New Mexico Senate Approves Minimum Wage Hike, Lawmakers Seek Stiffer Gun Penalties

Mar 1, 2017

The Latest: New Mexico Senate Approves Minimum Wage HikeThe Associated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved a bill to increase the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 to $9.

The Senate voted 24-6 Wednesday for the proposed legislation over the objections of Republican lawmakers.

The minimum wage bill now moves to the House, where a separate bill would set the wage floor at $9.25 and place restrictions on local policies that curb flexible scheduling by employers.

The Senate bill was amended at the start of deliberations to increase the minimum wage in two steps, starting at $8.25 in October and $9 in April 2018.

Senate Bill Sponsor Clemente Sanchez said the new amendment responds to concerns from agricultural businesses.

New Mexico House Approves Stiffer Gun Possession Penalty – The Associated Press

New Mexico penalties would increase for illegal firearms possession among people previously convicted of a violent felony under a bill approved by the state House of Representatives.

The House voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Nate Gentry of Albuquerque. It would increase the penalty to three years in jail from 18 months. The measure now moves to the Senate.

The Law Office of the Public Defender warns the proposed law eventually could be challenged based on the prior felony being used twice to enhance a sentence.

The New Mexico lawmakers also are considering proposals to expand background checks on nearly all commercial firearms transactions and to restrict access to guns temporarily in domestic violence situations.

Feds: New Mexico's Signature Crop Fares Well In 2016The Associated Press

The numbers have been crunched, and there's some good news for New Mexico's chile farmers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Wednesday that both the number of acres planted and the tons produced in New Mexico increased in 2016.

The data shows 9,200 acres were planted, or about 11 percent more than the previous year. Some 69,000 tons of the signature crop were produced, with most of that being sold for processing.

The value of New Mexico chile production in 2016 was estimated at more than $50 million, a significant jump from $41 million in 2015.

The figures show Luna County led in acreage and production. Dona Ana County — home of the community of Hatch, which is known as the "Chile Capital of the World" — came in second.

New Mexico Tribes Pressure Feds On Drilling In Chaco Region – The Associated Press

Leaders from the nation's largest Native American reservation and pueblos throughout New Mexico are putting more pressure on federal land managers to curb oil and gas development in the northwest corner of the state.

The Navajo Nation has sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management seeking a moratorium on drilling and lease sales across a wide swath of land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors also has raised concerns, and Democratic lawmakers have introduced memorials calling for more consultation among tribes and the federal government.

The BLM has already established a 10-mile buffer around the park and is developing a new management plan for millions of acres in the region. Federal officials have agreed to consider the cultural significance of sites scattered throughout the area as part of that effort.

New Mexico Governor Pressures Senate To Act On NominationsThe Associated Press

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is pressuring the Democratically controlled state Legislature to move forward with confirmation hearings for nominations that include agency heads and university regents.

The Senate on Wednesday responded to a letter from the governor seeking to withdraw the names of more than 50 appointees to various state commissions and boards. Martinez says withdrawing the names would give the Senate more time to consider 23 pending nominations to critical posts.

In a written response, the Senate says that candidates cannot be withdrawn from the nominating process unless they are removed from their acting positions in government. Senators say to do otherwise would circumvent their constitutional powers.

Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan says the Senate has willfully neglected its constitutional duty by stalling key confirmations. The Legislature adjourns March 18.

School District Looks To Boost Attendance With Car GiveawayThe Associated Press & The Daily Times

A school district in northwestern New Mexico is hoping to cut down on truancy by giving students the opportunity to win a free car.

The Farming Daily Times reported Tuesday that the Bloomfield School District will include students from its two high schools who have a perfect attendance record for the year in a drawing to win one of two vehicles — a 2007 Ford Mustang or a 2007 Ford Focus.

The district saw its graduation rates from both schools go up last school year, but Superintendent Kim Mizell says the district wanted to do more to motivate students to show up to class every day.

The cars were provided with help from two local companies, Interstate Recovery & Towing and BP America Production Co.

They will be given away on the last day of school in May.

Lobbying Moratorium Bill Advances In New Mexico Legislature – The Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has approved a two-year cooling off period before many public officials can work as lobbyists.

Approved on Tuesday, the bill applies to former state lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries and members of the Public Regulation Commission.

It forbids them from lobbying the agency they worked for two year after their departure. They can register and act as lobbyists during that period if they are not compensated financially.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. The state's current one-year lobbying moratorium is seen as ineffectual.

Recent departures from New Mexico Cabinet posts have spurred interest in lobbying restrictions. Last year, Ryan Flynn became the executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association weeks after leaving his job atop the state Environment Department.

