Air Force Accident In NM Kills Contractor, Gov. Martinez Says Nation Needs Thorough Vetting Process

Feb 1, 2017

Air Force Training Accident In New Mexico Kills Contractor The Associated Press

The Air Force says that the person injured in a training accident on a southern New Mexico military range was assigned to the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Bliss, Texas.

That person has not been identified.

Officials at Holloman Air Force Base say a person who was killed during the Tuesday night incident was a civilian contractor while the person who was injured was an Air Force service member.

The 7th Air Support Operations Squadron is a geographically-separate unit assigned to the 93d Air Ground Operations Wing located at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.

The accident involved members of a ground-control party struck as two F-16 jets used unspecified air-to-ground munitions at a range that's part of the White Sands Missile Range complex near Holloman.

New Mexico Gov.: Nation Needs Thorough Vetting ProcessThe Associated Press

The nation's only Latina governor says President Donald Trump's temporary entry ban on seven Muslim-majority countries could have been rolled out more smoothly but that the nation needs to assess its vetting process.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez made the comments Wednesday during a stop in Albuquerque. She said there was confusion because Trump's executive order affected those who already had visas.

Still, the Republican governor said she understands the president is trying to ensure the safety of Americans and others living the country.

She said the nation needs to make sure its vetting process allows people who are refugees to enter but that the process be thorough enough so that Americans have confidence that people intent on doing harm cannot use the system as a way into the country.

Workforce Solutions Ordered To Temporarily End Cap On ProbesThe Associated Press 

A state judge has ordered the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions to end a $10,000 cap on investigating claims of wage theft.

First Judicial District Judge David Thomson issued the temporary restraining order Monday in connection with a lawsuit filed this month on behalf of four workers and various immigrant advocacy groups.

The lawsuit claims the agency is refusing to look into claims and doesn't hold employers liable for wage violations.

In addition, court documents accuse the Department of Workforce Solutions of not investigating or taking any enforcement action on wage claims. It also says the agency puts an unlawful $10,000 cap on investigating claims.

Department of Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Joy Forehand did not immediately respond to an email.

A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled in May.

New Mexico Governor, Utility Unveil Facebook Solar PlansThe Associated Press

An Albuquerque-based solar company has been awarded a $37 million contract to install tens of thousands of solar panels in the New Mexico desert to power a data center being built by social media giant Facebook.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, officials with the state's largest electric utility and economic development leaders gathered Wednesday at Affordable Solar to make the announcement.

New Mexico-based Array Technologies will provide the tracking systems for the panels.

The Republican governor told the crowd that efforts to build a predictable business environment over the last few years are what helped attract Facebook and now the ripple effects on the economy are showing.

The bidding process for the solar project spurred international competition.

Affordable Solar plans to start construction on the first of three 10 megawatt sites later this year.

Jewish Community Center Evacuated After Bomb ThreatAlbuquerque Journal

The Jewish Community Center in Albuquerque was evacuated Tuesday following a bomb threat, one of 14 across the United States and Canada.

The Albuquerque Journal reports 50 people were evacuated from the building but no bombs were found there or at any of the other centers.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the threats as possible civil rights violations FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told the Journal.

This was the latest round in a trend of calls to Jewish community centers around the country, according to the JCC Association of North America. On Jan. 18 bomb threat calls were made to 27 centers. On Jan. 9, calls were made to 16 centers.

The Albuquerque center has re-opened.

New Mexico Releases Draft Monitoring Plan For Mine Spill Associated Press

New Mexico is updating a long-term plan for monitoring the effects of a 2015 mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three Western states.

The state Environment Department released the draft late Tuesday. Public comments will be accepted through March 3.

Environment Secretary Butch Tongate says the plan was developed by a state-led team that included science and engineering experts from agencies and organizations around the state.

Tongate voiced concerns about the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the final days of the Obama administration not to pay damage claims. He said there was little hope the agency would hold itself to the same standards required of private citizens and businesses.

The agency triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southern Colorado, releasing 3 million gallons of wastewater tainted with heavy metals.

New Mexico Considers More Aggressive Renewable Energy GoalsAssociated Press

The New Mexico Legislature will consider increasing by more than four-fold the amount of renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar that utilities need to provide customers by the year 2040.

Two Democratic lawmakers plan to introduce bills Wednesday that would gradually increase the share of renewable energy to 80 percent of power supplies by 2040 under the state's investor-owned utilities.

New Mexico's current renewable energy portfolio peaks at 20 percent in 2020. Electrical cooperatives would ramp up to 70 percent renewables by 2040, under the proposal.

