KUNM

NM Changes System For Lottery Scholarships, NM AG Goes After Rooftop Solar Company

Mar 8, 2018

New Mexico Changes System For State Lottery Scholarships- Associated Press

New Mexico is providing more certainty for college students about the amount of financial aid they can count on from state lottery revenues, but elected officials and others say more needs to be done to shore up the scholarship program as higher education costs climb.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation Wednesday that decouples the value of lottery scholarships from the cost of tuition by setting a fixed amount for the awards based on the kind of institution a student attends.

Tuition and demand for financial aid have outpaced lottery revenues for nearly a decade, forcing lawmakers and university administrators to get creative about helping students fill the gap. When it began in 1996, the scholarship covered 100 percent of average tuition rates.

Former New Mexico Senator Starts Prison Term For Corruption- Associated Press

Former New Mexico State Sen. Phil Griego has begun serving a jail term for fraud, bribery and other convictions stemming from accusations he misused his elected office to profit from a real estate deal.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark said Thursday that Griego turned himself over to the state Corrections Department in Los Lunas to serve an 18-month sentence.

A judge has asked that the 70-year-old Griego be confined in a facility reserved for elderly inmates or those with health difficulties rather than with the general prison population. Corrections officials have yet to decide where to hold Griego.

Griego initially was fined $47,000 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. A judge waived all but 18 months. Griego may serve as little as 9 months with credit for good behavior.

Trinity Site To Host First Of 2 Annual Open Houses- Associated Press

Military officials in southern New Mexico are preparing to host visitors at the spot of the world's first atomic test during a special one-day open house at the Trinity Site.

The first of two annual open houses will be April 7.

At the site on White Sands Missile Range, visitors can take a quarter-mile walk to ground zero where a small obelisk marks the spot of detonation. Historical photos are mounted on the fence surrounding the area.

Visitors can also tour the Schmidt/McDonald Ranch House, where scientists assembled the bomb's plutonium core.

Last July marked the 70th year anniversary of the test at the Trinity Site. It was part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret World War II nuclear development program out of the then-secret city of Los Alamos.

Navajo Leader Says Renaming Utah Highway For Trump An Insult – Associated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation says a proposal to rename a Utah highway after Donald Trump is insulting.

The National Parks Highway overlaps several roads as it connects iconic national parks such as Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon.

Utah Democrats have pushed back on the proposal from a Republican colleague to add Trump's name.

Navajo President Russell Begaye says honoring Trump would be like pouring salt on an open wound.

A coalition of tribes is suing over Trump's decision to downsize Bears Ears National Monument. The tribes consider the expanse of land in southern Utah that is home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs sacred.

One Navajo leader has suggested the highway honor Ernest Yahze, a Navajo Code Talker who died in Salt Lake City in 2016.

Carlsbad Nuclear Waste Storage Facility Seeks Permit Changes- Associated Press & The Carlsbad Current-Argus

Officials are seeking permit changes to allow more nuclear waste to be stored in an underground facility in southeastern New Mexico.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials are looking to redefine how the volume of the waste is calculated at the facility near Carlsbad.

The facility is about halfway to capacity under the current calculations, which take into account the air between the waste containers for the total volume.

The drums of waste are packed into another case to protect against spills.

Officials are seeking to change the volume calculations to be based on the inner containers, which they say is a more accurate measurement.

Officials say the facility is about a third full under the new volume calculations.

New Mexico Attorney General Goes After Rooftop Solar Company- Associated Press

A residential rooftop solar provider that operates in New Mexico and 20 other states was accused Thursday by the state attorney general of defrauding residents and jeopardizing their home ownership through deceptive sales practices.

Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit in state district court against Vivint Solar, Inc. over claims that the company was engaging in a pattern of unfair and unconscionable business practices, fraud and racketeering.

The case centers on the company's door-to-door sales tactics and agreements made with customers to purchase power from the solar panel systems. Similar complaints by prosecutors in other states have resulted in settlements.

Vivint said it takes the allegations seriously but believes the lawsuit lacks merit.

According to the complaint, Vivint binds New Mexico consumers into 20-year contracts that require consumers to purchase electricity generated by the solar panels installed on their homes at rates that increase by over 72 percent during the 20 years.

