Money Running Out To Pay Jurors, No Boost For Candidates' Public Financing

Dec 26, 2016

New Mexico Budget Woes Threaten Pay For JurorsSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

As New Mexico continues to struggle with a budget shortfall, officials say the state is running out of funds to pay jurors.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that officials say the state could run out of money to pay jurors by March, meaning jurors who serve after that may have to wait to be paid until after July 1, when a new budget year begins.

Administrative Office of the Courts Director Arthur Pepin recently asked the state Board of Finance for about $800,000 in emergency funding for court operations. The board denied his request, telling him to ask the Legislature for the money.

Pepin says he worries the low pay rates for jurors combined with the threat of late payment could change the makeup of juries.

Candidates Who Use Public Financing Won't Likely Get BoostThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Mayoral candidates in Albuquerque who opt into public financing won't likely get an extra financial boost in time to shape the 2017 mayoral race.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that city councilors had hoped to add a public-financing question to the Feb. 7 ballot, which is when voters head to the polls for a Board of Education election.

But officials say the deadline has passed to publish legal notices needed to combine a special city election with the school one.

The upshot is that mayoral candidates who qualify for public financing are likely to end up with about $379,000 during the campaign.

The proposal to boost the funding would've given them about $663,000.

The smaller amount might persuade some candidates to avoid public financing and just raise their own money.

Commission Nominates 6 For State Court Of Appeals VacancyAssociated Press

A state screening commission has nominated six attorneys for an appointment to fill a New Mexico Court of Appeals vacancy created by a judge's retirement.

Gov. Susana Martinez will make the appointment by choosing one of the commission's nominees, who include Assistant Attorney General Jacqueline Medina and Daniel Gallegos Jr., a Court of Appeals associate staff attorney.

The other nominees are Albuquerque attorneys Kristina Bogardus, Henry Bohnhoff, Emil Kiehne and Kerry Kiernan.

Martinez recently reappointed Court of Appeals Judge Stephen French to another spot on the appellate court.

French will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Michael Bustamante.

French is a Republican now serving on the court by appointment. He ran unsuccessfully for his current seat in the Nov. 8 general election, losing to Democrat Julie Vargas.

Study Underway To Examine Effects Of Oil Exploration On DeerFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

A years-long study is underway to examine the effects of oil and gas exploration on mule deer in part of northern New Mexico.

The Farmington Daily Times reports that the study examines how oil and gas operations affect deer in the Rosa area to the east of the southern part of Navajo Lake.

Rosa encompasses 78,000 acres in both western Rio Arriba and eastern San Juan Counties.

It has a high density of mule deer in the winter, as well as more than 1,700 producing wells.

The study uses radio tracking collars to collect data on habitat selection patterns, migration routes and survival rates, comparing data from times when oil and gas development is occurring with times when industry activity is absent.

Pipeline Uncertainty Illustrates Broader Concerns For Tribes - Associated Press

Some Native Americans worry the transition to a Donald Trump administration signals an end to eight years of sweeping Indian Country policy reforms.

Trump rarely acknowledged Native Americans during his campaign. And he hasn't publicly outlined since the election how he would improve or manage the United States' longstanding relationships with tribes.

Some of his biggest campaign pledges — including repealing health care legislation and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — would collide with tribal interests. And Trump's transition team said in a recent memo that he supports the completion of the Dakota Access pipeline.

But Trump's Native American supporters say they're hopeful he will cut through some of the government red tape that they believe has stifled economic progress on reservations.

Senators Plan Proposals To Abolish Education Secretary JobSanta Fe New Mexican

Two Democratic state senators are pushing for the eradication of the cabinet secretary of education job.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque has filed Senate Joint Resolution 2. It would get rid of the education cabinet secretary job and bring back the former system of an elected state board of education.

That elected board would be able to hire and fire a state school superintendent. If both houses approve the proposal it would go before voters in November 2018. As a constitutional amendment, it would not need Gov. Susana Martinez’s signature.

Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces says he plans to file a similar resolution. Under Padilla’s plan, the public would elect 10 people to a new board of education. 

There was a similar system in place until 2002 when voters approved a constitutional amendment that eliminated the board and gave then-Gov. Bill Richardson the power to choose an education secretary.

Current Secretary Hannah Skandera has been at odds often with the Democrats in the legislature and with teachers unions.

Fourth Behavioral Health Provider Leaving New MexicoSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A fourth Arizona-based provider of substance abuse and mental health services is leaving New Mexico.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Valle del Sol is one of five Arizona nonprofits that began contracting with the New Mexico Human Services Department in 2013 to provide treatment for low-income New Mexicans.

Three of the Arizona nonprofits have already left the state, and Valle del Sol's plans to leave have raised questions about how the behavioral health shake-up has affected Medicaid treatment in a state with some of the highest rates of poverty, suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths.

Valle del Sol's chief development officer says the organization is working with the state Human Services Department to create a smooth transition plan for patients at its seven locations in New Mexico.

Albuquerque Veterans' Hospital Gets Lowest ScoreAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Albuquerque's medical center for veterans has the lowest score possible after losing one of its two stars between the end of 2015 and June.

The Albuquerque Journal reports one star is the bottom score for internal Veterans Administration quality checks.

Spokeswoman Sonja Brown said the Albuquerque hospital is working on access issues like answering phones faster and lessening wait times on mental health appointments.

The VA posted scorecards on its website after USA Today first published the agency's ranking of 146 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.

Albuquerque was in the list's bottom 10.

New Mexico VA Health Care System Director Andrew Welch has said the ranking is an incomplete picture. One hospital's improvement drops another lower on the list.

The medical center receives consistent high scores from patients.

Bureau Fields Complaints Over Online Drilling ApplicationsCarlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

Bugs in a new online process for drilling permits are causing concern as the Bureau of Land Management works to address complaints over wait times.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Wally Drangmeister told the Carlsbad Current-Argus that permit approvals are dramatically low and that the bureau appears to be struggling.

Sheila Mallory of the bureau's state office says officials are trying to locally address concerns about system bugs.

Bureau Director Neil Kornze said in a news release that several updated processes in the oil and gas program will make experiences more efficient for the bureau and industry.

Spokeswoman Beverly Winston said it will take years to update the entire system.

She said well data and history will be available to operators once the system is modernized.