State Vacates Last Two Death Sentences, Governor Seeks Ideas For Recreational Pot Law

Jun 28, 2019

New Mexico Vacates Last Remaining Death Sentences – Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has set aside the death penalty for last 2 inmates awaiting execution after the state's 2009 repeal of capital punishment.

In a divided opinion on Friday, the state's highest court concluded that sentences against Timothy Allen and Robert Fry were disproportionate in comparison with comparable murder cases.

New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. Allen and Fry remained on death row because of prior convictions.

The cases were returned to a district court to impose life sentences to prison. Allen and Fry, ages 56 and 45 respectively, will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years. However they would immediately begin serving additional sentences of at least 25 years. Fry will not be eligible for release, the court said.

New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. Allen and Fry remained on death row because of prior convictions and their death sentences.

In the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said the decision overrides the Legislature's intention to preserve the death penalty for prior sentences.

New Mexico Governor Seeks Ideas For Recreational Pot LawAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is launching a new effort to craft legislation that could legalize recreational marijuana sales next year.

The first-year Democratic governor announced Friday her recruitment of health, legal and fiscal policy experts to serve in a new discussion group that provides recommendations on state legalization.

Members of the group include Democratic and Republican legislators who sponsored unsuccessful legislation this year to authorize and tax recreational marijuana sales at state run stores. That proposal passed a House vote but stalled in the state Senate.

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis is leading the so-called cannabis legalization task force.

Other participants represent a labor union, sheriff's department, health care business, Native American tribe, medical cannabis business, county government association, commercial bank and hospital company.

Plaintiffs In School-Funding Lawsuit Renew ConcernsAssociated Press

Plaintiffs in a school-funding lawsuit against New Mexico say they are meeting in private with the governor's office and state education officials to reach compliance with a court order.

The Center on Law and Poverty said in court filings Friday that state spending increases and policy reforms adopted this year are not enough to address a court ruling calling for increased resources for public education.

The center representing school districts and parents says new spending on teacher salaries has left little money for other educational necessities.

A district judge last year found the state failed to provide an adequate education for minority students and others.

The Public Education Department says its officials understand the urgency for reform efforts and are committed to providing adequate resources to every child.

Congresswoman Concerned With High Costs Of Diabetes Meds - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A congressional report on the costs of diabetes medications suggests high prices are burdening taxpayers and patients, including the uninsured and those with Medicare prescription benefits.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland released the report Friday while at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

In her district — the most populous area of the state — there are an estimated 17,000 seniors and disabled Medicare beneficiaries who have been diagnosed with diabetes.

The report found the top 50 diabetes medications cost the Medicare program and beneficiaries in the district more than $16 million in 2016. That's multiple times more than in other countries.

The Albuquerque Democrat says drug makers have raised their prices over the years but certain federal programs lack the authority to negotiate directly with the manufacturers.

Santa Fe OKs Change To Allow 'Casitas' Amid High RentsAssociated Press

The Santa Fe City Council has approved a proposal aimed at making it easy for residents to rent out casitas or guesthouses amid rising rents in the state's capital.

Councilors voted late Wednesday to back a proposal to allow two rental homes on single-family lots.

The most controversial change drops an existing requirement that a property owner must reside on the lot before a second unit like a casita can be rented out.

Proponents of the changes say it was needed to address the city's housing shortage and high rents.

Opponents say it would lead to the commercialization of residential neighborhoods, increase traffic and create parking issues.

Four Corners Hospital Lays Off 5% Of Staff Amid CutsAssociated Press

A hospital in the Four Corners has announced it will lay off 5% of its staff to cut costs and increase bill collections.

The Farmington Daily Times reports San Juan Regional Medical Center said Thursday the cuts will impact about 78 employees as part of a larger plan to trim spending.

San Juan Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Laura Werbner says she did not have information about how many of the jobs were full-time positions.

Hospital officials say its nurse-to-patient ratio for inpatient care will not be affected.

