New Governor Suspends Standardized Tests, Spike In Flu Cases Brings 3 More Deaths

Jan 3, 2019

New Mexico Governor Suspends Student Testing SystemAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is ordering the suspension and rapid replacement of the state's current standardized academic exams for students.

The newly inaugurated Democratic governor on Thursday signed executive orders that suspend the current testing model and said a new assessment system should be in place by August with federal approval.

The orders hold major implications for teacher evaluations that were more closely linked to student test scores under preceding Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Lujan Grisham says it is still too soon to say whether standardized questionnaires will continue to play a role the assessments of student progress. She wants a "bottom-up" approach to developing new evaluations in consultation with teachers, parents and experts in education.

Navajo Legislation On Tribal Energy Company WithdrawnAssociated Press

Navajo Nation Council legislation to allow a tribally owned energy company to become a for-profit corporation was withdrawn before it could be considered.

The Gallup Independent reports that the bill sought approval for a federal charter for Navajo Transitional Energy Company.

Delegate Benjamin Bennett said he withdrew the bill from the council agenda Monday, the last day of a two-day special session, because legislative staff concluded the bill required passage with a two-thirds vote.

Because the bill was listed on the agenda as only needing a majority vote, it was listed last. That meant it likely couldn't be considered until Monday night, and opponents who wanted to view consideration of the bill said they couldn't stay that long.

This story has been corrected  to reflect that the bill was written to allow a tribally owned energy company to become a for-profit enterprise, not to allow the company to buy a power plant and coal mine.

New Mexico Governor Gets Donations Linked To Racino BidsSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's campaign received more than $25,000 in donations from individuals and companies with ties to a group seeking New Mexico's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino in Clovis.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that a company linked to another group that's also vying for the license made a donation of more than $5,000 late in the campaign.

As governor, Lujan Grisham now has control over the state Racing Commission. She could allow the commission to issue the lucrative license or block it from doing so through appointment of new commissioners.

Campaign ties between the governor and at least three of the groups seeking the license mean a commission decision selecting the winning group could be viewed as politically tainted.

Roswell Aids Passengers After Plane Makes Emergency LandingRoswell Daily Records, Associated Press

Roswell city officials and staff at the city's visitors center made inconvenienced passengers feel welcomed and comfortable after an American Airlines plane had to make an emergency landing at the Roswell International Air Center.

The Roswell Daily Record reports American Airlines indicated that 147 passengers and six crew members were aboard a direct flight Wednesday morning to San Diego from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

But a smoke alarm in the cargo area of the plane required the plane to be diverted to Roswell. Passengers and crew remained in Roswell for more than seven hours until a new plane could arrive and be boarded to take them to their destination.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein says the situation was caused by a faulty sensor, and no injuries or difficulties to passengers or crew were reported.

New Mexico Lawmakers Seek Popular-Vote System For PresidentAssociated Press

Democratic New Mexico legislators in haven't given up bringing their state into a movement to elect future U.S. presidents by popular vote.

Four lawmakers have introduced a bill to place New Mexico into an inter-state compact that requires Electoral College voters to cast ballots for the national popular vote winner. States representing 270 electoral votes must join for the compact to function.

The Santa Fe Democratic Party on Wednesday announced a forum on the initiative. The bill's sponsors are state Sens. Mimi Stewart and Carlos Cisneros, along with Reps. Gail Chasey and Daymon Ely. An identical 2017 bill won approval by the state Senate but not the House.

Donald Trump is one of several presidents to win election while losing the popular vote by garnering the most Electoral College votes.

Agency Says 3 More Flu Deaths In New Mexico As Activity SpikesAssociated Press

Health officials say flu activity in New Mexico has sharply increased in recent weeks and that there have been three additional flu deaths in the state, raising the total so far during the current flu season to four.

The Department of Health on Dec. 17 reported the death of a person from Lincoln County in south-central New Mexico and on Thursday said there since have been deaths of people from Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Mora counties in northern New Mexico.

The department says all those who died were over age 50.

Officials urge people who haven't gotten flu shots to get one, particularly if they're among those most at-risk for flu-related complications or live or work with people in at-risk populations such as the elderly and young children.

New Mexico Inaugural Group Promise Financial Transparency - Associated Press

A committee that organized the inauguration of Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says it will publish details about its contributions and spending by mid-January.

Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Kier Strader-Monaghan said Tuesday that financial records for the inaugural and related galas will be released on a website for the events. She says contributions were limited to $11,000 per donor.

Professional fundraisers for the 2011 inauguration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez later raised concerns publicly about some untraceable spending from inaugural accounts. Martinez's inaugural committee raised nearly $1 million. Federal prosecutors are probing whether foreign interests made illegal contributions to Donald Trump's inauguration.

Lujan Grisham's free-admission inauguration was preceded by a brunch for donors and musical entertainment for all. Tickets for inaugural ballroom celebrations ranged from $100 to $11,000.

New Mexico Land Boss Makes First Appointments - Associated Press

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard has made her first appointments as she takes over one of New Mexico's most powerful agencies.

The Democrat on Wednesday named some deputies and assistant commissioners.

The list includes Sunalei Stewart, who will oversee operations. He previously worked with Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller as his chief of staff and also served as chief of staff when Keller was the state auditor.

