THURS: Recreational Pot Bill Spurned In New Mexico Legislature, + More

Feb 13, 2020

Recreational Pot Bill Spurned In New Mexico Legislature - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A proposal to legalize recreational marijuana through the New Mexico Legislature was rejected by a Senate committee Wednesday after an excoriating critique from the panel's Democratic chairman.

Two Democrats joined Republicans in a 6-4 vote to table a bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana sales in every city and county while sheltering the state's existing medical cannabis program with tax breaks and patients subsidies.

The vote leaves little or no chance for reviving the bill before the annual legislative session ends at noon on Feb. 20.

The initiative was backed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham amid efforts by her administration to attract new industries to the state and trim economic independence on oil production.

Democratic Judiciary committee chairman Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces said the 186-page bill brought together "all the cooks in the kitchen" and produced a plan that unfairly favored special interests.

He objected to licensing provisions for marijuana businesses that require an agreement with organized labor, the granting of business licenses to people with past drug convictions including distribution offenses, and other issues.

Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente voted against the bill after noting that the state has put too little money into treatment programs for opioids in his district.

Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque apologized to people who put the bill and recent amendments together. The plan hewed closely to recommendations of a legalization policy task force assembled by the governor and led by Albuquerque city councilor Pat Davis. 

"They've been working all year and we've given them an hour and I think it's insulting," she said. "I think the process is broken."

Only Illinois and Vermont have legalized recreational marijuana through their legislatures, while others have used ballot initiatives.

Former Lujan Grisham Intern Arrested In GOP Vandalism Case – Associated Press

A former congressional intern for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham when she was a U.S. congresswoman was arrested in connection with vandalism at the headquarters of the Republican Party of New Mexico.

Cameron Chase McCall was detained and charged with criminal damage to property after authorities compared video footage of the vandalism with a photo of him on his Facebook page, court documents said.

The footage showed the man on Saturday morning spray-paint “still traitors” on the building.

McCall's attorney, Alexandra W. Jones, said her client didn't do what he's accused of doing.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki confirmed that McCall was a congressional intern for Lujan Grisham when she was a member of the U.S. House. Stelnicki condemned the vandalism.

The Republican Party of New Mexico declined to comment. Officials estimate the damage at $2,500 to $4,000.

In March 2019, the state GOP headquarters was hit by a vandal who spray-painted the word “traitors” on the building. In July 2017, two activists from a radical left group spray-painted an “A” on the headquarter’s sign.

Virgin Galactic's Tourist Spaceship Being Sent To New Mexico – Associated Press

Virgin Galactic's spaceship VSS Unity, tucked under the wing of its special carrier aircraft, headed east Thursday from Southern California on a long-awaited ferry flight to its new home in New Mexico, where it will be prepared for commercial operations carrying tourists on hops into space, the company said.

The mothership, named Eve, took off from Mojave Air & Space Port and circled over the Mojave Desert before turning east toward Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.

The spaceship was built at Mojave, where it made two test flights into space.

The move to New Mexico marks a significant milestone toward commercial flights, which the company said it anticipates this year.

Virgin Galactic moved more than 130 employees from California to New Mexico and last year inaugurated a program to prepare its first customers for the experience.

The winged rocket ship is designed to be carried to high altitude by the mothership and released.

A rocket motor will propel the spaceship into the lower fringes of space to give tourists the experience of weightlessness and a view of the Earth far below. The landing is an unpowered glide to runway.

Hemp Business Plans Operations In Southeastern New Mexico – Associated Press

A cheese factory that has been vacant for more than a decade will be transformed into the state's newest hemp operation under plans that will get a boost from state and local economic development funding.

Big Dog Industries plans to invest $15 million in the Lovington property and its seed-to-retail business over the next several years.

The project will receive $750,000 in state economic development assistance that will be paid out as the company meets its hiring benchmarks over the next five years. The city of Lovington, in southeast New Mexico near the Texas border, also has pledged $250,000.

State Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes said this marks the third hemp business to receive funding under the Local Economic Development Act since the start of 2019.

Big Dog Industries plans to hire 125 employees as it angles to become a national player in the market for hemp oils, lotions, edibles, clothing, chocolates and bath products.

Part of the appeal of the Lovington plant was that it has 10,000 square feet of refrigeration that can be used to store processed hemp at 60 degrees or cooler to keep it from deteriorating.

Big Dog Industries CEO Brian Meyer said his company will start making repairs and improvements to the building but some operations can begin immediately.

Measure To Revamp Utility Regulation n New Mexico Advances – Associated Press

A proposal that calls for reshaping the administrative structure of a powerful regulatory panel that oversees New Mexico utilities and other businesses is headed to the House floor for consideration.

The measure has the support of business groups and key Democratic legislative leaders who say revamping the Public Regulation Commission will help insulate the staff from political considerations and reduce turnover.

