State Reduces Penalties For Pot Possession, Laywers Criticize Transparency In Racino Case

Apr 4, 2019

Lawyers Criticize 'Secret' Deal In Racino CaseAssociated Press

More questions are being raised about a lack of transparency and conflicts of interest as New Mexico stumbles through a process that will decide who wins a lucrative license to operate the state's sixth and final horse racetrack and casino.

A state district judge on Thursday instructed attorneys for the enterprises vying for the license to weigh in on a motion to dismiss a legal challenge over a study done as part of the selection process.

The lawyers have argued that the study was flawed.

Also at issue is a proposed settlement to resolve the challenge. Some attorneys told the judge it appeared to been negotiated in secret by Hidalgo Downs, the state attorney general's office and the chair of the state racing commission.

The attorneys say it's possible that open meeting laws were violated.

Companies Vying For New Mexico Racino License Due In Court By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

It will be up to a state district judge whether to accept a proposed settlement that will clear the way for regulators to make a decision on New Mexico's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday in Albuquerque.

The state attorney general's office confirmed late Wednesday that an agreement had been brokered between the state racing commission and Hidalgo Downs LLC, which proposes building a racino in southwestern New Mexico.

The company was concerned about recommendations outlined in an independent feasibility study done for the commission last fall. The company argued that not enough was done to study the issue.

Under the proposed resolution, the commission would agree to "fully and fairly" assess all candidates — without considering the previous recommendations — before awarding the lucrative license.

New Mexico Governor Signs Spending, Pay IncreasesAssociated Press

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has authorized a nearly 12 percent increase in general fund spending for the coming fiscal year that includes across-the-board pay increases for teachers and state workers.

The governor on Thursday signed a $7 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 without major adjustments to the spending plan from the Democratic Legislature.

Spending on public schools alone will increase by $446 million to $3.2 billion. Substantial funding increases also are slated on economic development incentives and for child protective services, with enough money to fund 26 new positions.

Record-breaking oil and natural gas production in Southeast New Mexico has produced a windfall in state income.

The signed bill sets aside reserves equal to 20 percent of annual spending obligations.


New Mexico Man Describes Abuse In Trial Against Ex-PriestAssociated Press

A New Mexico man has testified in federal court that a fugitive priest who was returned to the United States last year from Morocco made inappropriate physical contact with him as many as 100 times when he was a child.

The man testified Thursday during a jury trial in Santa Fe.

Arthur Perrault has been charged with aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact amid accusations he sexually abused the witness at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery — which fall under federal jurisdiction. The man says Perrault also abused him at an Albuquerque amusement park and church rectory.

Perrault has pleaded not guilty.

His attorney questioned the witness' decision to come forward with claims against Perrault after media reports emerged of other abuse accusations against the priest.

New Mexico Says Its Border With Mexico Has Fallen QuietAssociated Press

New Mexico's Homeland Security Department secretary says the flow of asylum seekers to the state's border with Mexico appears to have tapered off during March after earlier arrivals of several large groups.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jackie White told reporters Thursday that the brunt of immigration pressure is being felt at ports of entry in neighboring Texas and not along New Mexico's portion of the border.

White said that the New Mexico Department of Health has dispatched a mobile health care unit to the border area as a humanitarian precaution in case migrants need care.

Six state police are stationed in remote Hidalgo County to reinforce the local contingent of four law enforcement officers. New Mexico has 18 National Guard troops at the border.

Autopsy Finds Migrant Boy Who Died In US Had Flu InfectionAssociated Press

An autopsy report has confirmed that an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died while in custody of the U.S. Border Patrol on Christmas Eve succumbed to a flu infection — one of two deaths of Central American children in December that raised concerns about the government's ability to care for minors at the southern border.

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner released its autopsy findings Wednesday for Felipe Gomez Alonzo two days after Guatemalan authorities said they had received a copy of the report disclosing the boy had a rapid, progressive infection that led to organ failure.

An autopsy released last week for 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, the other Guatemalan child who died, showed she also had a bacterial infection that quickly led to sepsis and organ failure.

Uber, Driver Sued Over Deadly Shooting In New MexicoAssociated Press

Uber is being sued by the estate of a man who was shot and killed by a ride-share driver earlier this year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports James Porter's estate is seeking damages from Uber and the driver, Clayton Benedict.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in state district court contends that Uber knew, or should have known, that by hiring Benedict, it would create an unreasonable risk to individuals who used its services.

Police have said that the shooting happened March 17 after Benedict picked up Porter and a friend and an altercation broke out along Interstate 25.

