Udall Denounces Shutdown As 'Cruel' At Legislature, Bill Seeks Border Wall Ban On State Trust Land

Jan 22, 2019

Senator Denounces 'Cruelty' Of Federal ShutdownAssociated Press

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says more than 10,800 federal workers in New Mexico have been furloughed or are working without pay under the partial federal government shutdown.

The state's senior senator expressed opposition Tuesday to President Trump's proposal to reopen government in an address to members of the New Mexico state Legislature.

Trump wants $5.7 billion to start building his prized border wall and has offered to back immigration law reforms that Democrats call inadequate.

Udall says the "cruelty of this shutdown must stop" and that negotiations for stronger border security can take place later.

He also accused the Trump administration of gutting federal environmental oversight and urged state lawmakers to take action to combat global warming by better regulating methane emissions.

New Mexico Governor Appoints Taxation SecretaryAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is appointing a public finance expert with lengthy experience in state and local government to lead New Mexico's taxation agency and companion Motor Vehicle Division.

The Democratic governor announced Tuesday that Stephanie Schardin Clarke will leave her job as finance director for Santa Fe County to take the reins of the state's embattled Taxation and Revenue Department.

The agency has been without a permanent secretary since the resignation of Demesia Padilla to confront charges of embezzlement and using a position in government for personal gain.

The department also has been mired in controversy over new identification requirements initiated in 2016 for driver's licenses and alternative identity cards. Unresolved tax abatement and refund claims have soared to $320 million.

Abortion Protesters Descend On New Mexico LegislatureAssociated Press

Advocates for abortion rights are chanting and unfurling banners in the New Mexico House of Representatives in support of efforts to overturn the state's dormant ban on abortion.

A cluster of protesters chanted "repeal the ban" and hung banners from a balcony on Tuesday in the House of Representatives in violation of a prohibition on large signs in the Capitol.

Leading Democratic lawmaker and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are seeking to remove the state's criminal ban on abortion in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a 1973 decision that made the procedure legal nationwide.

Several legislators yelled out for security guards and police to eject the protesters.

El Paso Electric Eyes New $143M Generator, More Solar PowerAssociated Press

El Paso Electric has announced plans to add a $143 million power generator and introduce more solar power by 2023.

The El Paso Times reports the company recently disclosed the planned power generator will be located at its Northeast El Paso power plant. The company also said it will add its first battery storage for solar power within the next four years.

El Paso Electric is in negotiations with an unspecified number of companies for the power expansion, which is the result of the company's June 2017 request for power-generation proposals.

The utility provides power to more than 420,000 customers in West Texas and southern New Mexico.

Company studies show the electric utility will need more power generation by 2023 to replace three aging gas-powered generating units.

State's Indian Affairs Agency Gets New LeaderAssociated Press

An administrator of federal rural development programs has been chosen to lead New Mexico's Indian Affairs Department that coordinates state relations with more than 20 local Native American tribes.

Lynn Trujillo was appointed on Tuesday to the Cabinet-level position by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Trujillo has been working with tribes across the state as a Native American coordinator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is a tribal member of Sandia Pueblo, where she previously served as general counsel.

Trujillo says she wants to restore respectful relations between tribal governments and the state of New Mexico.

New Mexico Contemplates Border Wall Ban On State Trust Land - Associated Press

A New Mexico state lawmaker is proposing a prohibition on the use of state land to extend the wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

The bill from Democratic state Rep. Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces was introduced Monday at the Legislature and referred to committee for discussion and debate.

It would declare a state emergency and prohibit the use of state land or any state resources in the construction or replacement of barriers on the border with Mexico.

New Mexico's former state land commissioner accused the federal government last year of accessing state trust land without authorization and without properly compensating the state.

Current State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard could not be reached immediately for comment.

Second Skier Dies In Aftermath Of New Mexico Avalanche - Associated Press

A hospital official in New Mexico says a second person has died from injuries sustained in an avalanche last week in northern New Mexico.

University of New Mexico Hospital spokeswoman Alex Sanchez confirmed the death on Monday in Albuquerque. Separately, relatives identified the deceased skier in a statement as 22-year-old Corey Borg-Massanari of Vail, Colorado.

He was one of two people pulled from the snow after the avalanche on Thursday at Taos Ski Valley. The other victim has been identified as 26-year-old Matthew Zonghetti of Massachusetts.

The avalanche struck a stretch of expert skiing terrain on the upper mountain known as the K3 chute.

Borg-Massanari worked for an outdoor equipment retailer and as a zipline tour guide in the summer.

Charter School Advocates Protest Enrollment Cap - Associated Press

Advocates for charter schools in New Mexico are criticizing a bill to increase state educational funding that would place a cap on student enrollment at autonomous public schools for one year.

Objections to the limit on charter school growth were raised Monday as a Senate panel took up a proposal to increase state spending by more than $300 million for at-risk students, to extend annual class time and to boost minimum teacher salaries.

The bill would cap charter school enrollment at 27,000 students for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque is sponsoring the bill and says it leaves room for about 1,000 new charter school students. She says charter schools have consumed a disproportionately large portion of new educational spending over the past decade.

Democratic Sen. Bill O'Neill called the measure a "frontal assault" on a rapidly growing charter school in Albuquerque where he serves as a board member.

About 8 percent of students in New Mexico attend charter schools.

New Mexico Inmates Sue Over Spike In Phone Call Rate - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

More than 200 inmates in New Mexico are suing the company that provides phone service to the state's prisons.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the suit against Securus Technologies Inc. says a 2016 rate increase made the cost of calls go from about 3.25 cents per minute to 8 cents per minute.

The lawsuit says, before the contract was amended, inmates paid a flat rate of 65 cents for a 20-minute call. Under the current 8 cents-per-minute rate, a 20-minute call costs $1.60.

A spokesman for Securus Technologies says the actual rate charged for inmate calls varied under the old system because inmates didn't always speak for 20 minutes but paid the whole fee regardless. He says the "average" rate collected for calls before the 2016 amendment to the contract worked out to about 6 cents per minute.

Gila National Forest Uses Honor System For Firewood Cutting - Associated Press

The Gila National Forest says it will allow people to cut firewood for personal use as long as they obtain permits after the federal government shutdown ends.

Forest officials said Monday they recognize that neighboring communities rely on the wood for heating and cooking.

The public cannot buy permits during the partial government shutdown because the forest offices are closed.

They cost $20 for four cords of wood. The forest also has areas that are free-use but still require a permit.

The forest says anyone cutting wood during the shutdown must buy a permit or obtain a free-use one at one of its six district offices after the government reopens.

It also will honor any firewood tags from a permit purchased last year.

Hobbs Police Chief Announces He'll Retire At End Of February  - Associated Press

The police chief in Hobbs is retiring.

The city announced Monday that Chief Chris McCall's last day will be Feb. 28.

McCall started his law enforcement career with the Texas Tech University Police Department in 1997. From there, he went to Hobbs and worked as a patrolman, field training officer, sergeant and lieutenant.

McCall served as deputy police chief from 2010 to 2013 and as interim police chief before being promoted.

McCall thanked his staff and the Lea County Sheriff's Office, whom he said worked to positively impact the communities.

The chief also volunteered on various boards and with nonprofit groups.

Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb says McCall served during a time of rapid growth in the city, making the job more challenging.