The move to reorganize the commission comes as the state begins to implement a 2019 landmark energy law that involves the closure of a major coal-fired power plant and the economic pains that will come along with that as well as new renewable energy mandates that call for investor-owned utilities to be carbon-free by 2045.

Under the proposal, administration of the panel would be moved under the state Regulation and Licensing Department and commissioners would select their chief of staff from a list of qualified candidates provided by the governor.

Democratic Reps. Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe and Nathan Small of Las Cruces are sponsoring the bill. They say it's time to modernize the commission.

If approved by the House, the measure would need to be considered by the Senate before the 30-day legislative session ends Feb. 20.

Companies Settle Lawsuit Alleging Sex Harassment Of Workers – Associated Press

Albuquerque companies doing business under the name of Select Staffing will pay $199,500 to five female employees to settle a lawsuit that alleged the women were subjected to sexual harassment while working at the Albuquerque Police Department's public-records unit.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Thursday that a federal judge on Wednesday approved the settlement of the EEOC's suit filed against Real Time Staffing Services Inc., Employment Solutions Management Inc. and Employbridge LLC.

The EEOC lawsuit alleged the women were subjected to “pervasive and unwelcome conduct" sexual comments and unwelcome touching.

The companies don't acknowledge liability or management wrongdoing.

Four of the five women in the Select Staffing case previously received a $490,000 settlement paid by the city.

Governor Appoints New Mexico Attorney To District Judge – Associated Press

A city attorney in New Mexico was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the judicial district court in Chaves County, the governor said.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham named Roswell attorney Jared Kallunki, 44, to fill the Division VII seat in the 5th Judicial District, the Roswell Daily Record reported Wednesday.

“It feels good, but I know there are a lot of people who need to feel confident in justice, and so there is a heavy responsibility,” Kallunki said.

The seat was previously held by Kea Riggs who resigned in December after being sworn in as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court of New Mexico.

It is unclear when Kallunki will be sworn in.

Kallunki must run in November to retain his new position for a full six-year term, court authorities said. The position pays an annual salary of $133,757, authorities said.

Kallunki moved to Roswell in 2008 and has held multiple legal and city positions. He most recently worked for the public defender's office since 2017.

New Mexico Public Pension Reform Passes In Senate - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

The Senate has passed a proposal to shore up New Mexico's overextended pension fund for about 115,000 state and local government workers. 

Senators approved the measure Wednesday in a 25-15 vote with some moderate Democrats voting against the measure. 

The bill responds to concerns about $6.6 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that are weighing down the credit rating of the state and its largest city and driving up borrowing costs. 

Managers of the $16 billion fund overseen by the the Public Employees Retirement Association say an economic downturn could severely undermine the fund's long-term solvency and its ability to meet retirement obligations.

Core provisions of the bill were outlined by a policy task force appointed by the governor to address the solvency issues. That commission looked for reforms that could fully fund the pension fund within 25 years.

Members of the pension fund include about 57,000 current public employees and 41,000 retirees receiving benefits.

Sanctuary Status Clouds City's Access To Public Safety Funds - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The top federal prosecutor in New Mexico says the state's most populous city stands to lose out on millions of public safety dollars because its status as a sanctuary city prohibits the sharing of information with federal immigration authorities. 

U.S. Attorney John Anderson in an opinion piece published this week said the grant funding is desperately needed to address Albuquerque's high rates of violent crime and he's hopeful the city can find a way to accept the money. 

But two city councilors are accusing the U.S. Justice Department of using the funding to pressure Albuquerque into changing its policies preventing the sharing of information with federal immigration authorities.

"We just won't do that. They're using this as a political stunt," said Councilor Pat Davis, a Democrat who has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump's immigration policies. 

If the city applies for grant funding and is denied, Davis said he would support going to court to try to get the funding. The city already is in a legal battle with the Justice Department over grant funding dedicated to tackling a backlog of untested rape evidence kits.

New Mexico Sheriff Vows To Go To Jail Over Proposed Gun Law - Hobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

A southeastern New Mexico sheriff is vowing to go to jail and risk his seat rather than enforce a proposed red-flag gun law.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton told an audience at a Eunice City Hall meeting on Monday he's ready to go to jail, if necessary, for refusal to enforce the law.

Helton said he'd be a one-term sheriff because a judge would place him under arrest. But he said he'd be able to sleep at night for standing his ground.

The bill pushed forward Tuesday in a Democratic-controlled House committee would allow law enforcement to petition a court for the temporary surrender of guns by people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or others. 

Helton believes the law would be unconstitutional, violating both the Second and 14th Amendments.

New Mexico County, Black Woman Settle Profiling Lawsuit - Associated Press

New Mexico's largest county has reached a racial profiling settlement with a black woman who was stopped by deputies three times in less than a month but never cited.

