Associated Press

The New Mexico Legislature Website

Republican state Rep. Donald Bratton of Hobbs was picked as minority leader of the New Mexico House of Representatives.

The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/UZuJHx) that Bratton will replace Tom Taylor of Farmington as the top-ranking Republican in the Democratic-controlled House.

House Republicans also elected several members of the party's younger guard to top-ranking positions.

Rep. Nate Gentry of Albuquerque will serve as the new House GOP whip, while Rep. Alonzo Baldonado will be the Republican caucus chairman.

An independent special audit shows McKinley County made about $240,000 in questionable payments to a business owned by the county commission chairman.

State Auditor Hector Balderas released the finding of the audit Monday. His office says the county violated the state procurement code and its own purchasing policies.

Balderas' office also says there are potential violations of the Governmental Conduct Act related to the county's contracts for plumbing, heating, air conditioning and other services with Dallago Corp. The company is owned by Chairman David Dallago.


The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on a New Mexico peanut butter plant that had repeated food safety violations over several years, using a new authority to halt operations at facilities that may be producing unsafe food.


The Albuquerque Zoo has announced the name of its new baby rhino -- Chopper.

Zoo officials say the name was the overwhelming favorite of Facebook fans. The name was suggested in remembrance of Jimmy "Chopper" Abalos, a softball and little league leader in the community who died in 2010. Abalos sponsored multiple little league teams called the "Rhinos." He was inducted in the United States Specialty Sports Association Hall of Fame in 2003, and his adult softball team, also the Rhinos, was inducted in 2009.

Bernalillo County Website

Bernalillo County officials are considering a major expansion of a program that has some offenders released in the community under supervision instead of being housed in jail.

KRQE-TV (http://bit.ly/Tp4NJa ) reports that the County Commission on Tuesday will consider a proposal to provide funding for 500 offenders. That's an increase from the nearly 200 budgeted now.

Under the Community Custody Program, inmates deemed to be low risk are fitted with ankle bracelets and required to submit to drug and alcohol testing.


The overall number of female lawmakers in New Mexico is staying about the same but that's despite a significant drop in the number of female senators.

The Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/UnwOAS ) reports that the number of women in the 42-member Senate will drop to six in 2013, down from 11 this year. The peak was 13 in 2001.

The drop-off next year is due to a combination of retirements and election defeats.

County officials are asking the Legislature to require the disclosure of more property sales prices to help with tax assessments in New Mexico.

Currently, assessors are provided prices of residential property that's sold. They want to expand the disclosure requirement to vacant land as well as commercial property and agricultural land. The information would go to assessors but not be publicly disclosed.

Five members of the Los Alamos National Laboratory security force have been fired for an improper use of a live fire shooting range.

Los Alamos Monitor reports (http://bit.ly/UPMx7N) that the five employees of the lab security force, known as Securing Our Country, were fired last week for "inappropriate behavior" at Technical Area 72.

The lab said in a statement that the firings came after a preliminary inquiry.

However, lab officials declined to discuss the nature of the behavior that resulted in the firings.


A nonprofit group that supports a historic narrow-gauge rail line that runs between New Mexico and Colorado has been designated as one of the nation's newest preservation stewards.

Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad received its designation letter last week.

The Preserve America Steward designation is awarded to volunteer programs that have been successful in preserving the nation's historic places. There are now 38 Preserve America Stewards in the U.S.

A new study finds rustic home sites in the mountains east of Albuquerque and in rural Santa Fe County are adding to the number of people infected with plague.

The study co-authored by state public health veterinarian Paul Ettestad blames a trend that has seen affluent families building homes in areas rodents once had to themselves for changing the distribution of plague in New Mexico since the 1980s. The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/Tfka3I) the disease was previously most common in low-income communities in the northwestern part of the state.

Health officials are warning that whooping cough is on the rise in New Mexico.

Ben Schumin

All of the fire hydrants in one rural New Mexico community will soon have locks on them.

The New Mexico Health Department says it's partnering with the March of Dimes to reduce the number of preterm births in the state.

New Mexico has earned a C on the March of Dimes latest report card. The grade is based on comparing each state's rate with the organization's goal of 9.6 percent by 2020.

New Mexico's preterm birth rate dropped to 11.8 percent in 2011.

An engineering professor at New Mexico State University is working on a digital application that could help farmers determine when and how often they should water their crops.

Farmers will be able to use Zohrab Samani's iFarm app — short for Intelligence Farm — on their cellphones and computers.

The app aims to help farmers set up more efficient irrigation schedules by taking into consideration multiple factors, such as wind and humidity levels.

Software developer Vien Tran says the challenge is extending the calculations to incorporate real-time climate data.

Forest officials are proposing to plant hundreds of thousands of seedlings as part of an effort to reforest areas charred by last year's Las Conchas blaze.

The Santa Fe National Forest is looking for public comments on its plan. The 30-day comment period starts Saturday.

The fire exploded across the southern edge of the Jemez Mountains on June 26, 2011, after being sparked by a falling power line.

It burned through hundreds of square miles of tinder dry forest, destroyed dozens of homes and threatened one of the nation's premier government laboratories.

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez is traveling the state next week to meet with New Mexicans on what he calls a "mobile office day."

