NM Court Blocks Straight-Ticket Option, NM Sues Mobile App Makers Over Privacy Concerns

Sep 12, 2018

New Mexico Court Blocks Straight-Ticket Option- Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is blocking a ballot option that would have allowed voters to select candidates from one particular party in all races by marking a single box.

The court made its decision Wednesday after listening to oral arguments about a plan from the state's top elections regulator to reinstate straight-ticket voting in the November general election.

The court found that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver did not have authority to impose such a change.

Critics of the practice say it primarily harms independent, minor-party and Republican candidates in a state dominated by registered Democrats.

They argued in court that state law doesn't clearly say whether authority to design ballot forms extends to substantive decisions about straight-party voting, and that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver should have consulted the public through the rulemaking process.

New Mexico Sues Mobile App Makers Over Privacy Concerns- Associated Press

New Mexico is suing Google, Twitter and several companies that develop and market mobile gaming apps for children, saying the apps violate state law by collecting personal information that could compromise privacy.

The lawsuit filed in federal court late Tuesday comes as data-sharing concerns persist among users and as social media giant Facebook just weeks ago pulled one of its own apps over possible privacy intrusions.

Google recently acknowledged that it tracks users who disable location history after an Associated Press investigation revealed that several Google apps and websites store user location even if users have turned off location history.

Attorney General Hector Balderas says he's concerned about the risk of a data breach and exploitation given that the apps can track with such precision where children live, play and go to school.

US 'Likely' Has Taken Over As The World's Top Oil Producer- Associated Press

The United States may have reclaimed the title of the world's biggest oil producer sooner than expected.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that America "likely surpassed" Russia in June and August after jumping over Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

The agency says that conclusion is based on preliminary estimates.

U.S. production jumped in recent years because of techniques including hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which is the use of chemicals, sand, water and high pressure to crack rock formations deep below ground, releasing more oil and natural gas.

Fracking is driving a drilling boom in the Permian Basin under Texas and New Mexico. The practice is controversial, however. Opponents say that fracking results in toxic contamination of groundwater and increases the number of earthquakes in places like Oklahoma and Texas.

New Mexico Senators Seek Briefing On Nuclear Safety Policy- Associated Press

Two U.S. senators from New Mexico are trying to thwart efforts to downsize and reorganize an independent safety panel that provides oversight of some of the nation's highest risk nuclear facilities.

Democrats Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich say they secured language in a spending bill to prohibit the use of any appropriated funds to carry out the proposed reorganization of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, unless changes are vetted and authorized by Congress.

The other provision calls for the U.S. Energy Department to brief Congress on new policies that critics say would limit inspections and curtail the board's access to key information at the nuclear sites.

Department officials during a recent hearing denied they were changing their approach to safety and rebuffed calls by board members and watchdog groups to put the policies on hold.

UNM Regents Vote To Ask State For $1.5M More For Athletics- Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

University of New Mexico regents approved a proposal asking the state for an additional $1.5 million dollars to help fund its athletics department.

The Albuquerque Journal reports none of the requested funding would be used to try and reverse the recent decision to cut men's soccer, men's and women's skiing, and women's beach volleyball.

Athletics Director Eddie Nuñez says the money would be used to improve student welfare, pay for more full-time trainers and to catch up to travel cost increases.

The Board of Regents voted Tuesday to approve the proposal. Nuñez says additional sports could be on the chopping block without the new money.

The proposal to ask for additional money would bring the athletics department's total request for state appropriation to $4.1 million.

New Mexico Supreme Court Weighs Automated One-Party VotingAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is considering whether voters should be allowed to select candidates from a particular party in all races by marking a single ballot box.

The court was scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday in a request to prohibit straight-party voting on November ballots.

Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has announced plans to provide a straight-party option for the first time since 2010. Democrats dominate voter registration rolls statewide.

Critics of that plan include the Republican and Libertarian parties, advocates for independent candidates and even some Democrats. They say lawmakers already struck the straight party voting language from state statutes and that the practice would violate the rights of independent and minor-party candidates.

Toulouse Oliver says the straight-party option simplifies and speeds up voting.

Small Private College Abandons 'Prestige' Tuition Pricing - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A private liberal arts college with campuses in New Mexico and Maryland announced Wednesday a $17,000 reduction in its annual tuition.

St. John's College President Mark Roosevelt said steady tuition price increases in pursuit of prestige had inadvertently frightened off qualified students and that the college is determined to become more affordable and accessible through philanthropy.

The college on Wednesday announced that tuition will drop to $35,000 at campuses in Santa Fe and Annapolis. The college is dedicated to exploring the formative texts of Western civilization in small classroom settings. The Santa Fe campus also offers graduate studies in the Eastern classics.

The college also will offer $10,000 grants to New Mexico residents who attend starting in the fall of 2019 — effectively lowering their tuition to $25,000.

Residents Of New Mexico Compound Indicted On Federal ChargesAssociated Press

Five residents of a ramshackle desert compound in New Mexico are scheduled for arraignments and detention hearings after being indicted by a federal grand jury on firearms and conspiracy charges.