The 194-bed hospital is a nonprofit acute-care facility with a Level 3 trauma center and the only hospital in New Mexico's San Juan County. It operates a nonemergency clinic and offers a variety of health care services including behavioral health and a new specialty clinic in Durango, Colorado.

Navajo Authorities Find Body Of 1-Year-Old BoyAssociated Press

Navajo authorities say they have found the body a 1-year-old boy in New Mexico after he was reported missing a day earlier.

Navajo Nation police say that Kyron Kelewood's body was found Friday.

According to authorities, the boy was traveling with his mother, an infant and an unidentified man when their vehicle became stuck Wednesday night in the desert near Shiprock.

The mother left the three behind and the next day made it to the home of a woman who called authorities. The caller said the mother was severely dehydrated.

Authorities say the mother took them to the area where she left the other three.

Authorities say they found the man and infant, who was rushed to the hospital.

Kyron's body was found around 11:15 a.m. Friday. It's not clear when he separated from adults.

Search For Missing Navajo Woman Nears One-Month MarkAssociated Press

A missing Navajo woman's relatives are nearing the one-month mark in their search for the grandmother and military veteran who police say was last seen at her home in New Mexico.

Police say 59-year-old Cecelia Finona disappeared from her home in Farmington after the evening of May 30. Her daughter said Friday the family has logged searches in Farmington and the nearby Navajo Nation.

Finona's boyfriend, Jerry Jay, has been accused of using her ATM card in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada after her disappearance. He is being held in Nevada on a count of unlawful withdrawal from a financial institution.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe says he believes Jay could provide crucial information for officers.

A defense attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Private Company Plans To End Contract For New Mexico Prison - By Mary Hudetz Associated Press

A private prison company says it will no longer manage a corrections facility in a remote corner of New Mexico starting in the fall, citing troubles recruiting and retaining workers in the area.

A GEO Group spokesman said Thursday that the decision comes after the company managed the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility for 10 years.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says her administration is negotiating to take over management of the facility in Clayton, a town of about 3,000 people where Census Data from the 2017 American Community Survey show the annual per capita income is about $21,000.

The governor's office says the state will host a hiring event for prison employees in Clayton on July 17 and July 18.

US Senators Look To End Nuclear Waste Stalemate - Associated Press

The chairwoman of a powerful U.S. Senate committee says the federal government's failure to find a permanent solution to the nation's growing stockpile of spent fuel from nuclear power plants is costing taxpayers more than $2 million a day.

Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska led a hearing in which experts testified Thursday on legislation aimed at ending the decades-old stalemate over what to do with the waste.

While the legislation is similar to past proposals, Murkowski says it's meant to get the conversation going again.

Industry officials say the path forward needs to include both interim storage options and plans for permanent disposal.

Environmentalists say a process is needed for ensuring consent from communities where the waste would be taken and that would have to be intertwined with shared regulatory responsibility among the federal government and states.

Private companies have applied for licenses to open temporary storage facilities in New Mexico and West Texas. 

New Mexico Horses Test Positive For Virus; Under Quarantine - Associated Press

Federal authorities say two horses in New Mexico have tested positive for Vesicular Stomatitis Virus.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say the Sandoval County property where the horses were located has been placed under quarantine.

New Mexico is the second state to report VSV this year.

Authorities say two Texas counties — Kinney and Tom Green — each have a quarantine premise.

The virus can affect horses, cattle, sheep, goats, swine, alpacas, llamas and deer species.

Group Wants Grizzly Bears Restored To More US States - Associated Press

Wildlife advocates are seeking a court order that would force U.S. officials to consider if grizzly bears should be restored to more Western states following the animals' resurgence in the Northern Rockies.

Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species outside Alaska. An estimated 1,900 bears live in portions of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington state.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Montana, the Center for Biological Diversity said grizzlies should also be considered for areas of New Mexico, California, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

The request comes after environmentalists successfully sued last year to block grizzly hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho.

Federal officials have appealed the ruling. They want to lift protections for about 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.