New Mexico Suing Over Air Bags, Navajo Leaders Consider Switching Name To Dine Nation

Jan 20, 2017

New Mexico Targets Takata, Auto Makers Over Faulty Air Bags - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico has announced a lawsuit against Japanese manufacturer Takata and a long list of auto makers in connection with the sale of cars with dangerous air bag inflators.

Attorney General Hector Balderas' office argues that the manufacturers had a duty to ensure their products were safe and that concealment of air bag defects amounted to unfair, deceptive and unconscionable trade practices under New Mexico law.

The state said Friday it will seek civil penalties for each defective air bag that entered the New Mexico market and penalties for each day the manufacturers misrepresented the safety of their products.

Takata earlier this month agreed to pay $1 billion in fines and restitution over the defective inflators as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Hawaii also has sued, but New Mexico's case spreads the blame to numerous auto makers that used the faulty bags.

Navajo Leaders Consider Switching Name To Dine Nation The Associated Press & The Gallup Independent

Navajo Nation leaders are considering changing the name of the tribal government from Navajo to Dine (dih-NEH').

The Gallup Independent reported Thursday that legislation proposing the official name change went before the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee and was unanimously supported.

The legislation would change the name of the Navajo Nation to Dine Nation and would have the president and all departments, divisions, agencies and entities of the tribe use the phrase "Dine Nation" in describing the lands and people.

Health, Education and Human Services Committee Chairman Jonathan Hale says he decided to sponsor the bill because the term Navajo comes from Spanish conquistadors. Dine is the Navajo word meaning "the people" and is commonly what tribal members call themselves.

New Mexico Child Welfare Agency Reviews Case Of Slain GirlThe Associated Press

A review by state officials shows there were no indications of previous abuse involving a New Mexico girl who was strangled to death on her 10th birthday, her dismembered remains found in her home.

Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson released a summary of her department's investigation Friday.

It shows social workers interviewed Victoria Martens and her sibling more than once and the children never disclosed any physical or sexual abuse. Allegations of poor hygiene were also unsubstantiated.

While the review shows the department's investigations regarding Victoria and her sibling were done in accordance with state law and agency policies, Jacobson said the case speaks to the frustrations that social workers cannot predict or control human behavior.

Jacobson called the case heartbreaking and said new efforts to raise awareness about abuse and prevention will be rolled out soon.

Traffic On The Rise At Albuquerque International AirportThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Traffic is up at New Mexico's largest airport.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that 126,000 more passengers visited Albuquerque International Sunport in 2016 than did the year before. It's the first time the airport has seen a year-to-year gain since 2007.

Traffic increased by less than one percent and stayed below the 2007 peak. But Sunport spokesman Daniel Jiron says any growth is "significant for sure" after eight years of decline. He attributed the growth to an improving economy.

Figures released this week show that the Sunport saw 4.87 million passengers in 2016, up from 4.75 million in 2015. The facility's high is 6.7 million passengers in 2007.

New Mexico Unemployment Rate Declines To 6.6 Percent The Associated Press

New Mexico's unemployment is down.

The state Department of Workforce Solutions reports that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.6% in December, down from 6.7% in November and unchanged from a year earlier.

The department says the state's economy added 2,400 jobs in nonfarm employment between December 2015 and December 2016 and 100 jobs between December 2016 and last November.

Leisure and hospitality gained 900 jobs between November and December, making it the economic sector with the largest employment increase.

Local government shed 1,700 jobs for the biggest loss from November to December.

Ex-Teacher Sentenced To Prison In Child Pornography CaseThe Associated Press

A 41-year-old former Albuquerque kindergarten teacher has been sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison for convictions on child pornography charges.

A federal judge on Thursday also sentenced Joshua Weitz to 15 years of supervised release after he gets out of prison and to pay $3,000 of restitution.

Weitz was suspended and then fired from his teaching post after being arrested in 2015 on charges of distributing, receiving and possessing visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, investigators who searched Weitz's home found a computer with numerous files of child pornography.

Weitz pleaded guilty in August 2016 to two counts of possession of child pornography.

Stranded California Couple Rescued From New Mexico ForestAssociated Press

A California couple has been rescued after being stranded in their van for days on a muddy forest road in a remote part of western New Mexico.

New Mexico State Police say Kimberly and David Duran of Whittier were trying to take a scenic route home Saturday but ran into snow-covered, rutted roads.

Rescuers reached the couple Wednesday after David Duran called 911 from a ridgetop where he found cell service. The couple told authorities they had food in their van and melted snow to drink.

Authorities had been searching since family members reported them missing Monday. Cell phone records helped to identify a general area but officers were unable to locate any tracks or footprints. Aircraft also turned up no signs.

After pinpointing the Durans' location, authorities used off-highway vehicles to reach them.

Chief Justice Says Low Funding Threatens CourtsAssociated Press

The chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court says funding cuts to the judiciary are threatening the constitutional rights to a speedy trial and along with basic court services.