Federal prosecutors say the group was preparing for violent attacks on government, military, educational and financial institutions at the time of their arrests last month.

The five members of an extended family are expected to appear in federal court in Albuquerque on Wednesday afternoon.

The grand jury indictment Tuesday alleges they transported firearms and ammunition from Georgia to New Mexico in December 2017.

Eleven children were removed from the squalid compound near the Colorado state line during an Aug. 3 raid by Taos County authorities.

Attorney Says Man Received Unfair Trial In Officer's DeathKRQE-TV, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has heard arguments that a man sentenced to serve life in prison in the 2015 killing of a police officer received an unfair trial.

An attorney for Andrew Romero argued Tuesday that the jury was tainted during his trial because four jurors indicated they had been exposed to some media coverage resulting from the shooting that killed Rio Rancho Officer Gregg Nigel Benner.

KRQE reports that Romero's attorney argued that none of the 12 jurors should have been exposed to media headlines in the case.

Romero was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus 60 years, in 2016. His trial was held in Los Lunas, about 40 miles south of Rio Rancho, because of the amount of local media coverage the case received.

New Mexico Sees Spike In Traffic Deaths In AugustAssociated Press

New Mexico saw a spike in traffic fatalities in August as a deadly crash involving a passenger bus and a semi-trailer killed nine people.

Preliminary data compiled by the state Transportation Department and the University of New Mexico shows more than 40 people died on the state's roadways last month. That's more than any previous month this year and more than the same month in 2016 and 2017.

New Mexico also recorded three alcohol-related traffic deaths in August, marking the lowest monthly total so far this year.

In all, 60 alcohol-related traffic deaths have been recorded over the last eight months. That's far less than the same period during previous two years.

Authorities continue to investigate the Aug. 30 bus crash. They say the semi-trailer smashed into the bus after the tread on its front left tire separated.

US Justice Department Seeks Dismissal From Tribe's LawsuitAssociated Press

Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department want a federal judge to drop a lawsuit that faulted the office for not prosecuting an Arizona police officer in a Navajo woman's death.

The Navajo Nation sued the federal government and the city of Winslow in March on behalf of Loreal Tsingine's daughter.

Authorities say Tsingine posed a threat to now former Winslow police Officer Austin Shipley when he killed her in March 2016.

Navajo officials say he should have used non-lethal force. The tribe alleged violations of her equal protection rights in its claim against the Justice Department.

The department has said it couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Shipley willfully used excessive force.

It asked a judge this week to dismiss the federal defendants, saying they're immune from lawsuits.

New Mexico AG Critical Of Rolling Back Methane RulesAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is criticizing the Trump administration's move to roll back rules intended to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas operations.

Balderas, a Democrat, issued a statement Tuesday after the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed substitute for the Obama-era methane regulations.

Balderas has been a vocal critic. He and the attorney general of California sued the Trump administration last summer for delaying rules to reduce methane leaks on federal lands.

He contends the proposal would have environmental effects and waste the state's natural resources if companies aren't required to capture more of the gas.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association says the proposed rules will allow for development and more job creation while still mandating annual inspections and requiring leaks to be fixed.

Government To Expand, Extend Texas Tent Shelter For ChildrenAssociated Press

The U.S. government says a West Texas tent shelter for immigrant children who have recently crossed the southwest border will remain open through the end of the year.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that the facility at Tornillo, Texas, will be expanded to 3,800 beds from its initial capacity of 360 beds. The department says 1,400 of those beds will be placed "on reserve status."

The department denied that it's expanding the facility because of the administration's zero-tolerance policy on border crossings that led to thousands of family separations earlier this year.

The facility is located at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection port of entry east of El Paso.

New Mexico Lawmaker's DWI Trial PostponedAssociated Press

The trial for a New Mexico state lawmaker charged with aggravated drunken driving has been postponed.

Court records show the trial for Rep. Monica Youngblood, an Albuquerque Republican, has been reset for later this month. It previously had been scheduled for Wednesday, but a judge Monday granted her attorney's request for a delay because another attorney joining her legal team will be out of state.

Youngblood's new trial date is Sept. 25.

Youngblood was arrested in May at an Albuquerque checkpoint where she complied with a field sobriety test but refused a blood-alcohol test.

Video shows an officer telling her he can smell alcohol. She said she hadn't consumed any since the day before.

She also mentions she is a lawmaker who advocates for police.

Youngblood has pleaded not guilty.

Special Election To Cost Albuquerque Schools $1 MillionAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Changes in election law made earlier this year are leading to a projected $1 million in administrative costs for Albuquerque Public Schools in holding an upcoming bond election.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Local Election Act requires the district to hold a special election by mail.

The law, which went into effect July 1, aims to save taxpayer money and combat voter fatigue by consolidating elections in November so voters are called to the polls just once a year.

The law requires school elections to take place in November on odd numbered years together with other non-partisan elections.

Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution earlier this month that asks the state to reevaluate the Local Election Act and rescind the parts of the bill that affect school district elections.