New DA Starts In Bernalillo County, Federal Officials Tap UNM Program To Expand Healthcare

Jan 2, 2017

New Top Prosecutor Sworn In For Bernalillo County Associated Press

A new top prosecutor has taken over as district attorney in Bernalillo County for the first time in 16 years.

Raul Torrez was sworn in Sunday in a private ceremony at the 2nd Judicial District offices.

He replaces Kari Brandenburg, who had been district attorney since 2001 and chose not to seek re-election.

The state's most populous county has seen high crime rates, a steep criminal case backlog, and a fractured relationship between the DA and law enforcement.

Torrez is a former assistant U.S. attorney, assistant attorney general and assistant district attorney. He promises to reform the criminal justice system to ensure public safety.

A public swearing-in ceremony will be held Tuesday.

Albuquerque Police Using Facial Recognition Technology Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The state of New Mexico allows the FBI to scan its database of drivers license photos to see if the pictures match a wanted suspect, one of just 16 states that open their photo vaults to the agency.

The state agency overseeing the license database says the federal law enforcement agency tapped into it 240 times in 2016.

A recent report from the Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology raised alarm about the practice nationwide. But it had high praise for how the Albuquerque Police Department uses its facial recognition technology.

The Albuquerque Journal says Georgetown noted Albuquerque policies restricting searches and meaningful privacy protections.

The technology allows investigators to match photo or a surveillance video to databases of mug shots and driver's licenses with accompanying identifying information.

Mother Who Disappeared With 6 Children Arrested In Arizona Associated Press

Police say an Albuquerque mother who disappeared with her six children after being accused of beating one of her teenage sons has been arrested in Arizona.

The woman was arrested by police from the White Mountain Apache Reservation and booked into the Navajo County jail in Holbrook, Arizona.

Police say the children are doing well and awaiting their return to Albuquerque.

The children range in age from 3 months to 14 years.

Investigators say one of her 14-year-old sons, who wasn't among the missing children, showed up at a police station barefoot early Dec. 18.

He told officers that his mother attacked him after accusing him of molesting one of his younger siblings.

An arrest warrant was issued for the woman.

Democrats In State House To Reconfigure Committee Structure – Albuquerque Journal

Incoming Democratic leaders in the New Mexico House plan to reconfigure the chamber's committee structure by creating new committees and eliminating others.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Democratic leaders plan to make committee changes just as Republicans did two years ago.

Democrats reclaimed control of the House in November.

One change would involve creating a House Labor and Economic Development Committee.

Democrats had objected two years ago to a GOP push to abolish a labor committee and replace it with the House Business and Employment Committee.

Another change would involve bringing back the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, which had been recast as the House Ways and Means Committee after Republicans won control of the House in 2014.

Protection Sought For New Mexico Park's Geothermal Deposits – Associated Press

Underground pockets of boiling water and steam in a northern New Mexico national preserve could get extra federal protection under a new effort by the National Park Service aimed at limiting or preventing tapping the geothermal energy from neighboring land.

Federal officials said last week that the Valles Caldera National Preserve would become the 17th U.S. park unit with designated thermal features if approved. A month long public comment period will end Jan. 26.

The nearly 140-square-mile preserve was purchased by the federal government in 2000 and managed as a working ranch for years. The Park Service took over preserve management in 2015.

Dogs Suspected Of Starting Albuquerque House Fire Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Two dogs have been blamed for causing their southeast Albuquerque home to catch fire.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that firefighters responded to the house Sunday morning to find flames and heavy smoke coming from the garage. They were eventually able to extinguish the blaze.

Albuquerque Fire Department spokeswoman Diane Burns says firefighters suspect the dogs bumped into a kerosene heater in the garage and started the fire.

The house had been unoccupied at the time, and the two dogs were able to escape unharmed.

Rate Cuts Canceled For Medicaid Behavioral Health Providers Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Companies that offer behavioral health care to Medicaid patients will not face planned cuts in rate payments from the New Mexico Human Services Department.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports reductions would have been implemented Jan. 1 as a result of a state budget signed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Medicaid has faced cuts since drops in oil and gas revenue removed millions from the state budget.

Human Services Department spokesman Kyler Nerison did not respond Friday to questions about why the rate cuts were reversed.

Officials last spring wanted to save $30 million in Medicaid costs. That $30 million reduction would have led to the loss of $110 million in matching federal funds.

It's unknown whether the $30 million was made up elsewhere after the rate cuts were eliminated.

Weather Dashed Jewish Group's Hot Air Balloon Menorah EffortAssociated Press

Bad weather dashed the hopes of a New Mexico Jewish group that hoped to win a spot in the record books by creating the world's only menorah made from hot air balloons on New Year's Eve.

The event sponsored by Chabad of New Mexico went on anyway, just without the launch of nine balloons that would have created the menorah. KOB-TV reports the balloonists did use burners normally used to inflate their balloons to re-create the nine-candle menorah that is the symbol of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights celebration.

Saturday was the last night of Hanukkah.

Organizer Shai Shelhav says the event at Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta Park was still a success and drew support from across the community.

Rural New Mexico Exports Mentoring Model For PhysiciansAssociated Press

A mentoring program for physicians in isolated, rural areas is being tapped by the federal government in efforts to expand access to specialized care.

The unconventional system could hold particular promise for containing America's opioid addiction epidemic. At a health clinic in New Mexico's Española Valley, training by videoconference ensures a pregnant mother gets treatment to stay off heroin.

Project ECHO's long-distance training for physicians, their assistants and nurse practitioners mimics the mentoring that interns and residents receive at elite urban hospitals.

The effort by the University of New Mexico now extends to dozen of chronic medical conditions, and has been replicated in 30 states and other countries including India, Brazil, Namibia and Northern Ireland. Under the federal ECHO Act, it could be integrated into one of the world's largest health care systems.

Study: Chaco Inhabitants Likely Relied On Imported FoodAssociated Press

A new study suggests salty soils and dry conditions would have made it difficult to grow enough corn at Chaco Canyon to sustain the population at the once monumental gathering spot in northwest New Mexico.

University of Colorado-Boulder scientist Larry Benson's research adds fuel to the theory that Chaco inhabitants relied on imports from around the Four Corners region.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Chaco Culture National Historical Park includes what's left of an ancient civilization whose massive masonry architecture and cultural influences have been sources of mystery for years.

Some say the latest study offers just one more piece to the puzzle.

Benson says much of the corn consumed by those at Chaco centuries ago may have come from more fertile lands along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Advance Tickets On Sale For Annual Gathering Of NationsAssociated Press

It's still months away, but tickets are going on sale for one of North America's largest powwows.

Expo New Mexico, which will host this year's annual Gathering of Nations, says advance tickets for the two-day event in late April will be available online starting Saturday.

Organizers announced earlier this year that the event would be moving from its longtime home at the University of New Mexico's basketball arena to a smaller venue at the state fairgrounds.

The powwow is the one of the world's largest gatherings of Native Americans and indigenous people. This year's event attracted about 3,000 dancers from hundreds of tribes in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

In all, the event draws between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors each year. Millions more from around the world tune in online via live streaming.