Sanchez will visit Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, Clovis and Portales next Tuesday.

He'll stop in Hobbs, Carlsbad, Artesia and Roswell next Wednesday.

Sanchez said he wants to meet with New Mexicans and hear about the problems and issues confronting them.

Information on Sanchez's visits is available on the lieutenant governor's web site at http://www.ltgovernor.state.nm.us/ .

Police are launching an aggressive campaign aimed at preventing theft at Albuquerque stores and shopping malls.

Albuquerque police announced Wednesday that uniformed and undercover police officers will be placed around malls this week to deter property crimes. In addition, bait vehicle and items will be placed to nab would-be thieves and shoplifters lurking around stores.

Police Chief Ray Schultz told reporters the massive operation will begin Friday and run through Christmas.


The Santa Fe group that organizes the annual Zozobra ritual is considering moving the event from Thursday to Friday nights.

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe's Zozobra director says the group is considering the day move. Ray Sandoval tells the Santa Fe New Mexican http://bit.ly/RSDKDX) its awaiting a change of officers at the Santa Fe Fiesta Council before making a final decision.


An Albuquerque high school is requiring students who wear rosaries to conceal them in an effort to curb gang activity.

The revised school dress code at Atrisco Heritage Academy high school prompted rumors among students who thought the school was banning rosaries outright.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King is urging Congress to continue tax relief for financially troubled homeowners who have part of their mortgage debt forgiven by a lender.

King and other state attorneys general sent a letter Tuesday asking congressional leaders to extend a tax provision that will expire at the end of December.

Under a 2007 law, homeowners don't have pay income taxes on mortgage debt that's canceled or forgiven because of a foreclosure, a loan restructuring or when the lender agrees to a short sale at a price less than the amount owed on a house.

Andreas Geick

New Mexico has been awarded $500,000 in federal funding as part of a national project that aims to get states ready for more alternative fuel cars and trucks.

The Santa Fe National Forest is starting a restoration project along the Rio Grande near the old town of Buckman.

Forest officials say the project involves recreation enhancement and habitation restoration, including the removal of non-native species such as salt cedar and Russian olive trees on 34 acres.

Trailheads will also be designated.

The decision to move forward with the project stems from years of collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

Jeff Kubina

Regulators in New Mexico are negotiating with eight pueblos and two tribes over whether slot machine wagers started with "free play" or "bonus point" credits should be included when the casinos report their total quarterly wagers.

The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/UczmS9) that Gaming Control Board officials maintain the tribal casinos are paying the state less than they should by not adding the value of "free" or "bonus" play to the total amount of cash wagered and reported to the state.


New Mexicans can buy permits to cut Christmas trees on national forest land in the state.

The permit prices vary depending on the forest, but are available through Dec. 24.

The Gila and Lincoln national forests are selling $5 permits, and the tags are free for pinon trees in the Gila.

The permits are $10 in the Santa Fe and Cibola national forests for trees up to 10 feet.

A foundation backed by professional golfer Notah Begay III has identified New Mexico as "ground zero" for finding better ways to address obesity and diabetes in Native American children.

In a report released Monday, Begay's foundation pointed to New Mexico's large Native American population and what it describes as dramatic health and educational disparities.

The foundation has spent the past year discussing with tribal leaders, health experts and others the challenges of dealing with obesity and diabetes. More than 250 stakeholders participated in the discussions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico says it plans to push for a new state law that would give pregnant teenagers maternity leave from school.

KRQE-TV reports (http://bit.ly/SJPPtp) that ACLU of New Mexico says it will push for the proposal in the next legislative session in January. In addition under the proposal, pregnant and parenting students, boys and girls, would get up to 14 days of absences a semester. Currently, students typically get up to 10 days per semester.

PORTALES, N.M. (AP) — Dairy farmers are hoping for federal help after severe drought and high feed prices have closed around 40 dairies in New Mexico.

The Portales News-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/SZdS7U) that experts believe the U.S. Farm Bill could give dairy farmers relief by ending old price support systems.

New Mexico State University Extension Dairy Specialist Robert Hagevoort (HAYG'-vohrt) says the proposal would create a regulated producer-paid insurance program. He says the program would make sure that if margins are upside down, insurance will pay out.

C. Jung

New Mexico's ski season kicked off Saturday with the opening of the Sipapu resort and at least two more resorts are expected to open later this week.

Taos Ski Valley and Red River Ski Area are expected to open by Thanksgiving Day. Ski Santa Fe officials say they won't open until after the Thanksgiving weekend but could open within 48 hours of significant snowfall.


A federal agency's proposal to use helicopters to gather hundreds of wild horses in northwestern New Mexico has drawn criticism from animal advocates who are urging the government to use gentler tactics.

The Bureau of Land Management office plans to round up more than 270 wild horses off the Jicarilla/Carracas Mesa area near Navajo Dam.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/TTmvCe) that the federal agency's preferred option includes using helicopters.

Jobless New Mexicans will be able to apply online for unemployment benefits under a new state system that will be launched in early January.

The Workforce Solutions Department said the computer system also will help employers by allowing them to electronically submit required wage reports as well as pay taxes and track their accounts.

The system will be launched Jan. 6, and is intended to eliminate the use of mail for much of the business involving unemployment compensation.