Former Employee Accuses Union Leader Of Sexual Harassment- Associated Press

A former union employee has accused a prominent figure in New Mexico's film industry of sexually harassing her, touching her inappropriately and attempting to block her from finding other work after the union fired her.

Christa Valdez, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, accuses Jon Hendry, the president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor and a business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480, of harassing and intimidating her and then orchestrating her termination when she complained about his behavior.

Hendry said he couldn't comment on the pending litigation and referred comments to the union's lawyer, Robert Giolito, who also declined to comment.

Valdez's attorney, Trent Howell, did not return a call seeking comment.

Governor OKs Spending Boost On Police, TeachersBy Morgan Lee and Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday signed a $6.3 billion spending plan that boosts funding for law enforcement and public education, while reluctantly embracing a bipartisan package of public safety reforms that she described as flawed.

Martinez said she was grateful the Legislature set aside more money for public prosecutors in Albuquerque and State Police raises, but was disappointed in the level of funding for business incentives.

She noted that spending on teacher salaries statewide will increase by $63 million during the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Martinez vetoed what she called wasteful spending proposals for a $50,000 bronze bust honoring a controversial Hispanic fighter in the U.S. Civil War and about $260,000 for an exhibit involving a robotic dinosaur at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History.

She also vetoed infrastructure proposals for state college campuses at Española, Gallup, Los Alamos and Las Vegas.

Martinez, who is leaving office because of term limits, says she will leave state government with strong cash reserves of more than $600 million as a buffer against any economic downturn. Less than a year ago, the state was wrestling with how to fill a budget gap by slashing agency spending after completely depleting cash reserves.

State government income has surged because of a sustained rebound in oil prices and major investments by oil and gas exploration. 

Governor Takes No Action On Solar Tax CreditAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has declined to act on a measure that would have restored a tax credit aimed at offsetting the costs of solar energy systems for households, small businesses and farms in New Mexico.

The Republican governor faced a deadline Wednesday to sign legislation that was approved during the recent 30-day session. Measures not acted upon by the governor are considered pocket vetoed.

The original tax credit expired in 2016. The proposal approved by lawmakers this year called for a credit that would have gradually declined from 10 percent of the purchase and installation price to 6 percent over a 15-year period.

The governor previously said she wasn't in favor of stand-alone tax measures.

Supporters said the credit would have bolstered New Mexico's solar industry.

Forecasters Say New Mexico Marks Another Warm MonthAssociated Press

New Mexico has wrapped up another warm winter month.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque say the temperature was 3.5 degrees above normal for February, making it the 18th warmest on record for New Mexico.

As for precipitation, the data shows the state was 0.06 inches above normal.

Despite dismal snowpack levels so far this winter and a dry start to March, the forecast calls for a low-pressure system to move into the Southwest with abundant moisture late this week.

A back-door cold front is expected to slide into eastern New Mexico and through the Rio Grande Valley, and forecasters say chances for rain and snow could increase Sunday and Monday.

New Mexico State University Extends Repayment ScheduleLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University will extend the timeframe for the athletic department to repay the more than $4 million owed to the main campus.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the university's board of regents on Tuesday agreed to extend the repayment plan through 2026, and it plans to re-evaluate the extension in three years.

The department had been expected to pay off its debt by 2021. The Tuesday action by the board will be reviewed by the state Department of Higher Education.

The Athletic Review Committee had also proposed for the board to transfer more than $1 million from the university's instruction and general fund to the athletics department. The proposal had elicited sharp criticism from faculty and students.

The board did not act on the proposal Tuesday.

Trinity Site To Host First Of 2 Annual Open HousesAssociated Press

Military officials in southern New Mexico are preparing to host visitors at the spot of the world's first atomic test during a special one-day open house at the Trinity Site.

The first of two annual open houses will be April 7.

At the site on White Sands Missile Range, visitors can take a quarter-mile walk to ground zero where a small obelisk marks the spot of detonation. Historical photos are mounted on the fence surrounding the area.

Visitors can also tour the Schmidt/McDonald Ranch House, where scientists assembled the bomb's plutonium core.

Last July marked the 70th year anniversary of the test at the Trinity Site. It was part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret World War II nuclear development program out of the then-secret city of Los Alamos.

