Mothers Sue Over State Child Care Program, Spaceport Seeks Additional State Subsidies

Sep 26, 2018

New Mexico Denies Claims In Child Care LawsuitAssociated Press

Officials with New Mexico's child welfare agency are calling claims that it is illegally denying child care assistance to thousands of low-income families preposterous.

Single mothers and an advocacy group sued the Children, Youth and Families Department late Tuesday, saying the agency is using vague regulations to deny child care assistance to families.

Department spokesman Henry Varela said Wednesday that the agency has been working to expand the program for vulnerable populations and that monthly participation has increased by about 4,500 children over the last three years.

He says funding for the program has increased by more than 60 percent since 2015.

The agency also disputes claims that families are not informed of their right to appeal when assistance is denied, saying they can seek a hearing and review their case documents.

New Mexico Election Provides Stark Choice On Gun IssuesAssociated Press

Two candidates for governor of New Mexico are offering starkly different visions on issues of gun control and public safety in a state where the Legislature, dominated by Democrats, has been reticent to approve major restrictions on firearms.

Republican Steve Pearce says new gun restrictions wouldn't necessarily improve safety, while Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham wants a ban on assault weapons and more background checks on sales. The election is thrusting New Mexico back into a proxy battle between national groups on gun issues.

An Associated Press review of all firearms-related legislation in all states this year shows largely predictable and partisan patterns, with the exception of Florida and Vermont.

New Mexico lawmakers increased the penalty for illegal gun possession by violent felons and set aside about $40 million for school safety improvements.

Report Recommends Changes To Sheriff's Office's PoliciesKOB-TV, Associated Press

An independent review of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office offers 22 recommendations on the department's use of force and pursuit policies.

The recommendations in the review released Tuesday include adding definitions related to the use of force and legal standards for using both non-deadly and deadly force to initiation and termination of pursuit policies and restrictions on deadly force.

The report also recommends editing some language within policies, adding some additional definitions and organizing the policies differently.

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins says the sheriff seems to be open to any recommendations included in the report.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III tells KOB-TV that the department will look into adding more definitions to make things more clear.

He says the report may also lead to additional training.

Prosecutor Cancels Grand Jury In New Mexico Compound CaseAssociated Press

A district attorney is indefinitely postponing plans to seek grand jury indictments against five adults detained in August on suspicion of child neglect at a ramshackle compound in northern New Mexico.

Taos-area District Attorney Donald Gallegos said Wednesday that plans to convene a grand jury this week were canceled in deference to federal prosecutors who are pursuing firearms and conspiracy charges against the extended family. Gallegos says the federal case should go forward first.

Authorities found 11 children living in filth at the compound and later recovered the body of a severely disabled 3-year-old boy who they say was kidnapped by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, in Georgia.

Charges of child abuse resulting in death were dropped against Wahhaj and wife Jany Leveille as federal authorities pursue separate charges.

New Mexico To Get $760K Under States' Settlement With Uber Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says the state will receive approximately $760,000 under a $148 million nationwide settlement between 50 states and Uber.

The settlement announced Wednesday by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan stems from the ride-hailing company's yearlong delay in reporting a data breach to its affected drivers about the theft of their personal information.

Uber learned in November 2016 that hackers had accessed personal data, including driver's license information, for roughly 600,000 Uber drivers in the U.S. The company acknowledged the breach in November 2017, saying it paid $100,000 in ransom for the stolen information to be destroyed.

The states sued Uber, saying the company violated laws requiring it to promptly notify people affected by the breach.

New Mexico Lawmaker Found Guilty Of DWI In Albuquerque – By Mary Hudetz, Associated Press

A judge found a New Mexico lawmaker guilty of aggravated drunken driving Tuesday, citing her performance and seemingly flippant demeanor during a field sobriety test last spring.

The verdict was announced following an hours-long bench trial in metro court for Monica Youngblood, an Albuquerque Republican who was arrested in May at a police checkpoint.

Police video of the stop shows she refused a blood-alcohol text, but complied with a field sobriety test.  The officer who arrested her, however, testified in court that Youngblood did not follow his specific instructions.

Youngblood is a three-term state lawmaker who consistently supported outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez's tough-on-crime agenda over the years, including proposals for tougher DWI penalties. She said in a brief statement to reporters after the trial that “not a day goes by" in which she doesn't regret the circumstances of the night she was arrested.

She also apologized to her constituents as she seeks re-election in November.

Spaceport In New Mexico Seeks Additional State Subsidies Associated Press

New Mexico's spaceport for vertical rocket and runway launches is asking for a 72 percent increase in funding from the state's general fund for the coming fiscal year.

Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks was scheduled Wednesday to brief state lawmakers about operations and finances for the southern New Mexico facility.

The Legislature's lead budget-writing committee says the New Mexico Spaceport Authority is seeking a $700,000 increase, starting in July 2019, to its $976,000 annual allowance from the state general fund.

Virgin Galactic is the lead tenant at the spaceport and has tripled its lease payments this year. The company led by British billionaire Richard Branson plans to eventually use the spaceport to carry tourists on suborbital hops into the lower reaches of space.

That project has experienced numerous setbacks.

Navajo Tech Gets $1M For New Workforce Training Center Associated Press

More than $1 million is being awarded to Navajo Technical University to build a training center to help displaced workers from the energy sector develop new skills.

The Metrology and Materials Center at the Crownpoint campus will specialize in industries that include 3D metal printing, machining, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

The funding comes from the U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration. Officials there estimate that the effort could attract $15 million in private investment.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan says it's important for Navajos have high-tech tools within their communities to train the next generation of workers.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich said the center has the potential to bolster job training across the region, which has been home for decades to oil and gas development and mining.


El Malpais Soil Tests Positive For Fungus Lethal To Bats Associated Press

Test results indicate the presence of a fungus that has been linked to a disease lethal to bats in cave soil at El Malpais National Monument.

Officials at the monument said Tuesday tests done by an Arizona laboratory turned up low levels of the fungus that causes white nose syndrome, which has resulted in the deaths of millions of bats in other states.

Infected bats are roused from hibernation repeatedly, which forces them to consume winter fat stores and starve to death before awakening in the spring,

Managers at El Malpais say they're taking action to protect the bats that live in the many caves within the monument's lava formations. That includes requiring permits and setting up decontamination stations at cave trailheads for staff, researchers and visitors.

Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal Prompts Gallup Prayer Gatherings Gallup Independent, Associated Press

The Sisters' Council of the Diocese of Gallup is planning weekly prayer gatherings in response to the ongoing sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.

The sisters in a statement said they will commit themselves to praying the rosary either privately or with community members every Wednesday.

The Gallup Independent reports two local prayer gatherings are scheduled this Wednesday.

Sister Pat Bietsch, chair of the Sisters' Council, suggested the community prayer gatherings. She is among more than 60 Catholic sisters currently working in the Gallup Diocese.

She called the abuse "a grave sin," saying it has affected the diocese and the church immensely. She also said investigations in New Mexico and elsewhere must be transparent and that the council wants survivors to know the sisters will be praying for them.