Gov. Says Schools Could Use Retired Officers, NM Proposes New Rules To Rein In Predatory Lending

Feb 28, 2018

New Mexico Governor Says Schools Could Use Retired OfficersThe Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says schools could utilize retired police officers for campus security as a cost-effective approach to make schools safer.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Republican governor made the suggestion Monday during a meeting with other state governors and President Donald Trump in Washington.

Martinez told the officials at the National Governors Association meeting that there's a "huge pool of retired law enforcement officers where municipalities and counties have actually invested a lot of money into training them, and now they're retired."

Martinez says hiring the retired officers would require little training and could lead to fewer school shootings.

Under state law, retired officers can still collect their pension benefits if they return to work as school security officers.

New Mexico Proposes New Rules To Rein In Predatory LendingThe Associated Press

New Mexico officials who oversee the storefront loan industry have published proposed rules designed to bolster consumer protections and discourage predatory lending.

Consumer groups announced Wednesday that the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division is seeking public comment on companion regulations to a law that caps interest rates at an annual 175 percent. A hearing takes place April 3.

The interest cap was approved by lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez last year and went into effect Jan. 1.

Center on Law and Poverty Staff Attorney Lindsay Cutler says the proposed rules are a good start toward more robust disclosure of loan terms by both storefront lending business and their online counterparts.

State regulators still are deciding how to fully implement broader consumer protections under the law.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Pay Raise For Successor - The Associated Press New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has voted a proposed 10 percent pay raise for statewide elected officials and utility regulators. The Republican governor on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have increased annual salaries after fall elections for officials including the state's future governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and public lands commissioner. In her veto message, Martinez chastises the Legislature for choosing pay raises for politicians over sound fiscal policy and legislation that supports a healthy economy. The vetoed pay raises together would have increase state spending by about $135,000 a year. A proposed state budget would increase general fund spending by $259 million. The most recent pay raises for statewide elected officials came in 2002. Many lawmakers say that pay is no longer commensurate with responsibilities. 

Agency Awards $73M Contract For US Border Wall WorkThe Associated Press

A Montana-based company has been awarded a $73 million contract to replace 20 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern New Mexico.

Existing vehicle barriers near the Santa Teresa port of entry will be replaced with taller bollard-style barriers under the contract awarded in January to Barnard Construction Co. Inc.

Regional Customs and Border Protection officials said Wednesday they could not comment on the timeline related to the contract and the construction company did not immediately respond to requests for details.

News of the contract comes as a federal judge in California sided this week with President Donald Trump on a challenge to building his promised border wall.

As for the work planned near the New Mexico-Texas state line, federal officials said the area remains an active route for human smuggling and drug trafficking.

Navajo Nation Issues New Emergency Drought DeclarationAssociated Press

Dry conditions and the prospect of limited precipitation later this year have forced officials on the nation's largest American Indian reservation to approve an emergency drought declaration.

The Navajo Nation's Commission on Emergency Management issued the new declaration Monday. The reservation spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and includes a region that has been dealing with severe to extreme drought for weeks now.

Tribal officials are anticipating large-scale drought conditions to persist this summer. They say that will create a shortage of water and feed for livestock.

The tribe also is grappling with feral horses with heavy populations in remote locations and winter range areas like the Carrizo Mountains. Officials say the Navajo ecosystem can't support the number of feral horses that currently exist.

New Mexico Biologists Scheduled To Review Endangered SpeciesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Game and Fish Department is preparing to begin a lengthy review of dozens of species of animals and plants that are classified as threatened or endangered by the state.

It will be up to the state Game Commission when it meets Thursday in Las Cruces to approve the start of the biennial review.

Based on the best available information, department biologists determine for each listed species whether its status should be "uplisted" from threatened to endangered, "downlisted" from endangered to threatened, or remain unchanged from the previous review period.

Public comments will be taken before and after the department issues its draft review.

There's a separate process for determining whether species should be added to or removed from the list.

Commissioner Wants Review Of New Mexico Sheriff's PoliciesAssociated Press

Bernalillo County commissioners have voted to delay a decision on whether to review how the state's largest sheriff's department uses force and handles pursuits.

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins had proposed a resolution that would have required Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and the county manager to hire a third-party evaluator to review the policies and possibly recommend policy changes.

But three of her four fellow commissioners decided Tuesday to delay the vote until their meeting next month.

The proposal comes as the sheriff's department contends with lawsuits and a heightened number of deadly force cases in recent years.

Some county commissioners and Sheriff Gonzales said having more time to review the proposal and present on it would be beneficial.

Man Who Embezzled From State Senator Gets Prison Sentence Associated Press

New Mexico authorities say a man convicted of stealing money and jewelry from state Sen. Mary Kay Papen has been sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.

Doña Ana County District prosecutors sought the maximum sentence of 13 1/2 years for Steve Siddall, but a judge suspended six years of the term.

They say the 46-year-old Siddall once served as Papen's campaign treasurer and was given access to her bank accounts.

Last December, a Las Cruces jury convicted Siddall on one count of forgery over $2,500, five counts of forgery and two counts of larceny over $500.

He was found guilty of forging checks and stealing thousands of dollars from Papen plus two pieces of valuable jewelry from her.

Prosecutors still are seeking more than $10,000 in restitution.

Despite Legal Victory, Trump Needs Money For Border WallAssociated Press

President Donald Trump has won a judge's permission to build a border wall with Mexico. Now all he needs is the money.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in San Diego rejected arguments that the administration overreached by waiving requirements for environmental and other reviews before construction can start.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel — whose objectivity Trump had questioned during his presidential campaign — wrote that the court couldn't consider whether building a border wall was "politically wise or prudent."

