State Gets OK On New School Evaluation Plan, Democratic Lawmakers Renew Push For Parole Changes

Jul 10, 2019

New Mexico Gets Approval To Change School Grading SystemAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The New Mexico Public Education Department has received federal approval to amend its grading system for school performance.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Monday that the U.S. Department of Education last week approved changes to the state's education plan, allowing it to replace the A-F grading system.

State education officials say the new dashboard system will contain more qualitative information including academic stats in subject proficiency and growth, budgetary data and graduation rates and readiness.

The department's secretary of policy, strategy and accountability, Timothy Hand, says the dashboards will report all federally required information, but they will not give letter grades for schools.

Officials say the current grading system was criticized for demoralizing teachers and students at low-performing schools.

Hand says they plan to launch the new system by November.

Pebble Labs To Expand Biosciences Business In New MexicoAssociated Press

A company started by a former scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory plans to expand over the next decade, investing as much as $60 million in its bioscience operations.

State officials are pledging at least $4 million in economic development incentives to Pebble Labs USA Inc. Los Alamos County is assisting with the issuance of $12.5 million in industrial revenue bonds.

Pebble Labs also qualifies for up to $3.25 million in employee training money and may apply for future incentives such as the state's high-wage jobs tax credit.

The company's research involves food and crop safety as well as curbing occurrences of vector-borne diseases.

With its expansion announcement, the company said Tuesday it had a breakthrough in substantially reducing disease in farm-raised fish and shrimp without the use of antibiotics.

New Mexico Land Office Predicts Record-High RevenueAssociated Press

Revenues from development on state trust land over the last fiscal year are on track to surpass $1 billion.

The New Mexico State Land Office announced Wednesday the total tally has yet to be calculated due to the nature of royalty payment collections but that conservative year-end estimates indicate a record high.

Revenues reached $852 million for the 2018 fiscal year. If predictions hold, the 2019 fiscal year will mark a nearly 40% increase.

Most of the revenue has come from the oil and gas boom, but the agency also reported increases in commercial lease payments and solar and wind energy leases.

Money also is earned from grazing leases, rights of way easements, permits and other fees.

The revenue earned from activity on state trust land helps to fund public education, hospitals and other institutions.

Mining Company Rejects EPA Order For Superfund Cleanup WorkDurango Herald, Associated Press

A mining company says it won't carry out cleanup work ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of a Superfund project in southwest Colorado.

The Durango Herald reported Wednesday that Sunnyside Gold Corp. sent the EPA a letter saying the company isn't responsible for pollution flowing from inactive mines in the area.

The EPA wants Sunnyside to help pay for some of the initial investigations into the Bonita Peak Superfund cleanup, citing the company's previous mining activity there.

The EPA says it will review Sunnyside's letter before deciding its next step.

The Bonita Peak Superfund project includes the Gold King Mine, source of a 2015 spill that polluted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. An EPA-led contractor inadvertently triggered the spill while excavating at the mine entrance.

Woman Convicted In Sex-Torture Case To Be ReleasedKRQE-TV, Associated Press

The former girlfriend of convicted sex torturer and suspected serial killer David Parker Ray will be getting out of prison.

The New Mexico Corrections Department tells KRQE-TV that Cynthia Lea Hendy will be released next week.

Hendy has served nearly 20 years of her 36-year sentence, including two years of in-house parole.

The sex-torture accusations surfaced in 1999 when a naked woman was found running down a street with a chain on her neck, claiming she escaped from a trailer near Ray's mobile home.

Police searched the trailer and found torture devices, including surgical tools and chemicals, as well as video cameras.

Authorities said Ray wrote of having some 40 victims. FBI agents believe he may have killed some and buried bodies near Elephant Butte Reservoir, but no bodies have ever been found.

New Mexico Regulators Chart Course For Coal Plant Closure - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico regulators have decided on a course for how they will handle a major utility case that marks the beginning of the end for coal-fired electricity generation in the state.

The state's largest utility, Public Service Co. of New Mexico, recently submitted its application for closing the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. The filing includes a mechanism for financing the closure and options for replacing the lost capacity — both elements tied directly to the state's new energy transition law.

The Public Regulation Commission on Wednesday voted to split the proceeding into two parts — one for the closure and financing and the other for the replacement power.

Commissioners and staff say they expect numerous legal issues to be raised as the effects of any decision will be felt for decades.

NTSB Finds Pilot Flew Too Low, Causing New Mexico Fatal CrashAssociated Press

A report released this week says investigators found no problems with a helicopter that crashed in New Mexico in January 2018, killing five people including Zimbabwe opposition leader Roy Bennett.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the pilot apparently caused the fatal wreck by flying too low over mountainous terrain at night.