New Mexico May Shore Up Taxes From Online Vacation Rentals – The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers want to ensure local governments can collect taxes on short term lodging rentals arranged through third-party websites and apps such as Airbnb.

The New Mexico House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that removes any possible exemption on local taxes for online, short-term rentals.

The bill applies to lodging rentals of less than 30 days and allows for occupancy taxes of up to 5 percent. It was approved by a unanimous vote and moves to the Senate.

Cities including Santa Fe have struck deals with Airbnb to collect lodging taxes. Many local governments rely on the tax revenue for tourism and marketing campaigns.

Holloman AFB Unit Retires Drone, Transitions To New Model – The Associated Press

U.S. Air Force training unit at a base in southern New Mexico has retired a widely used armed drone to transition to a newer remotely piloted model.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports that the 6th Attack Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base is transitioning to the MQ-9 Reaper from the MQ-1 Predator, some of which remain in operational status.

A Predator will be put on static display at Heritage Park on the base, which held a retirement ceremony Monday to mark the transition.

The missile-firing MQ-1 has seen combat in Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and other locations.

The Holloman squadron has trained hundreds of pilots and senor operators since being activated in 2009 to provide Predator operators their initial qualification training for the aircraft.

Ohio Suspect In Officer's Slaying Faces Life Without Parole – The Associated Press & The Sun-News

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence without the possibility of parole for an Ohio man charged with killing a New Mexico police officer, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that 39-year-old Jesse Hanes is charged with murder in connection with the August death of Dona Ana County Officer Jose Chavez.

His trial is set for April.

Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio filed a notice Monday saying prosecutors want a sentence of life without parole for Hanes if he is convicted in Chavez' death.

Prisoners serving life sentences in New Mexico are eligible for parole after 30 years unless there are aggravating circumstances.

D'Antonio says such circumstances would include the killing of a police officer while in the line of duty. 

Roswell-Phoenix Flights Reach First-Year Milestone – The Associated Press & The Roswell Daily Record

Roswell officials are calling the direct American Airlines flights from the city to Phoenix a "big success" since the service launched a year ago.

The Roswell Daily Record reported Monday that figures from the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. show the flights have averaged a 70 percent occupancy rate over the last five months. That's less than the target goal of 80 percent, but city spokesman Juanita Jennings says the numbers weren't a surprise because November and December were expected to be slow.

She says a recent increase in marketing and promotional efforts will help boost ridership.

Jennings says Roswell officials will speak Thursday at a one-year anniversary celebration for the route about how the flights have and will continue to improve economic growth and business partnerships.

Report: Albuquerque's $5 Million Deal With Taser 'Unbiased' – The Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

An Albuquerque Office of Inspector General has found that city officials used a fair and unbiased process to reach a tentative deal with Taser International to provide body cameras for police.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Monday that the city would get 2,000 cameras and video storage through 2020 under the deal. The $5 million purchase, announced in December, would be funded with city and federal money.

Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry had asked for the Inspector General to review the deal because of the city's controversial history with Taser.

In 2013, a no-bid contract with the company led to a criminal investigation because a former police chief began consulting work for Taser while still on the city's payroll.

The new report says the city's process of vetting proposals from various.

New Mexico Watches Its Wallet On New Criminal Penalties – The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers want to take a closer look at the cost to taxpayers when changes are made to criminal penalties.

The Senate voted 35-4 on Tuesday to require a fiscal impact report on changes to criminal sentences and how they affect incarceration costs. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

When increased costs are anticipated, lawmakers would have to set aside money for the first year from New Mexico's general fund. The New Mexico Sentencing Commission would review fiscal impacts.

The Democratically controlled Legislature is wrestling with a $125 million budget gap for the coming fiscal year. A downturn in the oil sector and a sluggish state economy have sapped state tax revenues.

The Legislature already added a finance committee review of bills with new felony penalties.

Ex-New Mexico Corrections Officer Pleads Guilty In Drug Case – The Associated Press 

A former corrections officer at a New Mexico jail has pleaded guilty to a heroin trafficking charge.

Prosecutors say 20-year-old Christopher Gonzales of Rio Rancho entered a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court in Albuquerque.

At the time he committed the offense, Gonzales was a corrections officer at the Sandoval County Detention Center in Bernalillo.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, prosecutors say Gonzales faces up to 18 months in federal prison to be followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court.

A sentencing hearing hasn't been scheduled yet.

Gonzales was accused of bringing heroin to the jail with the intention of delivering it to an inmate in August 2015.

He was arrested in January 2016 and indicted in the case.