Navajo Lawmakers Opt For Smaller Buffer Around Chaco, NMSU Suspends Fraternity Over Hazing

Jan 24, 2020

Navajo Lawmakers Opt For Smaller Buffer Around National Park - By Felicia Fonseca And Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Lawmakers from the country's largest American Indian reservation may have thrown a wrinkle into efforts aimed at establishing a permanent buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park as New Mexico's congressional delegation, environmentalists and other tribes try to keep oil and gas development from getting closer to the World Heritage site.

Navajo Nation delegates voted Thursday to support a buffer only half the size of the one proposed in legislation pending in Congress.

They cited concerns from Navajo landowners who depend on oil and gas royalties and lease payments.

The vote comes despite support from the tribe's president and individual Navajo communities for the more expansive protective zone.

New Mexico's congressional delegation says considerable time was spent drafting the legislation and that they worked with Navajo leaders and members of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, an organization that represents other sovereign tribes around New Mexico.

New Mexico State University Suspends Fraternity Over HazingLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University has suspended a fraternity for five years after a student was injured in a shooting during an initiation event.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Kappa Sigma fraternity held the November event at a campground in Cloudcroft. The student newspaper The Round Up first reported the male student suffered a gunshot wound to the leg during a fraternity camping event.

One fraternity member has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and negligent use of a deadly weapon while intoxicated. He told investigators he did not know the .40 caliber handgun was loaded when he shot the other student's leg.

According to a Dec. 18 report from the dean’s office students pledging to Kappa Sigma were required to participate in loyalty oaths with guns held to their heads or other parts of their body and at times instructed to pull the triggers of the weapons.

Officials say Kappa Sigma's New Mexico State charter has been revoked and the organization banned from campus through 2024. 

New Mexico Justices Work To Boost Access To Legal ServicesAssociated Press

More New Mexico residents would have access to civil legal services under proposals approved by the state Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura said Friday the court recognizes the state faces a significant gap in access to justice. She pointed to residents who cannot afford an attorney to resolve legal problems ranging from housing and financial disputes to family matters such as child custody and support.

The proposals endorsed by the court include efforts to attract more out-of-state law school graduates to practice in New Mexico and possible financial incentives for attorneys who practice in rural or underserved communities. 

Court officials say one-third of the state's counties have 10 or fewer attorneys, and three counties — De Baca, Harding and Hidalgo — have no active resident attorneys.

The court directed the State Bar to explore working with the University of New Mexico School of Law on the possibility of offering government stipends and student loan forgiveness for attorneys who agree to live and work in selected areas.

The justices also ordered the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a pilot program in which specially trained personnel would serve as court navigators to assist people who don't have an attorney.

Albuquerque Police Say Suspect Wounded In Exchange Of GunfireAssociated Press

A man sought in an earlier shooting was shot and wounded during an exchange of gunfire with at least one Albuquerque police officer early Friday morning, police said.

Police said a gun was found at the scene and that Daniel Anthony Montoya, 31, was in police custody after being treated at a hospital.

No details were released on Montoya's injuries but police said no officer was injured in the incident that occurred shortly after midnight Thursday.

A criminal complaint said officers who located Montoya followed him as he fired a handgun multiple times, including at least two times when he fired at least one shot in the direction of officers before one officer shot him with a rifle.

Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Montoya had been sought in a shooting Thursday morning. Nobody was hurt in that incident.

Jail records indicated Montoya was held Friday on suspicion of multiple charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault on a police officer.

Court records didn't list a defense attorney for Montoya who could comment on his behalf about the allegations.

New Mexico May Ratchet Up Tobacco Oversight - Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico legislators are considering a full ban on flavored tobacco and nicotine vaping products along with more robust oversight of retail sales to discourage use by minors and young adults.

Backed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, one initiative would raise the age limit for tobacco sales including vaping products to 21 — in line with recent federal reforms signed by President Donald Trump.

The state bill, from Democratic Sens. Linda Lopez and Gabriel Ramos, also would establish mandatory licenses for tobacco manufacturers and vendors. The license could be revoked with repeated violations for sales to those under age 21.

At the same time, bills introduced in the state House and Senate would ban sales and free samples of all flavored tobacco, e-cigarette or nicotine products amid growing concern over the tobacco and vaping industry's use of flavorings to attract young people.

Results of a public opinion survey commissioned by the American Heart Association were released Thursday, showing 62% support in New Mexico for prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products and 73% support for licensing tobacco retailers.

New Mexico Officials Call US Water Rollbacks 'Disastrous'By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico officials on Thursday said the Trump administration's move to end federal protections for many of the nation's streams, arroyos and wetlands will be "disastrous" for the Southwest state. 

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has been a constant critic of the president, said water is the most important natural resource for the arid state, and stripping protections is an affront to all who call New Mexico home.

The change to the clean water rule had long been sought by builders, oil and gas developers, farmers and others. It narrows the Obama administration's 2015 definition of what is a protected body of water and effectively removes safeguards for some waterways that had been previously put into place.

State officials first raised concerns last year about plans to narrow the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act. In comments submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, the state argued the changes would lead to further problems and uncertainties as temperatures increase and precipitation patterns shift.

