Public Employees May Pay More For Retirement Health Benefits, Report Questions Reincarceration

Nov 26, 2018

New Mexico Lawmakers Endorse Pension, Health-Benefit ReformsAssociated Press

Public employees across New Mexico would pay more for retirement health benefits under proposed reforms endorsed by a panel of state lawmakers.

A legislative committee on Monday pledged support for plans to shore up a retirement health care trust for public employees and a statewide pension fund for educators.

New Mexico Retiree Health Care Authority Executive Director David Archuleta is suggesting a phased-in 50 percent increase in contributions from public employees at school districts, state agencies, and city and county governments. Employer contributions also would increase.

In a separate legislative proposal, employers in public education would pay more into the state's largest public pension fund without increasing contributions from teachers.

The proposal from the Educational Retirement Board would boost pension benefits for future teachers with lengthy careers.

New Mexico Supreme Court To Hear 'Warrior Gene' AppealSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court will review an appeals court ruling in the case of a man who was convicted of murder in the beating and burning death of a Santa Fe man and tried unsuccessfully to introduce evidence under a legal theory that he was genetically predisposed to violence.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that a lawyer for Anthony Blas Yepez had attempted to introduce evidence on the topic to cast doubt on his client's ability to form the intent required to convict him of the charge.

The so-called warrior gene theory has been hotly debated since a Dutch scientist discovered in the early 1990s that all the male relatives in a New Zealand family with a history of aggressive violence lacked a specific gene critical for regulating anger.

Job Barriers Hit Some New Mexico Medical Marijuana PatientsSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Some medical marijuana patients in New Mexico are finding a hard time gaining employment thanks to federal requirements on drug testing and a lack of flexibility for applicants.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the New Mexico Department of Health says about 58,000 New Mexicans have legal access to medical cannabis to treat approved ailments and diseases.

But Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico Policy Director Jessica Gelay says national chains and New Mexico employers with ties to the federal government require drug testing.

Advocates say states like New Mexico should do more to protect the civil rights of medical marijuana patients around employment.

Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham's transition director, Dominic Gabello, says Lujan Grisham will order a review of the matter and will seek a solution.

China Tariffs Hit Pecan Prices But Hurricanes TemperLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

President Donald Trump's continued trade war with China will likely cost pecan growers throughout New Mexico, where the pecan harvest has begun.

China is the biggest foreign consumer of U.S.-grown pecans and imposed a 47 percent tariff on U.S. pecans in July in retaliation for tariffs levied by Trump on a wide variety of Chinese-made goods.

Chinese demand for pecans has disappeared as a result, and prices paid to growers have fallen.

But New Mexico growers tell the Las Cruces Sun-News that weather damage to pecan crops in Georgia and other states will probably mean they here won't suffer as much as they might have in the short term.

Bigger concerns loom if the tariffs and hurricane damage to Georgia's crops reduce world-wide demand.

Incoming Rep. Torres Small Uncommitted On Nancy PelosiAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, who flipped a closely watched U.S House district in southern New Mexico, remains uncommitted on supporting Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House.

Torres Small campaign manager Brian Sowyrda told the Albuquerque Journal last week that the 34-year-old congresswoman-elect has not made up her mind on voting for Pelosi.

Sowyrda says Torres Small wanted to "talk to all candidates for the position who share rural values."

Torres Small defeated Republican Yvette Herrell by running as a moderate Democrat and told voters during the campaign she was uncommitted on supporting Pelosi.

New Mexico's two other members of Congress — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and incoming U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland — say they will vote for Pelosi.

Southern New Mexico Reservoir Being Drained For Maintenance - Associated Press

A southeastern New Mexico reservoir is being drained so irrigation managers can do maintenance on the dam.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says the work on the Avalon Reservoir will be done by the Carlsbad Irrigation District. The reservoir also was drained last winter for similar work.

The federal agency and the irrigation district are warning people not to enter the area, as last year there were signs of four-wheeling within the reservoir pool and vehicles stuck in the mud.

The reservoir will be filled with water from nearby Brantley Reservoir late this winter or early next spring in preparation for the 2019 irrigation season.

Avalon Reservoir is just north of Carlsbad along the Pecos River.

Reviewers Find Proof Lacking For Reincarceration Benefits - Associated Press

A Legislative Finance Committee report says New Mexico spends $40 million a year to lock up prisoners who use drugs or violate other parole conditions but that there's no evidence that it actually helps public safety or addresses the root causes of crime.

The Santa Fe New Mexican also reports that the review team has trouble getting the necessary data for a clear picture on the effectiveness of inmate programs to help reduce recidivism.

The Department of Corrections spends over $8 million annually on programs such as education and drug abuse prevention.

Navajos Seek Court Order To Fix Signatures On Early Ballots - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is seeking a court order to allow tribal members to fix problems with signatures on early ballots in Arizona's general election.

The request in a lawsuit filed last week has the potential to delay the state from certifying ballots next month.

Voters statewide were given more time to address mismatched signatures after Republicans sued the state.

But the Navajo Nation says more than 100 of its members in Apache, Coconino and Navajo counties weren't given an equal opportunity. The tribe cited insufficient early voting sites and lack of Navajo translators among the reasons.

Apache County recorder Edison Wauneka says he disagrees that Navajo voters were disenfranchised.

Coconino County recorder Patty Hansen says she hasn't seen the lawsuit. The Navajo County recorder didn't respond to a message.

Utah, US To Launch Study On Mining Pollution In Lake Powell - Deseret News, Associated Press

Utah and U.S. government officials will launch a study this month to determine the extent of mining pollution in Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.

The Deseret News reports this week that heavy metals washed into Lake Powell over the decades by flash flooding will be dug up from the river deltas to assess metal concentrations.

The study will provide information about how mining affects the lake and the fish that live in it. Researchers will test for levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury and lead.

It comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered a massive release of wastewater laden with toxic metals at the Gold King Mine in Colorado three years ago. The estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater carrying 540 tons of metals washed into rivers in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.

The lake is a key part of a water system that provides drinking water to 40 million people in the Southwest.

Rural Media Group To Use New Mexico Ranch As Production Base - Associated Press

Rural Media Group will use a northern New Mexico ranch once owned by radio talk show host Don Imus as a television production base for The Cowboy Channel and RFD-TV.

The New Mexico Film Office made the announcement last week, saying the state could get exposure because the company's programming is distributed to more than 92 million homes worldwide.

Film office director Nick Maniatis says he's happy that Rural Media Group sees the state's landscape, culture and film industry as a home for its programming.

Rural cable TV mogul Patrick Gottsch bought the ranch outside Santa Fe earlier this year.

The property includes a 10-bedroom hacienda with a Western-style town. While the purchase price was never disclosed, the ranch was last listed at $19 million.