State Budget Cuts Loom With Falling Oil Prices, Key Panel To Take Up REAL ID

Feb 12, 2016

New Mexico Braces For Budget Crunch Linked To Oil PricesAssociated Press

Leaders of the New Mexico Senate are urging state agencies to institute cost-saving measures and plan to rewrite a budget for next year approved by the Republican-controlled House in response to declining revenue forecasts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith said Thursday that general fund reserves are likely to be drawn down during the current fiscal year and that revenues are no longer expected to increase next year.

Falling revenue expectations are linked to low energy prices and New Mexico's dependence on oil and natural gas production to keep the government up and running.

The House has approved a $6.3 billion budget that increases spending by $81 million on Medicaid health care, early childhood education and prisons while cutting funding to state colleges and universities.

New Mexico Senate Democrat Says Key Panel To Take Up REAL IDThe Associated Press

A New Mexico Senate Democrat says a key panel finally is taking up a REAL ID proposal.

Sen. John Arthur Smith said the Senate Finance Committee will tackle the REAL ID bill Friday afternoon but he didn't say if the compromise included the immigrant fingerprint provision.

The move comes as lawmakers race to make New Mexico compliant under the federal REAL ID Act with less than a week to go in the Legislative session.

It signaled a compromised reached between Senate Democrats and House Republicans over requiring immigrants to submit fingerprints.

The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities. New Mexico has no such requirement and allows immigrants to get state driver's licenses regardless of legal status.

New Mexico Officials Support Proposed Methane RulesThe Associated Press

A group of local and state elected leaders is supporting a federal proposal that would clamp down on oil and gas companies that burn off natural gas on public land.

The 40 elected officials sent a letter Friday to the head of the Bureau of Land Management.

They say New Mexico is among the states with an economy tied closely to the taxes, royalties and other fees earned from oil and gas development and the proposed rules would allow local governments to recoup what would otherwise be lost revenue.

They also say the rules would help reduce methane emissions and pointed to a methane hot spot identified over the Four Corners region.

Those who signed the letter include 19 Democratic state lawmakers, county commissioners and mayors from around New Mexico.

New Mexico House GOP, Senate Dems Reach Deal On Bail ReformThe Associated Press

New Mexico House Republicans and Senate Democrats say they have reached a compromise on a bail reform proposal.

Both sides spoke Friday at a press conference, with Republican Rep. David Adkins saying the bill crafted by Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat, is the "right piece of legislation to support."

Wirth's bill allows judges to deny bail to defendants deemed a danger to the public, while granting non-violent defendants pretrial release if the sole reason they are being held in jail is because they are too poor to make bail.

Adkins had proposed a constitutional amendment for bail bond reform that had omitted the provision for cash-strapped defendants as a counter proposal to Wirth's version.

Adkins put his proposal on hold Wednesday, the same day it had been scheduled for a House floor vote.

Los Alamos Executive Resigns After 15 Years With LaboratoryThe Associated Press

A high-ranking official at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has announced his resignation after more than 15 years with the institution.

According to a memo sent to lab employees on Thursday, Los Alamos Executive Director Richard Marquez told lab Director Charles McMillan that he would leave the lab, effective immediately.

Marquez did not respond to requests for comment and lab officials declined to comment.

Principal Associate Director for Operations and Business Craig Leasure will serve as interim executive director.

Marquez worked at the Department of Energy in Albuquerque for several years before starting at the lab in 2001.

Prosecutor In Albuquerque Police Shooting Case Seeks DelayThe Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has fined a special prosecutor in a case involving two former Albuquerque officers charged with second-degree murder because she wants to delay the trial to attend a wedding.

KOAT-TV in Albuquerque reports District Judge Alisa Hadfield slapped Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn with a $500 fine after she requested the delay for a wedding in China.

The trial for now-former Officer Dominique Perez and retired detective Keith Sandy was set for August.

Documents obtained by KOAT-TV showed Hadfield believed the wedding was not a good reason to delay the case and issued the fine.

Sandy and Perez are accused of shooting and killing James Boyd during a standoff in 2014.

Authorities say Boyd was homeless and suffered from mental illness.

Flight Turns Up No New Evidence Of Missing Treasure HunterThe Associated Press

Authorities have yet to uncover any new clues to the whereabouts of a Colorado man who went missing in northern New Mexico while looking for a $2 million cache of gold, jewels and artifacts.

A helicopter flight this week by New Mexico State Police and the state's search and rescue team turned up nothing, but Randy Bilyeu's relatives say they're not giving up.

A father and grandfather, Bilyeu has been missing for more than a month since he set out in January in search of author Forrest Fenn's treasure.

Bilyeu's dog and raft were found along the Rio Grande. There has been no sign of him.

His ex-wife, Linda Bilyeu, says there are areas that can still be searched with drones. She says she's thankful for the volunteer searchers but doesn't want to put anyone in danger.

Committee Kills Effort To Curtail Corporate Tax BreaksSanta Fe New Mexican

An effort to eliminate some corporate tax breaks by a Republican lawmaker failed in committee.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela proposed a bill to get rid of tax breaks for a slew of groups, including railroads, airlines, jockeys and lottery retailers.

Varela said those would save the state about $112 million a year, but lobbyists for those industries fought back saying some of those breaks resulted in jobs.

