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ABQ Mayor Wants Rape Kit Backlog Cleared, Judges File Suit To Reclaim Recordings

Jan 17, 2018

Albuquerque Mayor Wants Police To Clear Rape Kit BacklogThe Associated Press

Albuquerque police have two months to develop a plan to clear the backlog of untested evidence kits from sexual assault investigations.

At a news conference Wednesday, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed an executive order calling upon police to present a plan by mid-March. He expects the order to ensure the backlog will finally be cleared, and that it will help in solving cases and identifying offenders.

Keller left his post as state auditor and took office as mayor of Albuquerque last month.

As auditor, he and his staff issued reports underscoring the extent of New Mexico's backlog, with findings that showed there were more than 5,000 untested rape evidence kits from sexual assaults statewide. Seventy-five percent are in an Albuquerque crime lab.

Judges, Employees File Suit To Reclaim Courthouse RecordingsThe Associated Press

Judges and employees of a court in northwest New Mexico have filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to reclaim secret audio recordings made in the courthouse by a former judge.

The Daily Times reports the four Aztec Magistrate Court judges and employees are asking the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission to return the hundreds of hours of recordings that were made by former Judge Connie Johnston.

The suit claims the recordings contain information that includes intimate personal details and protected medical information.

Commission executive director and general counsel Randall Roybal declined to comment on the case.

The New Mexico Supreme Court removed Johnston from office in October for misconduct that included the surreptitious recordings and abuse of her judicial power of contempt. 

New Mexico Legislative Proposal Would Hike Governor's PayThe Associated Press

A post-election salary hike of 10 percent is being contemplated for New Mexico's governor, attorney general, secretary of state and several other statewide elected officials.

The Legislature's lead budget writing committee this week endorsed the bill proposal to increase pay for seven statewide elected officials and members of the Public Regulation Commission come Jan. 1, 2019.

Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming plans to introduce the bill and says compensation increases are overdue for the high-responsibility jobs.

The Legislative Finance Committee is suggesting a 1.5 percent average salary increase for state workers.

Outgoing Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's salary is $110,000. Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas earns $95,000. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver receives $85,000.

Commissioners who regulate the state's investor-owned utilities earn $90,000.

Negative Outlook Assigned To New Mexico Electric UtilityThe Associated Press

A major credit rating agency has given New Mexico's largest electric utility and its parent company a negative outlook as state regulators look to resolve questions over a proposed rate increase.

PNM Resources says the outlook by Standard & Poor's moves the family of companies in the direction of a credit rating downgrade.

The agency cited a challenging regulatory environment and pointed to the financial effects of a decision last week by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to order a lower rate increase for utility customers.

The commission also put off a decision on whether the utility's investments in a coal-fired power plant were prudent.

The commission on Wednesday is scheduled to take up the rate increase again as several parties that were initially involved in the negotiations need to sign off.

65 People Displaced After Albuquerque Apartment FireThe Associated Press

Albuquerque officials say dozens of elderly and disabled residents are displaced after an apartment fire.

Albuquerque Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Romero says the Solar Villa Apartments caught fire Tuesday evening.

Firefighters were able to quickly put out the flames.

Investigators ruled the fire as accidental.

Officials say someone left a lit cigarette near clothing, causing a fire on the third floor.

No one was seriously hurt, but Romero says one person was treated for smoke inhalation.

Romero says the blaze caused water damage to the entire 16-unit complex leaving 65 people and more than 20 pets displaced.

Residents are staying at a shelter set up inside a middle school until the Red Cross can connect them with housing.

Democrats Warn Gov. Martinez About VetoesAssociated Press

New Mexico Senate Democrats are warning Republican Gov. Susana Martinez they have bipartisan support on criminal justice reforms and on proposals to increase spending on various programs.

Sen. Howie Morales said Tuesday in response to the governor's State of the State address that lawmakers will not hesitate to try to override any vetoes from Martinez on bills that have support from Democrats and Republicans.

The Silver City Democrat says lawmakers will consider a tobacco tax to help fund education and will work to give pay increases to state workers and teachers. Martinez also has called for raises.

Morales signaled that the governor's proposal on third-grade retention was all but dead after multiple attempts to get it passed in the Legislature.

He says Senate Democrats will look at the governor's call for increased penalties for some crimes but also would focus on prevention.

New Mexico Governor Urges Cooperation On Crime – Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is sounding an optimistic note about rebounding state finances and urging lawmakers to approve tougher criminal penalties at the outset of a new legislative session.

Martinez delivered her final State of the State speech to the Legislature on Tuesday. She said the state's budget surplus has climbed to an estimated $330 million.

She called on Lawmakers to reform the state's gross receipts taxes on sales and business services and make funding for business incentives permanent.

She repeated calls to reinstate the death penalty. The proposal has been rejected repeatedly by the legislature.

Endangered Mexican Gray Wolf Found Dead In ArizonaAssociated Press

Federal authorities are investigating the death of a Mexican gray wolf as wildlife managers prepare for an annual survey of the endangered species along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Officials with the wolf recovery effort announced Tuesday that a female wolf was found dead in December in Arizona. They declined to release more information, saying the case is still under investigation.

For 2017, there were a total of 12 documented wolf deaths and one removal of a wolf from the wild that resulted in its death.

According to the most recent count, there are at least 113 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say a new survey of the population will begin next Monday. The effort will take two weeks.

