Headlines: SunZia Halted, Former LANL Scientist Sentenced

Jan 29, 2015

Credit Bob Skahmahmahl / Creative Commons

New Mexico Land Commissioner Puts The Brakes On SunZia – Associated Press

New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has put the brakes on a $2 billion transmission project that would carry electricity generated by renewable resources in New Mexico and Arizona to markets across the West.

Dunn announced late Wednesday that he was issuing a 60-day suspension after meeting with the developers. He says that will give his office time to review the project before any further development affects state trust lands.

The Land Office says nearly 30 percent of the proposed line will cross state land.

Two public meetings have also been scheduled for March in Deming and Socorro to discuss the project.

Federal officials gave SunZia the green light last week. Approval followed months of negotiations over the line's route near White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.

Balloon Crew Surpasses Distance Record In Pacific FlightThe Associated Press

Two pilots soaring over the Pacific Ocean have made history by surpassing an official world distance record for human flight in a gas balloon.

The Two Eagles pilots, Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia, traveled more than 5,260 miles to put themselves in contention for the record.

It still needs to be ratified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, a process than can take weeks.

The rules of international aviation require the current record of 5,209 miles to be exceeded by at least 1 percent to establish a record.

Bradley and Tiukhtyaev set out to best both distance and duration records with their flight from Saga, Japan, which began shortly before 6:30 a.m. Sunday Japan time.

On Thursday evening, they were about 400 miles off the coast of California and heading south, where they planned to land in Baja California on Saturday.

New Mexico AG Makes Mental Health Audit PublicThe Associated Press

A redacted version of an audit that led to the shake-up of behavioral health services for needy New Mexicans is now public.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas released the audit during a news conference in Albuquerque, saying the state needs to do a better job of ferreting out fraud without disrupting services that citizens depend on.

He says he's making changes in the way the attorney general's office investigates such matters.

Balderas began his first term as AG at the beginning of the year. The previous attorney general, Gary King, declined to release the audit because it was part of an ongoing investigation.

The 355-page audit spurred allegations that state Medicaid funding was mishandled by the nonprofit providers. That prompted Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration to freeze payments while the attorney general's office investigated.

Roswell DA Won't Prosecute Santa Fe Police Over ShootingThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

The Roswell district attorney won't prosecute two Santa Fe police officers involved in a 2013 non-fatal shooting.

The Albuquerque Journal reports 5th Judicial District Attorney Janetta Hicks stated her decision in a letter Thursday to New Mexico State Police.

The Santa Fe police officers shot at a suspect who was driving his mother's van that had been reported stolen.

Hicks says the officers were defending themselves as they had to rapidly move out of the way of the vehicle to avoid being struck.

A Bernalillo County grand jury last year found that the two officers weren't justified in firing at an SUV full of people and wounding the driver as he pulled away from a store to flee police in August 2013.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Regulating Ride-Sharing CompaniesThe Associated Press

Two New Mexico lawmakers are pushing a measure aimed at regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Rep. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque and Sen. Phil Griego of San Jose recently introduced the bipartisan legislation as state officials wrestle with how to respond to the expansion of Uber and Lyft in the state.

Under the proposal, ride-sharing services will be required to provide insurance and conduct rigorous background checks on drivers.

Youngblood, a Republican, says the proposal would help expand ridesharing services in the state and reduce drunken driving.

The legal threats are the latest challenges to the companies that have popular smartphone apps allowing passengers to order rides in privately driven cars instead of taxis.

Cab and limo operators in New Mexico and Washington state have sued the ride-sharing businesses.

New Mexico Lawmaker Pushing Teen Voting In School ElectionsThe Associated Press

A New Mexico lawmaker wants to allow 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections.

Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque introduced this week a measure aimed at increasing voter participation in the election of school board members.

Martinez, a Democrat, says a similar measure has been passed in Takoma Park, Maryland.

The proposal comes as some lawmakers are pushing a voter I.D. measure that critics say might reduce voter participation in the state.

Tape: Scientist Offers To Build Nuke Bomb Targeting New York – Associated Press

A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist told an undercover FBI agent he could build 40 nuclear weapons for Venezuela in 10 years and design a bomb targeted for New York City.