Environmental and social justice groups are supporting the proposed legislation from Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces. State utility regulators would continue to monitor the affordability of new electricity supplies.

Governor Vetoes Some Budget FixesAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed portions of a budget solvency package that would have reduced funding for economic development incentives while preserving spending cuts that target school district reserves.

The line-item vetoes on Tuesday by the Republican governor keep in place most of a $216 million plan from the Democrat-led Legislature for plugging a budget deficit and rebuilding modest reserves.

New Mexico is grappling with a financial shortfall and plunging tax revenues linked to a downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors, a tepid local economy and a corresponding drop in state revenue.

The approved budget changes target $46 million in local school district reserves to beef up the state general fund, along with transfers from dozens of state accounts.

The governor also is allowing the state to tap tax payments by insurance companies immediately instead of waiting for the next fiscal year. That provision frees up at least $78 million, with some effects on the flow of money to volunteer fire departments and local law enforcement.

The governor vetoed efforts to sweep money from a state infrastructure bank and from a 911 emergency services fund.

El Pinto To Invest $7M In Salsa Manufacturing OperationAssociated Press

El Pinto Foods plans to expand its salsa business with a $7 million investment.

State officials announced the effort Tuesday, saying the expansion will result in more than 6,200 square feet of manufacturing space and about two dozen jobs. The state will contribute $250,000 in local economic development funds for the project.

The company currently produces 25,000 salsa and chile jars per shift and has the capacity to make up to 4 million jars a year.

Company officials say El Pinto is expanding to meet growing demand for individual-sized cups for private label customers.

Co-owner Jim Thomas says El Pinto was started by his parents in 1962 with 10 tables. Now, the restaurant seats 1,000 and the salsa manufacturing plant is located on the same property on Albuquerque's northern edge.

New Mexico Governor Calls For Methane Rule To Be RepealedAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez is pushing for repeal of a rule that seeks to reduce methane emissions on public and tribal lands.

New Mexico is one of the nation's top energy-producing states, and Martinez says it won't be able to afford the rule, which was finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration.

The Republican governor outlined her opposition in a letter sent to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. The governor's office released the letter Tuesday, just ahead of a House committee hearing on the matter.

Martinez warned that royalties paid to New Mexico, which is struggling to solve a budget crisis, will decrease and development will stagnate. She said that could lead to more job losses in a state that already has the nation's second highest unemployment rate.

Supporters of the rule argue the gas wasted each year by venting and flaring is valued at more than $100 million.

Las Vegas Kidnapping Victim Found In New MexicoAssociated Press

Police in northern New Mexico say a woman who had been kidnapped from her Las Vegas, Nev., home was found bound by chains in the back of a van on Monday.

New Mexico State Police say that a woman had been forced out of her Las Vegas home earlier that day and that tips had come in about the suspects possibly taking the victim to Española.

New Mexico police stopped a van around 11 p.m. and found the woman bound by padlocked chains and handcuffed in the back.

The woman had visible injuries but was released from a hospital.

Police say the driver was 31-year-old Jack Morgan of Arlington, Texas, and the passenger 19-year-old Samuel Brown of Phenix City, Alabama.

Both suspects were booked at the Santa Fe County Detention Center and charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment, and conspiracy.

It's unclear what led to the kidnapping.

Committee Passes Bill Requiring Stricter Gun Background ChecksAlbuquerque Journal

A committee in the New Mexico State Senate approved a bill that would impose more background checks on those buying or borrowing firearms.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Senate Public Affairs Committee passed the bill 5 to 3 on a partly line vote. It will now go to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would require people who sell, lend or give a gun to someone to get a background check at a licensed dealer, who could charge a fee. Exceptions include transfers among close family members, at shooting ranges or on hunting trips.

A duplicate bill is working its way through the House. Republican Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho argued the proposal makes it more difficult for those to protect themselves in domestic violence situations.

Supporters included Every Town For Gun Safety and Albuquerque business leader Robin Brulé, whose mother was shot and killed a year ago.

Opinions From The Navajo Nation's AG To Be Posted OnlineAssociated Press

All formal opinions from the Navajo Nation attorney general's office are being made available online .

The tribe's justice department made the announcement Tuesday, saying the move will allow the public greater access, provide more clarity on Navajo law and increase transparency.

Attorney General Ethel Branch says she's following through on the encouragement of members of the tribal council to provide greater access.

Any branch, division, department, elected official or other entity of the Navajo government can request an opinion from the attorney general on any question of law relating to their respective entity or office.

The attorney general's office says an opinion protects Navajo officials or employees who reasonably rely upon the advice given in that opinion from any adverse action by the tribal government.