Budget Cuts Prompt Court Clerks To Limit Hours, NM Leaders Outraged Over EPA's Response To Claims

Jan 14, 2017

Budget Cuts Prompt More Court Clerks To Limit HoursAssociated Press

Another of New Mexico's judicial districts will be reducing the hours its court clerks have to help the public due to budget cuts and resulting staff shortages.

Officials in the 12th district, representing Otero and Lincoln counties in southern New Mexico, made the announcement Friday. They join New Mexico's busiest district in metro Albuquerque in trimming public hours within the clerk's offices.

Beginning next week, clerks will be available to assist the public for only four hours each day.

In a statement issued Friday, 12th District Chief Judge James Counts said the court apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause and warned that the new schedule will last at least through August.

In Albuquerque, court officials say they have 23 vacancies and employees are scrambling to address heavier workloads.

New Mexico Leaders Outraged Over EPA's Response To ClaimsAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Attorney General Hector Balderas and other top officials are angry with the federal government's decision not to pay claims related to a 2015 mine spill that tainted rivers in three western states.

The Republican governor said Friday that this marks another insult by the Obama administration and serves as another example of why people have lost faith in the federal government.

Balderas, a Democrat, accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of revictimizing the state and the Navajo Nation by not taking full responsibility for triggering the spill of 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine in southern Colorado.

New Mexico was first to sue over the spill.

Both Martinez and Balderas have repeatedly said the EPA should be held to the same standards it would impose on private interests accused of polluting.

Martinez Appoints Jablonski To Secretary PostAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday announced she appointed a new corrections department cabinet secretary.

David Jablonski, the current acting secretary, will officially take over the role.

Jablonski previously worked on the governor's executive office staff and was the deputy superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department. He also spent 14 years with the state corrections department.

EPA Says It Can't Pay Damages From Mine SpillAssociated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency won't repay claims totaling over $1.2 billion for economic damages from a mine waste spill the agency accidentally triggered in Colorado, saying the law prohibits it.

The EPA said Friday the claims could be refiled in federal court, or Congress could authorize payments.

But government attorneys concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

An official announcement is planned later Friday. The Associated Press was provided outlines of the decision in advance.

The 2015 spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah rivers.

Those filing claims included farmers, rafting companies and their employees who lost income and wages while the rivers were unusable for irrigation, livestock and recreation.

New Mexico Attorney General Sues Troubled School DistrictAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has filed a lawsuit against a troubled northern New Mexico school district whose finances were recently taken over by the state.

The lawsuit against the Espanola Public Schools District filed in Rio Arriba State District Court on Thursday seeks to force the district to comply with an open records request for emails. Court documents say the attorney general only received less than 1 percent of the requested documents.

Superintendent Eric Martinez didn't immediately respond to an email.

The state Public Education Department took over the finances of the Espanola school district in November after finding some budget irregularities.

The department also warned Martinez to fix other problems, including the high-profile rehiring of the high school's basketball coach, who was accused of verbally abusing players.

Navajo Nation Making Progress On Amber Alert SystemAssociated Press

Navajo Nation leaders say the tribe is making progress on a public emergency alert system that can broadcast Amber Alerts and other notifications across the expansive reservation.

Officials say the tribe will be using the federal government's internet-based Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS.

The next step is for the tribe to purchase software that will allow the system to be fully functional across its lands in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Officials expect the system to be active within weeks, and training on issuing Amber Alerts will begin for law enforcement this month.

The efforts are in response to a deadly abduction in 2016 that raised concerns over the fact that the nation's largest American Indian reservation did not have its own system to issue alerts about child abductions.