Howard Gross will be in charge of surface resources. He has worked in recent years for advocacy groups that include the Western Conservation Foundation and the Forest Stewards Guild.

The Land Office oversees oil and gas drilling, renewable energy projects and other development on millions of acres of state trust land. Revenues from monthly oil and gas lease sales and other activities on trust land help fund public schools and other beneficiaries.

Albuquerque Police Say They'll Target Gun Violence In 2019 - Associated Press

Albuquerque police plan to tackle gun violence in 2019, following a year in which the city's police chief said firearms were linked to a significant number of crimes and shootings by officers were preceded by reports of suspects with a gun.

There were 10 shootings by Albuquerque police in 2018, seven of them fatal. Out of those 10, a police spokesman says that nine of the people shot had possessed a firearm, while one person who was shot in January 2018 had been armed with a knife and metal pipe.

The number of officer-involved shootings is higher than in 2014 — the year Albuquerque police entered into a court settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to reform when and how officers use force.

Albuquerque Police Report High Accident Numbers Amid Storms - Associated Press

Albuquerque police say the city has seen a spike in accidents as a series of winter storms swept the state.

Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said late Wednesday afternoon that there had been nearly 225 accidents since the start of the New Year. Sixty-six of the accidents involved injuries.

Police also say a tow truck driver who had stopped to help a state police officer was killed along Interstate 40 in Albuquerque when his truck was struck by a tractor-trailer rig.

Albuquerque police spent Wednesday discouraging people from driving.

City officials say more than two dozen trucks would be working in 12-hour shifts to clear main roads, intersections and bridges.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, authorities said a 12-year-old boy was killed in an accident Monday evening south of Cuba.

Sentencing Delayed For Former Teacher Convicted Of Sex Abuse - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Sentencing has been delayed for a former New Mexico teacher convicted of sexually abusing two fourth-grade girls a decade ago.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports a judge on Wednesday granted a defense motion to push back the sentencing of Gary Gregor, a former Santa Fe and Española elementary school teacher.

A jury in December convicted Gregor on 12 criminal counts related to the abuse and molestation of two students in an Española elementary school during the 2007-08 school year.

Gregor's public defender Shelby Bradley requested the delay, arguing that his lawyers will rely heavily on a psychological evaluation that has not yet been completed.

Gregor is now scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 8.

A second criminal trial against Gregor is set to begin on Jan. 15.

Investigation To Focus On Pollution At Meat Packing Plant - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are considering a proposal that calls for investigating soil and groundwater contamination at a former meat packing plant in Albuquerque.

The state Environment Department said Wednesday it will review the initial plan to clean up the former Karler meat packing facility.

The agency's Ground Water Quality Bureau required the property owner to submit a plan to address pollution at the site.

Previous sampling results indicate that concentrations of nitrate, chloride and total dissolved solids exceed state water quality standards. The proposed investigation will define the extent of soil and groundwater effects at the site.

At a later stage, the property owner will have to outline proposed actions for dealing with the pollution. The public will have an opportunity to comment and can request a hearing.

New Mexico Lottery Rolls Out New Scratcher Games - Associated Press

The New Mexico Lottery is rolling out three new scratcher games for 2019.

The games announced Wednesday come as the lottery authority looks to boost ticket sales while pressure continues for more revenues to be funneled to the state's lottery-funded scholarship program.

The games range from $1 to $5 and involve matching numbers or symbols.

The lottery has raised nearly $798 million for education since 1996, allowing more than 116,000 students to attend college on a lottery scholarship. But the gap between revenues and demand for the financial aid has widened over the years, even though enrollment has been sagging.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers are expected to the take up the matter again when they meet for a 60-day session later this month.

Western New Mexico University Partners With Mining Company - Silver City Sun-News, Associated Press

Western New Mexico University is working with international mining company Freeport-McMoRan on a mission to prepare welders for work in Grant County's Chino and Tyrone mines.

The mining company's New Mexico operations donated $10,000 to the university's community and workforce development department to buy training equipment and supplies for the welding program.

The Silver City Sun-News reports that the school has begun introducing new processes into the existing welding program and may in the future be able to offer continuing education courses for those already in the industry.

Officials say the goal is to prepare students for employment with Freeport's copper mining operations in southwestern New Mexico so they can be hired without leaving the community they are rooted in.

Human skull, other remains found in desert near Sunland Park - Associated Press

Authorities say what appears to be a human skull and other human remains have been found in the desert near the southern New Mexico community of Sunland Park near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department says a man reported spotting the remains while walking with his family Tuesday.

Detectives said it's too soon to tell how the remains got there or when.

Sunland Park is 6 miles northwest of El Paso, Texas.

New Mexico Forecasters Report 'Hefty' Snowfall - Associated Press

A series of storms that began last week has dropped more than 3 feet of snow in some parts of New Mexico.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque summed up the results of the winter weather Wednesday and warned that another storm is expected to cross the state Sunday into Monday.

Forecasters also warned that temperatures will "drop like a rock" into the single digits and even lower before a warming trend kicks in later this week. The northern New Mexico community of Angel Fire could see an overnight low of -23 degrees.

The recent storms didn't break any snowfall records, but forecasters say nearly 40 inches were reported in the mountains east of Albuquerque since Dec. 26. Tijeras and Los Alamos also reported over 3 feet of snow.