Gov. Martinez Says Catholic Advocate's 'Racism' Charge Is WrongAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says remarks by a Catholic advocate who charged that racism helped kill an early childhood education proposal were "extremely disappointing."

The Republican told reporters on Wednesday that New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops executive director Allen Sanchez was wrong to suggest opposition to the measure had to do with racism.

New Mexico's three Catholic bishops say Sanchez didn't accuse anyone of racism and only pointed out flaws in the state's educational system.

But 33 GOP state lawmakers sent Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester a letter Monday and asked him if he agreed with remarks about racism made by Sanchez.

Sanchez told The Associated Press last month that "an element of racism" killed a proposal to expand early childhood education in the state.

Santa Fe Mayor-Elect Wants City To AdaptAssociated Press

Entrepreneur and Santa Fe Mayor-elect Alan Webber says local government is at an important transition point as the nation's oldest state capital city adapts to the pressures of being an international destination.

Webber spoke Wednesday about what comes next after winning his first election to public office in a five-way race against a local school board member and three men on the city council.

He says Santa Fe is simultaneously a small and intimate community and a world-class destination and that city government must transform itself to honor the past and plan for the future.

Webber will be the first to lead Santa Fe under a new strong-mayor system, with a nearly quadrupled salary of $110,000. He is the founder of Fast Company Magazine and was supported by business interests, unions and prominent New Mexico politicians including a district court judge and the Democratic mayor of Albuquerque.

New Mexico Governor Says Border Move Not 'Not Well Thought Out'Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is questioning a decision by the state's top elected land manager to block federal authorities from accessing state trust land along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn contends the federal government never received permission and has not paid the state for easements or rights of way to use the property.

Dunn has reached out to federal officials in hopes of reaching an agreement but has yet to hear back. He cordoned off the property Tuesday.

Martinez said she was surprised to hear about the dust up, saying more conversations should have been held with the federal government given that border security is a top priority.

The two-term Republican governor said the move to keep border patrol officers out of the area was "not well thought out."

Navajo Leader Says Renaming Utah Highway For Trump An InsultAssociated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation says a proposal to rename a Utah highway after Donald Trump is insulting.

The National Parks Highway overlaps several roads as it connects iconic national parks such as Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon.

Utah Democrats have pushed back on the proposal from a Republican colleague to add Trump's name.

Navajo President Russell Begaye says honoring Trump would be like pouring salt on an open wound.

A coalition of tribes is suing over Trump's decision to downsize Bears Ears National Monument. The tribes consider the expanse of land in southern Utah that is home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs sacred.

One Navajo leader has suggested the highway honor Ernest Yahze, a Navajo Code Talker who died in Salt Lake City in 2016.

Lab Offers Pricing Preference To New Mexico BusinessesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A national research and development laboratory announced a 5 percent pricing preference for qualified New Mexico small businesses.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Sandia National Laboratories' Supply Chain Integration Department Senior Manager Delfinia Salazar says the preference could apply to about $100 million in competitive subcontract awards during the first year of the program.

The program would apply to subcontracts for research and development, customized equipment, professional services, commercial items and information technology.

Sandia will apply the 5 percent preference while evaluating subcontract awards worth $150,000 to $5 million. When a qualified New Mexico small business submits a bid, the labs will add 5 percent to the bids of other businesses that don't qualify as New Mexico small businesses.

Deputies Says 2 Men Killed While Changing Tire Near AlgodonesAssociated Press

Authorities have identified two men killed on a New Mexico freeway when they were struck by a vehicle while changing a flat tire.

Sandoval County Sheriff's officials say the victims were 21-year-old Michael Chambellan of Albuquerque and 28-year-old Lonnie Escovedo of Santa Fe.

They say alcohol is believed to be factor in the fatal accident and charges are pending against 31-year-old Christie Noriega of Rio Rancho.

It's unclear if she has a lawyer yet.

Sheriff's officials say one of the victims pulled over to a shoulder on Interstate 25 near Algodones on Tuesday evening and the another man stopped to assist him with changing a tire.

They say a vehicle driven by Noriega allegedly struck the men, killing both.

Algodones is about 22 miles north of Albuquerque.

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