Besides Bennett, his wife Heather, a co-pilot and wealthy businessman also were killed. The businessman's girlfriend who also is the co-pilot's daughter was the sole survivor.

Federal investigators previously reported that the fatally injured pilot said he'd flown into terrain and that the accident was his fault.

The report did not identify pilot Coleman Dodd by name but New Mexico authorities have said previously that he was the pilot.

New Mexico Governor Takes Stock Of First 6 Months - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says her administration inherited many challenges and she wants to rebuild the capacity of state government so it will be in a better position to solve problems.

Flanked by her cabinet members, the Democratic governor on Tuesday provided a progress report on her first six months in office.

She acknowledged there's work to be done to restore the public's faith in government. She also vowed repeatedly to be truthful and transparent.

Like previous administrations, Lujan Grisham is grappling with the persistent challenge of jump-starting the economy and attracting revenue-generating enterprises beyond the oil and gas industry.

The governor says economic diversity will be the key to ensuring state government can serve the people, whether it's having the staff to quickly process business licenses or ensuring access to mental health care.

New Mexico Settles With Behavioral Health ProvidersAssociated Press

New Mexico has reached settlements with three providers whose Medicaid claims were frozen as part of a shake-up in the state's behavioral health care system.

The Human Services Department announced the agreements during a news conference Tuesday. The providers include Hogares, Inc; Valencia Counseling Services, Inc.; and The Counseling Center, Inc.

Under the terms, the parties agree the settlements are a compromise and do not represent an admission of wrongdoing or liability.

In 2013, then-Gov. Susana Martinez's administration froze payments to 15 nonprofits that provided mental health services after an audit identified $36 million in Medicaid overpayments.

An investigation by the state attorney general found no patterns of fraud, only regulatory violations.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase says his agency will continue working with providers to rebuild the state's behavioral health network.

Democratic Lawmakers Renew Push For Parole ChangesAssociated Press

Lawmakers are renewing their push to reform New Mexico's parole system, saying it's beset by flaws that cost the state tens of millions of dollars and often denies inmates a chance at successfully integrating back into society.

A legislative committee heard testimony Tuesday about a series of proposals, including one that won legislative approval this year but was vetoed by the governor.

Sponsors say that proposal would require the parole board to provide a written explanation when deciding to deny parole to inmates who have become eligible for a chance at release after a 30-year sentence.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, told lawmakers the bill was built upon "sound policy," but said all stakeholders should participate in the conversation about the bill. Prosecutors across the state had expressed concerns about the measure.

Alleged Use Of Force Incident Involving Gallup Police Probed Associated Press

New Mexico State Police say they're investigating an alleged use of force incident involving Gallup police last month that resulted in a man's death.

Officers were dispatched to a department store June 28 to remove an intoxicated man, who was later identified as 41-year-old Rodney Lynch of Gallup.

Police say Lynch was combative with the officers on scene and was taken into custody and transported to an alcohol treatment center.

When they arrived at the facility, police say Lynch struck one of the officers and again became combative.

As officers tried to gain control of Lynch, a sergeant noticed that Lynch appeared unconscious.

Lynch was transported to a Gallup-area hospital and then to an Albuquerque hospital where he later died.

The cause and manner of Lynch's death remains under investigation.

Governor Says Lawmaker Should 'Do The Right Thing' Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says no one is above the law and that elected officials should be held to a higher standard.

She made the comments during a news conference Tuesday when asked whether state Sen. Richard Martinez's constituents would be better served if he resigned.

Martinez, a Democrat from Española, was accused of drunken driving after crashing into another vehicle June 28. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated DWI.

Without calling for Martinez's resignation, Lujan Grisham said she hopes the longtime lawmaker thinks about his position as chair of the Senate judiciary committee as well as the message that the case sends to a community besieged by crime related to alcohol and drugs.

She says she’s hopeful Martinez "does the right thing."

Martinez has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Texas Man Facing Life In Prison After Fatal New Mexico Crash Associated Press

Federal prosecutors say a Texas man is facing up to life in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to transport immigrants, resulting in a fatal crash in New Mexico.

They say 27-year-old Robert Acevedo of El Paso entered his plea Monday.

He remains in custody awaiting sentencing.

According to court records, Acevedo picked up a group of migrants on April 6 in Doña Ana County.

Border Patrol agents tried to stop Acevedo's minivan using emergency lights and sirens, but he kept driving.

Agents then used a controlled tire deflation device in an attempt to stop Acevedo.

Authorities say Acevedo swerved to avoid the device and lost control of the minivan, causing it to roll over.

They say two passengers died in the crash and at least five others were injured.