Negative Outlook Assigned To New Mexico Electric UtilityAssociated Press

A major credit rating agency has given New Mexico's largest electric utility and its parent company a negative outlook as state regulators look to resolve questions over a proposed rate increase.

PNM Resources says the outlook by Standard & Poor's moves the family of companies in the direction of a credit rating downgrade.

The agency cited a challenging regulatory environment and pointed to the financial effects of a decision last week by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to order a lower rate increase for utility customers.

The commission also put off a decision on whether the utility's investments in a coal-fired power plant were prudent.

The commission on Wednesday is scheduled to take up the rate increase again as several parties that were initially involved in the negotiations need to sign off.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported PNM filed a conditional acceptance of the 1.5 percent rate increase. But it made that agreement conditional on being able to collect just over half of what it spent on improving the Four Corners Power Plant from ratepayers. 

New Mexico Legislative Proposal Would Hike Governor's PayAssociated Press

A post-election salary hike of 10 percent is being contemplated for New Mexico's governor, attorney general, secretary of state and several other statewide elected officials.

The Legislature's lead budget writing committee this week endorsed the bill proposal to increase pay for seven statewide elected officials and members of the Public Regulation Commission come Jan. 1, 2019.

Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming plans to introduce the bill and says compensation increases are overdue for the high-responsibility jobs.

The Legislative Finance Committee is suggesting a 1.5 percent average salary increase for state workers.

Outgoing Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's salary is $110,000. Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas earns $95,000. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver receives $85,000.

Commissioners who regulate the state's investor-owned utilities earn $90,000.

Roman Catholic Leaders Highlight Legislative PrioritiesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops is highlighting its legislative priorities at a breakfast with state lawmakers.

GOP New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday renewed calls to reinstate the death penalty as the Legislature convened for a 30-day session. The measure has been staunchly opposed by Roman Catholic leaders including Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester.

Local Roman Catholic leaders have urged New Mexico lawmakers in recent years to do more to address childhood poverty. A breakfast meeting was scheduled Wednesday at a parish hall in Santa Fe.

Martinez and the Legislature, which is led by Democrats, are both proposing increases in funding to early childhood education and home visiting programs that safeguard the health and safety of infants and toddlers.

The Legislature has repeatedly defeated proposals by Martinez and her allies in the Statehouse to reinstate capital punishment.

Albuquerque Mayor Plans To Address City's Rape Kit BacklogAssociated Press

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says he plans to issue an order for investigators to clear the backlog of untested rape kits in the city's crime lab.

Keller is expected to detail his plans for the order at a press conference Wednesday.

Keller took office as mayor of Albuquerque last month.

A year earlier, he released a report as state auditor aimed at identifying the root causes of a statewide backlog of 5,000 untested evidence kits from sexual assaults.

Based on that figure, New Mexico led the nation in untested kits per capita. And three-quarters of the untested kits were in an Albuquerque crime lab.

The study, based on a survey of law enforcement, found attitudes toward victims, along with a lack of training and equipment contributed to the backlog.

Plane Crashes On Kansas-New Mexico Flight, Pilot HurtAssociated Press

Authorities say a man is hospitalized in critical condition after the small plane he was flying crashed in New Mexico.

Santa Fe Sheriff's officials say the pilot called a regional emergency communications center about 8 p.m. Monday to report the crash.

The man provided coordinates directing emergency personnel east of the Rancho San Marcos subdivision off State Road 14.

Sheriff's deputies say the man was found at the crash site and complained of leg, back and arm injuries.

He told authorities he was flying from Kansas to Santa Fe and his single-engine aircraft iced up and lost lift as he flew through a storm toward the Santa Fe Airport.

The man's name and hometown weren't immediately available Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

Lawsuit Blames Hot Springs Spa For Man's DrowningAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A lawsuit claims a hot springs spa allowed a man to drown in a spring-fed hot tub.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the suit, filed Jan. 9, says the June 2016 death of Mark Burrows was the fourth death at the La Paloma Hot Springs and Spa in Truth or Consequences in a five-year span.

Spa owner Meleasa Malzhan, named in the suit along with owner Daniel Wilkerson, declined to comment. The company's website says the facility offers clients a soak in hot spring-fed tubs that range in temperature from 98 to 116 degrees.

Parrish Collins, attorney for Burrows' estate, says he hopes the lawsuit brings attention to the "seriousness of what is going on. There have been a number of incidents at the same facility, and that's concerning."

New Mexico Nuclear Waste Repository Closed For MaintenanceAssociated Press

The nation's only underground nuclear waste repository is undergoing its first maintenance outage since it resumed operations a year ago.

Before then, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant had been shut down for three years because radiation contaminated part of the facility.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that maintenance crews will be updating power supplies, relocating fiber-optic cables and replacing other parts in the underground mine.

The work is expecting to last until Jan. 26. Waste shipments will be on hold until the following week.

The facility disposes of waste from decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.

State Attorneys General Sue To Block Net-Neutrality RepealAssociated Press

A group of attorneys general for 21 states, including New Mexico, and the District of Columbia has sued to block the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net-neutrality rules.

These rules barred companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from interfering with internet traffic and favoring their own sites and apps. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's push to undo them inspired both street and online protests in defense of the Obama-era rules.

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the suit, said Tuesday that the end of the net neutrality rules would hurt consumers and businesses.

Tech companies and public-interest groups are also expected to file suit or help with litigation against the repeal.

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