Benedict and Porter's friend were interviewed by police after the shooting. Benedict hasn't been charged.

Police say once the investigation is complete, it will be turned over to the district attorney's office for review.

New Mexico Reduces Penalties For Marijuana Possession - Associated Press

A bill that reduces penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia has been signed by the governor of New Mexico.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Wednesday that makes the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana a petty misdemeanor.

That would translate into a $50 fine on first offense. The same penalties will apply to possession of drug paraphernalia.

The provisions go into effect July 1.

Possession of large quantities of marijuana can still result in felony charges.

A proposal to legalize recreational marijuana sales and use across New Mexico received House approval but stalled in the state Senate without a floor vote.

Lawmakers also balked at decriminalizing possession of small quantities of other illicit drugs that can result in jail sentences.

Teacher Salaries, School Funding Get Boosts In New Mexico - Associated Press

Legislation that responds to a lawsuit by raising public school salaries and increasing annual spending on public education by nearly a half-billion dollars has been signed by New Mexico's Democratic governor.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed bills Wednesday to provide greater resources to low-income students and extend learning time.

Other provisions would raise minimum salaries for teachers at three stages in their carriers and allow many elementary schools to add five weeks to the calendar year.

The initiatives from the Legislature, which is led by Democrats, will

weigh in a judge's pending decision on whether to intervene in decisions about state funding for education. New Mexico is one of several states where parents have turned to the courts to address frustrations over state budget priorities and the quality of education.

Governor Signs Criminal Justice Legislation - Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed several bills into law that will bring changes to the state's criminal justice system.

The bills signed by the governor Wednesday include a measure that will prohibit corrections and jail officials from placing juveniles, women who are pregnant and inmates suffering from serious mental disabilities in solitary confinement.

Another of the measures will prohibit private employers from asking on initial job applications about people's criminal histories, which state public agencies already cannot do. The bill is often referred to among advocates as the "ban the box" measure.

Under the law, private employers will still be able to discuss prior arrests or convictions later in the hiring process.

Other legislation would allow for people to ask a judge to have certain arrests or convictions removed from their records.

Feds Won't Pursue Death Penalty Against Compound Suspects - Associated Press

Federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against four adults who had lived at a New Mexico compound where authorities found the remains of a boy reported missing in Georgia.

The two men and two women are charged with kidnapping the boy who authorities say suffered from seizures that went untreated.

They had faced the potential of the death penalty if convicted in the boy's kidnapping since authorities say it resulted in his death. But prosecutors said in a filing ahead of a scheduled hearing Wednesday that they would not seek capital punishment.

The boy's father, who also was arrested at the compound, was not charged in his son's abduction. Statutes generally do not allow federal authorities to charge parents with kidnapping their own children.

All five suspects also are facing terrorism-related charges.

They have pleaded not guilty.

US Rep. Torres Small Of New Mexico Rules Out Senate Bid

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico says she will not seek the Democratic nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Torres Small announced Wednesday she will not run to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and instead will focus on the state's 2nd Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján — the No. 4 ranked Democrat in Congress — said Monday he will run for the state's open U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

Luján is the first politician to declare his candidacy for the Senate seat.

Democrats hope to keep their hold on the seat held by Udall, who announced last week that he won't seek a third term.

Torres Small, a freshman, won the traditionally Republican district in November.

Critics Of New Mexico Gun Law Renew Call For Referendum - Associated Press

Critics are reviving their challenge of a new gun control measure by filing a revamped petition with New Mexico's top election regulator that seeks a statewide referendum.

The secretary of state's office had rejected a previous attempt, saying the law to expand background checks to nearly all private gun sales was designed to improve public safety and therefore is exempt from petition referendums.

House Republican leader James Townsend of Artesia disputes that, saying only the courts have the authority to make such a determination.

He submitted an amended proposed petition Tuesday. The agency has 10 days to respond.

Townsend and others contend the law signed last month by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham infringes on the 2nd Amendment.

The petition process has lengthy requirements that include the collection of about 70,000 signatures from 25 counties.

University Of New Mexico Proposes Upping Credit Hour Price - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

University of New Mexico officials have proposed charging $10 more per credit hour for students who have declared a major in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a subcommittee of the university board unanimously approved Tuesday a recommended budget that includes adding a differential tuition.

The change would increase students' tuition by about $300 per year. Officials expect to generate about $1.7 million per year.

The college includes a broad field of studies, including chemistry, anthropology, English, American studies, economics and others.

Interim Provost Richard Wood says about 40% of the undergraduate student body have a major within that college.

University regents are scheduled to vote on the university's budget next week.