Trump tweeted that he'd scored a "big legal win" but he may yet hit another kind of wall.

Congress has yet to fund the project. This month, the Senate rejected a request for $18 billion.

Water Districts Challenge Judge In Navajo SettlementAssociated Press

Water districts in northern New Mexico are seeking to disqualify a judge and overturn a major water settlement award to the Navajo Nation.

A motion filed Monday with the New Mexico state Court of Appeals seeks to disqualify James Wechsler as the presiding judge in the San Juan Basin water rights adjudication for failing to disclose prior legal work on behalf of the Navajo Nation.

The court challenge from more than 20 community water districts highlights Wechsler's work in the 1970s for DNA Legal Services and describes DNA as an extension of the Navajo Nation. DNA Legal Services is an independent, nonprofit law firm that at times has been at odds with tribal government.

The motion filed by attorney Victor Marshall seeks to invalidate San Juan River water rights.

Navajo Nation Cancels Plans For Wild Horse Hunt In ArizonaFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Navajo Nation canceled a planned wild horse hunt aimed at thinning a herd in an Arizona area after a protest against the hunt was planned.

The Farmington Daily Times reports a notice on the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife's website says the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources rescinded on Monday a proclamation declaring the 2018 feral horse management hunt, which was designed to remove 60 horses from the Carrizo Mountains near Teec Nos Pos in northeast Arizona.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye says the hunt will be postponed.

Horse advocates, including members of the Facebook group Indigenous Horse Nation Protector Alliance, organized a rally for Friday in Window Rock, Arizona, to protest the hunt.

A 2016 study conducted by the Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department says there are more than 38,000 feral horses on Navajo Nation land.

New Mexico Sees Increase In Anti-Semitic IncidentsAssociated Press

A civil rights group says harassment, vandalism and assaults against Jewish people and institutions have increased for a third straight year in New Mexico.

The Anti-Defamation League released figures Tuesday showing there were 15 reported anti-Semitic incidents in the state in 2017, up 37 percent from 2016. In 2017, New Mexico had six instances of vandalism, and nine cases of harassment and threats.

The count included two bomb threats received at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, swastika graffiti found in a Los Alamos National Laboratory bathroom, and a report that a wedding vendor sent anti-Semitic messages to a potential client.

Nationwide, the group found a 57 percent increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents — the biggest jump in more than two decades. There were 1,986 total reported incidents in 2017.

Xcel Reaches Agreement In Texas Over Proposed Wind FarmsAssociated Press

Xcel Energy has reached an agreement with more stakeholders as it looks for regulatory approval to build two massive wind farms along the Texas-New Mexico border.

The utility announced Tuesday it reached a proposed agreement with parties in Texas that would guarantee customers see a positive net benefit from the wind farms for the first 10 years of operation.

The agreement also caps related construction costs that could be recovered through customer rates.

A similar agreement was reached recently with the New Mexico attorney general's office and consumer advocates in that state.

Texas and New Mexico regulators are expected to make final decisions on the $1.6 billion project next month.

Xcel says the wind farms would take advantage of the least expensive generating resource in the region and would ultimately save customers money.

New Mexico Gas Co. Seeks Rate Hike To Recover InvestmentsAssociated Press

New Mexico's largest natural gas utility is asking state regulators to approve a rate hike that would result in a 1.4 percent increase in the average residential customer's bill.

New Mexico Gas Co. filed the request Monday, seeking to generate about $8 million more in annual revenues. The utility is looking to recover $250 million in upgrades and maintenance done since 2012.

This is the first time the utility has proposed raising rates in six years.

The utility says savings from recent federal tax reforms that included a lower corporate income tax rate will be passed on to customers.

Utility President Ryan Shell said the savings means the revenue request was reduced from $17.6 million to $8 million.

If approved by the Public Regulation Commission, the new rates would go into effect next year.

Police ID Victims Found Near Roadside As Missing RoommatesAssociated Press

Police say the two people whose bodies were found near a rural New Mexico roadside have been identified as a 70-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman who had been renting a room from him in Albuquerque.

Both Eugene Carrell Ray and Zakaria Fry were reported missing last month.

Officer Simon Drobik confirmed Tuesday that the roommates were the two victims who authorities say were found last week in Stanton, a small town in southern Santa Fe County and more than 40 miles east of Albuquerque.

Fry, a transgender woman, previously was known as Zackary Fry.

Albuquerque police have taken over as the lead agency on the case, which is being investigated as a homicide.

Environmental Group To Appeal Border Wall RulingAssociated Press

An environmental advocacy group says it will appeal a federal court ruling in San Diego that allows the Trump administration to expedite construction of a border wall with Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the ruling Tuesday upholding the administration's right to waive environmental reviews to build border barriers is unconstitutional and shouldn't be allowed to stand.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who joined the challenge, said he was evaluating options. He says he believes the administration is ignoring the law.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley says the administration is pleased it can continue building the wall without delay.

Interim University President To Return To Provost JobAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The acting and then interim president of the University of New Mexico will return to his former post as the new president enters the office.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Chaouki Abdallah will return to his job as university provost when Garnett Stokes assumes the presidency Thursday.

The university honored Abdallah for his contributions in the top role with a reception Monday. The regents also recognized his work by officially naming him the 22nd university president earlier this month.

The board of regents selected Abdallah to take over the presidency after former university President Bob Frank left the position in December 2016.

Abdallah says he is happy to return to "the heart of the university," a role that he considers to be possibly the most vital.