a future student center and athletic complex.

The college says it's buying Board is selling the 21,540 sq.-foot building and nearly 8 acres of land from the New Mexico State Armory for $1. The armory is next to the college.

College President Groesbeck says the acquisition will help the college increase its on-campus enrollment and expand student services.

According to the college, the sale should close within 60 days and the new facility is expected to open in the fall of 2020.

Charter School Named After Dolores Huerta To Fight Closure - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Officials for a New Mexico charter school named after Dolores Huerta plan to appeal the state's decision to close the school.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the school's head administrator, Melissa Miranda, announced at a meeting Thursday that the school's attorney agreed to appeal a recent vote by the New Mexico Public Education Commission not to renew the charter for La Academia Dolores Huerta in Las Cruces.

The vote came after a recommendation from the Public Education Department, citing declining student achievement, including three consecutive F grades under the state's grading system.

The school opened in 2004 as a dual-language charter middle school.

Huerta, born in the northern New Mexico mining town of Dawson, co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez in 1962.

No ID Yet After Human Remains Found In Taos-area Home Fire - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Human remains found inside a home that caught fire in the Taos area still haven't been identified.

However, family members of the homeowner believe 80-year-old archaeologist Jon Young was inside his house that burned Monday.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Young's car was parked in the driveway at the time of the fire in El Prado, a small community north of Taos.

Investigators from the New Mexico Fire Marshal's Office in Santa Fe discovered a body inside a pantry adjoining the garage.

A positive identification from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator could take weeks.

Family members say Young received a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Arizona, moved to Taos in the 1970s and worked as an archaeologist for the Carson National Forest.