Chief Justice Charles Daniels addressed a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday. He described a judiciary that is "on life support" and said emergency funding is needed in the coming months for state courts to avoid furloughs and meet obligations to compensate jurors and witnesses.

More county clerks are cutting back on hours they devote to helping the public. Funding to the judiciary was cut in the current fiscal year as lawmakers struggled to fill a budget hole.

And the Albuquerque Journal reports in a surprise announcement, Daniels told lawmakers he will step down as chief justice after the legislative session.

No Elevator Service At Carlsbad Caverns For 10 Days In Feb.Associated Press

There will be no elevator service at Carlsbad Caverns National Park for 10 days next month because of scheduled safety maintenance.

Park officials say the secondary elevator system will be taken out of service to replace steel hoist cables.

Both secondary elevator cars have eight cables, used to raise and lower the elevator cars in and out of the cavern.

The cable replacement on each car will require at least five days of work.

Officials say there will be no elevator service on Feb. 6-10 and Feb. 13-17.

They say the elevators are scheduled to be back in service on Feb. 18.

While elevator service is temporarily suspended, visitors may still access the cavern by hiking in and out of the Natural Entrance on a self-guided tour.

Students Want UNM To Bar Right-Wing SpeakersAlbuquerque Journal

The controversy over a right-wing columnist slated to speak at the University of New Mexico continues with students and minority groups asking the university to bar him.

The Albuquerque Journal reports students and administrators met on Thursday regarding Milo Yiannopoulos. He’s a writer for Breitbart News and was banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones. He’s scheduled to speak on Jan. 27.

Groups including the UNM Kiva Club, a Native American organization, told administrators Yiannopoulos’ recent actions do not align with the university’s values.

Acting President Chaouki Abdallah said UNM does not endorse what Yiannopoulos says but it must protect free speech.

UNM told the College Republicans organization it must pay a security charge of $3,400 for the event. The group called that a “free speech fine.

Indian Health Service Names Director For Albuquerque AreaAssociated Press

Dr. Leonard D. Thomas has been named permanent area director for the Indian Health Service in Albuquerque.

The agency says Thomas has been acting Albuquerque area director since March and before that was the area's chief medical officer since July 2005.

The area has four hospitals, 12 health centers, six health stations and several other facilities to serve more than 86,000 Native American patients.

Albuquerque To Conduct Feasibility Study For Soccer StadiumAssociated Press

Albuquerque is going to study the feasibility of having a 10,000-seat stadium for a men's professional soccer team.

A resolution approved by the City Council and signed by Mayor Richard Berry approves spending $15,000 on the feasibility study.

According to city officials, the Albuquerque Sol Football Club needs to own or be primary tenant of a 10,000-seat stadium to seek entry into the United Soccer League.

The team now belongs to a development league.

The council's resolution says the popularity of soccer in Albuquerque has increased in recent years and that construction of a professional soccer stadium would provide economic development opportunities.

Councilor Dan Lewis told KOV-TV last month that private investment and interest by businesses are needed to make the project work.

Bill Would Force White House Hopefuls To Release Tax ReturnsAssociated Press

A lawmaker in Rhode Island wants to prevent presidential candidates from appearing on the state's ballot unless they release their tax returns.

State Sen. Gayle Goldin, a Providence Democrat, says she'll submit a bill this week to require presidential candidates to release five years of federal tax returns to qualify for the ballot.

Similar proposals are circulating in Massachusetts, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

Lawmakers are responding to President-elect Donald Trump's decision to not release his tax returns during the campaign. The Republican's decision broke with decades of precedent.

Goldin says voters deserve transparency so they can evaluate a candidate's integrity, potential conflicts of interests and respect for the nation's laws.

The Board of Elections would make the tax returns public.

Hundreds Of New Mexico Residents Head To Inauguration Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Hundreds of New Mexico residents are headed to Washington, D.C., this week to attend festivities surrounding President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Gov. Susana Martinez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry are scheduled to attend the swearing-in ceremony and many other members of New Mexico's delegates at the Republican Convention and others who got tickets through the state's congressional delegation.

While many are planning to support the inauguration, at least 100 residents are scheduled to participate in a women's protest march scheduled for the National Mall on Saturday. Organizers estimate about 200,000 people from around the country will participate in the march.

A number of Democratic members of Congress have said they are boycotting the inaugural ceremony, but all of Mew Mexico's congressional delegation is planning to attend.

Homicides Up, Case Clearance Rate Down In Albuquerque KOAT-TV, Associated Press

Though the number of homicides in Albuquerque has increased, the number of cases solved by police has gone down.

KOAT-TV reports that Albuquerque Police saw 61 homicides in 2016, the most on record in 20 years, but the department's homicide clearance rate dropped to 65 percent.

APD spokeswoman Celina Espinoza says the department's homicide clearance rate had previously been around 80 percent for several years.

Espinoza says the department is close to closing multiple homicide cases from 2016.

Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby says the drop in case clearance is in part because of an ongoing officer shortage within the department. Right now, only 846 officers are on the force when the department is budgeted for 1,000.