Bernalillo County and Sherese Crawford reached a $100,000 settlement agreement in connection with three stops by sheriff's deputies on Interstate 40 around Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Crawford was working a temporary assignment in New Mexico as a deportation officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017.

According to her lawsuit, she was stopped once by former deputy Leonard Armijo and twice by deputy Patrick Rael.

A review of 82 Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office traffic stops on Interstate 40 between January and July 2017 found that 17% of the motorists who were stopped were black, according to a letter from ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director, Leon Howard.

Around 2.6% of New Mexico's population is black.

New Mexico Delegates Demand Help To Clean Contaminated Water - Associated Press

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation are demanding that the U.S. Defense Department help with drinking water cleanup in eastern New Mexico after traces of a cancer-causing pollutant were found in some wells. 

The elected officials sent a letter Wednesday to the Defense Department, saying they were disturbed by the recent findings and expected the agency to take immediate action to protect citizens and the water supply. 

State environment officials announced this week that the company in charge of Clovis' water system found contaminants in 10 of its 82 wells at the point where the water would be piped to households.

State Auditor To Probe Travel By Albuquerque Councilor

New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón has announced he is investigating an Albuquerque city councilor's trip to three East Coast cities that cost $6,300 to taxpayers.

KOAT-TV reports Colón and the city's Inspector General's Office said Tuesday both were looking into the June trip taken by Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña.

Documents obtained by the station show the city paid more than $6,300 for Peña's 12-day trip to Philadelphia, New York City and Washington. 

Peña told the television station the trip was expensive because she took a train since she's afraid of planes.

She also took her husband and two grandchildren and defended the move since she said the family rarely travels. 

Colón says his office will be sending a letter to the city this week demanding all documents related to city travel.

Peña says she welcomed a review of her travel documents and will "gladly reimburse any costs determined not in compliance with the city's travel regulations."

New Mexico's US Senators Propose Protecting Gila River - Associated Press

Portions of the Gila River would be protected as wild and scenic under legislation being drafted by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. 

The New Mexico Democrats say they're seeking public comments as they put together the measure. 

The lawmakers say the greater Gila watershed makes up the largest remaining network of naturally flowing river segments in the southwestern United States. 

Udall described the Gila as an irreplaceable treasure that serves as one of New Mexico's favorite outdoor destinations. 

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Adopted in 1968, the act came at the height of the modern dam-building era to ensure that the construction of new dams was balanced with the protection of select river segments that possess nationally significant values. 

The senators said the law is the highest form of protection for rivers in the United States. 

New Mexico Gets US Grants To Develop Water Management Tools - Associated Press

Scientists and experts in New Mexico will share more than $441,000 in federal grant funding to develop tools that can better inform water management decisions. 

The funding from the Bureau of Reclamation will benefit the Interstate Stream Commission and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. 

New Mexico Tech will use its share to continue developing a data delivery service, with a goal of water-related data being more accessible and easier to use. 

The Interstate Stream Commission will explore new modeling approaches to develop better long-range forecasting and streamflow projection tools for the Rio Grande. 

Anne Marion, Founder Of Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Dies - Associated Press

Texas oil and ranching heiress Anne Marion, who founded the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has died. She was 81.

Cody Hartley, director of the O'Keeffe museum, said in a statement that Marion died Tuesday in California. He called her a "passionate arts patron, determined leader, and generous philanthropist."

Marion and her husband, John Marion, established the museum in 1997. She served as the chair of the board of trustees until 2016. 

In an interview when the museum opened, Anne Marion said, "I've always loved her work. I grew up with it in my home — my mother had two of her paintings.'' 

Under Marion's leadership, the museum grew to also include O'Keeffe's two historic homes and studios in northern New Mexico, at Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch.

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he and former first lady Laura Bush were mourning the death of their friend. 

Colorado Man Gets Long Prison Term For Crimes In New Mexico - Associated Press

A Colorado man who pleaded guilty to carjacking resulting in death and other offenses stemming from a series of crimes in New Mexico has been sentenced to more than 37 years in prison.

Prosecutors say 36-year-old Daniel Lowell of Pueblo received a 449-month prison term Wednesday.

He faced up to life in prison after pleading guilty in the case in July 2019.

Lowell and 32-year-old Trista Marie Schlaefli of Colorado Springs allegedly fled from a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint west of Las Cruces in a stolen pickup truck in November 2017.

The couple allegedly carjacked an SUV from a family at gunpoint and a subsequent collision killed a retired Las Cruces police officer on a motorcycle.

They then attempted to carjack two other vehicles before being arrested by New Mexico State Police.

Prosecutors say Schlaefli pleaded guilty to multiple charges in November 2018 and still is awaiting sentencing.