State officials said droughts will affect water levels in rivers, lakes and streams, leaving less water to dilute pollutants. They also warned of more frequent and powerful storms increasing polluted runoff from urban and agricultural areas and into nearby waterways.

A little less than 7% of New Mexico's streams and rivers are perennial, with the remaining 93% being intermittent or ephemeral, according to state officials.

Environmentalists have pointed to the Rio Grande, which provides drinking water and irrigation supplies for millions of people in the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. 

Schools, Other Beneficiaries To Get $1B From State Endowment Associated Press

New Mexico schools and other beneficiaries will share more than $1 billion in funding from the state's permanent endowment funds.

The State Investment Council said Thursday the amount that will be distributed over the next fiscal year will be more than ever before. It also marks an increase of more than $60 million over the last year due to growth of the state's Land Grant and Severance Tax permanent funds. 

State Investment Officer Steve Moise said record revenues from oil and gas production and strong investment returns over the past decade have turned the funds into a billion-dollar revenue generator for New Mexico.

Despite the current oil boom, finance officials in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration as well as some state lawmakers have cautioned about overspending.

Moise echoed some of those concerns, saying there will be a time when revenues flowing into the funds will diminish, making it more difficult to grow the investments.

Albuquerque Names Fire Station After Late Councilman - Albuquerque Journal, KOAT-TV, Associated Press

City council members in New Mexico have named a fire station after late councilor Ken Sanchez.

The Albuquerque City Council met Wednesday for the first time since Sanchez's death and voted unanimously to name a fire station in western Albuquerque after him. 

The resolution was sponsored by council members Cynthia Borrego, Diane Gibson and Klarissa Peña who said in their bill that Sanchez was "instrumental in securing funding for the land acquisition and construction of" the station, which opened in 2012.

Sanchez was elected in 2005 and represented a west side district that included west of the Rio Grande river between Central and Montaño. 

He was in the middle of his fourth term when he died Jan. 1 from an undisclosed medical emergency, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Mayor Tim Keller is expected to name a temporary replacement next month, KOAT-TV reported.

New Mexico Leads US In Pecan ProductionAssociated Press

The numbers are in and U.S. agricultural officials say New Mexico marked a record year of pecan production in 2019 to lead the nation.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Thursday that production in the Southwest state topped out at more than 96 million pounds, up 6% from the previous year.

Georgia followed with 69 million pounds, but many trees there are still recovering from the effects of last year's Hurricane Michael. Hot, dry weather from late August through October also had negative effects on Georgia's yield.

Overall, the value of the nation's pecan crop totaled $469 million, up 14% from the previous season.

In New Mexico, pecans were worth just over $170 million in 2019, down 2 percent from the previous year. The average yield per acre in the state increased by 120 pounds to finish at 2,100 pounds.

Agricultural officials said yield nationwide also was up, with pecan producing states averaging nearly 670 pounds per acre.

Access Road To Top Of Extinct Volcano Reopens In New Mexico - Associated Press

The only road to the top of an extinct volcano in northeastern New Mexico has reopened after being closed for five months.

Capulin Volcano National Monument officials reopened the road Thursday, ending a closure that began Aug. 9 due to a washout caused by heavy rain. 

Monument officials cautioned drivers to obey restrictions in a 90-yard segment of the road that has only one lane.

The road is closed to RVs, buses, attached trailers or any other vehicles over 26 feet long while the road has the one-lane section. 

The road may close again in the future for maintenance, officials said.

Lawmakers May Lift Secrecy From State Financial Settlements - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A proposal would force New Mexico state government to immediately disclose financial settlements that resolve accusations of wrongdoing by state officials.

It also would do away with a system that keeps those records sealed for at least six months. The proposal comes amid concerns that the current system led to secretive, unjustified payouts during the prior administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

The proposal was written by Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque with support from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

General Service Secretary Ken Ortiz says that the current secrecy provision appears to date-back to legal claims against the state in the aftermath of the 1980 riot at a state penitentiary outside Santa Fe that left more than 30 inmates dead.

A related bill would ensure settlements continue to be published by future administrations on the state's Sunshine Portal, a clearinghouse for information about state contracts, salaries, budgets and income.

New Mexico County Looks At Closing Juvenile Detention Center KOB-TV, Associated Press

A New Mexico county is considering shutting down its juvenile detention center because of a decrease in the detention population, officials said.

Santa Fe County is looking at the option as state officials say fewer teens are incarcerated before seeing a judge, KOB-TV reported Wednesday.

Santa Fe County Manager Katherine Miller plans to ask county commissioners for guidance concerning the facility, the station reported.

The county is not required to have a youth detention center, officials said

There are now 1,500 teens detained in the state, down from 10 years ago when there were more than 4,000, officials said.

There are currently six statewide detention centers, while Chaves, Taos and McKinley counties have shut down their juvenile detention facilities, officials said.

The average stay in detention facilities is less than three weeks. Last year, fewer than 150 juveniles were incarcerated in Santa Fe County, officials said.

The Santa Fe County facility faces frequent staff turnovers and vacancies, a lack of guaranteed revenue and aging facilities, the county manager said.

The facility's closure would save the county nearly $1.8 million per year, officials said.

Santa Fe officials have spoken to officials in San Juan and Bernalillo counties about the possibility of housing their juvenile detainees, officials said.