The bill failed on a 7-4 vote in the House Business and Employment Committee even though a number of committee members agreed that many tax credits might not be effective.

Teen Who Killed Family Ordered To Treatment Associated Press

A judge has ruled a New Mexico teenager who pleaded guilty to killing five family members is psychologically treatable in a decision that clears the way for the 18-year-old to be sentenced as a juvenile and possibly be released by the time he turns 21.

Nehemiah Griego was 15 when authorities say he opened fire in his family's home near Albuquerque, killing his mother as she slept and then his younger brother and two sisters.

Griego's father, a former pastor, was the last to die. Sheriff's officials say the teen ambushed him when he returned home.

A judge ruled on Griego's treatment Thursday after a lengthy hearing in children's court to decide whether he could be rehabilitated psychologically and sentenced as a juvenile.

Griego pleaded guilty in October to two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death.

The judge said Griego's sentence as a juvenile will be determined in several weeks.

New Mexico Lawmakers Back Campaign Finance DatabaseAssociated Press

A proposal to overhaul New Mexico's online clearinghouse for campaign finance information has been approved by the state House of Representatives.

The House voted 65-0 on Thursday to send the bipartisan bill to the Senate. The plan would standardize electronic reporting so that filings by candidates, lobbyists and political committees can be searched, cross-referenced or downloaded for analysis.

It also would require all lobbyists to file regular reports, as candidates already do.

The Office of the Secretary of State eventually would spend as much as $985,000 to set up the database, depending on bids from vendors and available funding. Registration fees from lobbyists would be reinvested in maintaining the clearinghouse.

Education-Related Groups Lead Lobbying Efforts In New MexicoAssociated Press

A new report shows retirees and teachers unions are among those who have had the widest lobbying presence at the New Mexico capitol in recent years.

The Center for Public Integrity analyzed lobbying registration data from 2010 through 2014.

In New Mexico, the list includes the New Mexico Association of Educational Retirees, AARP, the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association, the League of Women Voters of New Mexico and the Realtors Association of New Mexico.

Nationally, the analysis also highlighted an 11 percent increase in the number of entities registered to lobby in the 50 states over the five-year period.

However, New Mexico is bucking that trend. A review of state data by The Associated Press shows there are fewer interest groups registered in New Mexico this year than in any year since 2013.

New Mexico Senate Dem Says REAL ID Bill Negotiations OngoingAssociated Press

A key Senate Democrat says he is negotiating with a Republican colleague to resolve a conflict on a bill that would make New Mexico compliant with tougher federal identification requirements.

Sen. John Arthur Smith said Thursday senators still have not solved a dispute on whether to require immigrants in the country illegally to submit fingerprints before getting a "driver's authorization card."

A compromise proposal moving through New Mexico Senate would make the state compliant under the federal REAL ID Act. Immigrants living in the country illegally would be allowed to apply for that card but could no longer get a New Mexico driver's license.

However, House Republicans say the bill doesn't require fingerprints from immigrants and that provision might kill the bill.

Lawmakers have a week to resolve the matter before the session ends.

Udall, Heinrich Seek Deportation Raid Halt, Break With ObamaAssociated Press

New Mexico's two U.S. Democratic senators want President Barack Obama to halt deportation raids targeting Central American women and children.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich wrote Obama on Wednesday they were concerned how the administration was focusing on such families instead of using resources to deport criminals.

The senators urged Obama to temporarily suspend immigration removal actions against children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras until questions about due process could be addressed.

It's another break between Democrats and the administration over its handling of Central American immigrants.

Last month, 22 senators wrote Obama that the raids were "shocking and misguided" and rejected administration arguments that the highly publicized raids would deter additional immigrants from fleeing the region to the U.S.

Spring Enrollment Down Slightly At University Of New MexicoAssociated Press

University of New Mexico officials say enrollment is down slightly this spring but in line with projections.

Initial enrollment numbers for the spring semester show a total of 25,299 students.

The enrollment figure for spring 2015 was 25,816.

UNM officials say a record number of freshmen — more than 3,000 — returned for their second semester this school year.

More than 91 percent of those students are continuing into the spring semester on their way to completing their first year of college.

University president Robert Frank says that retention rate is a positive sign for future enrollment projections.

New Mexico Physician Pleads Guilty To Health Care FraudAssociated Press

A Las Cruces physician whose license has been revoked has pleaded guilty to health care fraud and unlawfully dispensing prescription painkillers.

Federal prosecutors say 63-year-old Pawankumar Jain entered his plea Thursday.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Jain will be sentenced to a prison sentence of between 42 to 108 months.

Jain has been in federal custody since April 2014 and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Jain was accused of giving prescription painkillers — primarily Oxycodone and methadone — to patients without a legitimate medical purpose between April 2009 and June 2010 and defrauding Medicare and Medicaid by submitting payment claims for the medications.

Jain's license was suspended in June 2012 and revoked six months later by the New Mexico Medical Board.

Santa Fe Archdiocese Offers Tickets For Papal MassAlbuquerque Journal

About 500 tickets will be available from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe for a Mass that will be celebrated by Pope Francis just across the Mexico border.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Catholic Center in Albuquerque.

Francis is scheduled to say Mass on February 17 in Ciudad Juarez. People attending must have a valid passport to travel into Mexico.