In audio recordings played Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni tells an agent posing as a Venezuelan official that the bombs would prevent the United States from invading the socialist South American country.

Mascheroni said his New York bomb wouldn't kill anyone but would disable the city's electrical system and help Venezuela become a nuclear superpower.

The 79-year-old Mascheroni was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2013 to offering to help develop nuclear weapons for Venezuela through dealings with the undercover agent.

New Mexico State To Fund Difference In Lottery ScholarshipsThe Associated Press

New Mexico State University says it will fill a gap in lottery scholarships for the spring semester for all eligible students at the Las Cruces campus.

The state Higher Education Department notified colleges and universities in December that the scholarship award will not cover 100 percent of tuition this semester.

New Mexico State said its announcement Thursday means that students attending the Las Cruces campus won't have to pay as much as $129 out of their own pockets or through other financial aid.

The University of New Mexico announced a similar move two weeks ago.

Changes to the lottery scholarship program were enacted last year to shore up its finances because tuition increases and demand for the financial assistance had grown faster than lottery proceeds.

New Mexico To Name New Women's Soccer Coach – Associated Press

New Mexico is set to name a new women's soccer coach a season after the program was rocked by a bizarre hazing episode.

School officials are scheduled to introduce the new coach at a news conference in Albuquerque on Thursday afternoon.

Former coach Kit Vela's contract was not renewed in November. She had a 122-104-45 record in 14 seasons with the Lobos.

An internal investigation showed underclassmen were humiliated by being forced to perform inappropriate gestures during the August incident.

The investigation also showed that the hazing was an ongoing tradition in the women's soccer program.

Two players were hospitalized from excessive alcohol consumption as part of the episode. As a result, Vela was suspended for a week without pay and 22 players were suspended for one game.

New Mexico Lawmaker Proposes No Clock Change – Associated Press

One New Mexico legislator is tired of springing forward and falling back every year.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle introduced a bill Wednesday that would keep New Mexico on daylight savings time year-round.

The Republican farmer from Roswell says changing the clock twice a year is an unnecessary inconvenience and no longer makes sense.

He says farmers and ranchers like daylight savings time and work from sunrise to sundown no matter what the clock says.

If the legislation passes, New Mexico time would remain unchanged after it springs forward on March 8.

The federal government allows states to exempt themselves from changing their clocks. Currently, Arizona and Hawaii do not observe daylight savings time.

Another New Mexico Immigrant License Repeal Effort Begins - Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A House panel is expected to discuss efforts to repeal a New Mexico law that allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses

The House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee is scheduled Thursday to discuss two bills aimed at revamping the state driver's licenses laws.

One proposal by Rep. Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque calls for creating a "two-tier" driver's license system. But Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Somos Un Pueblo Unido, says that would only create "scarlet-letter" licenses for immigrants.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has tried repeatedly to have the law repealed, but those efforts have generated staunch opposition from Democrats. Despite Republicans winning control of the House, Democrats in the Senate have vowed to fight any repeal.

New Mexico Senator Introduces Flat Tax Bill – Associated Press

A New Mexico lawmaker wants to do away with most taxes and replace them with up to a 2 percent flat tax on most things people buy.

Republican Sen. William Sharer of Farmington introduced legislation Wednesday that calls for a 1 percent tax on gross receipts for the state, a ½ percent for counties and a ½ percent for cities.

He first floated the idea of a flat tax for the state two years ago.

Sharer says a University of New Mexico analysis done at the time found the flat tax would bring in $1.7 billion more for the general fund than the $3.9 billion generated from all taxes combined.

Sharer says he hopes New Mexico will lead the way for the rest of the nation with the adoption of a flat tax.

Former Pueblo Official Pleads Guilty In Embezzlement Case – Associated Press

A former governor of the Santa Ana Pueblo has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax evasion.

Federal prosecutors say 60-year-old Bruce Sanchez entered the pleas in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Wednesday.

He pleaded guilty to two counts from a 2012 indictment that accused him and a co-defendant of embezzling at least $3.6 million from a group formed by the state's 19 pueblos to develop the old Albuquerque Indian School property.

Sanchez was governor of Santa Ana Pueblo between 1999 and 2010 and was a prominent figure in statewide Indian affairs.

His trial had been scheduled to start Feb. 11.