NM Lawmakers Eye Plan To Curb Solitary Confinement, 'Right To Die' Bill Heads To Committee

Mar 3, 2017

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Plan To Curb Solitary Confinement – The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are considering legislation designed to curb solitary confinement in jails and prisons across the state.

Judiciary committees debated measures prohibiting the use of the practice for inmates younger than 18, pregnant females and those who have a serious mental illness.

Supporters of the change say segregating such inmates is expensive — a factor lawmakers are being forced to weigh as the state grapples with a budget shortfall.

Others say there's no way to quantify the costs of having such inmates in the general population, noting that could lead to more altercations and the need for more guards.

The legislation would also require regular reporting by all correctional facilities on the number of inmates held in isolation.

The New Mexico Corrections Department and counties have raised concerns about the legislation. They say without the ability to segregate inmates, there will be an increase in altercations and that could result in more claims being filed.

'Right To Die' Bill In New Mexico Heads To Senate CommitteeThe Associated Press

A proposal that would allow terminally ill patients in New Mexico to end their lives with help from doctors faces its first test in the state Senate.

The Democrat-controlled Senate Public Affairs Committee is scheduled Friday to debate a bill opposed by the Catholic Church and Gov. Susana Martinez. The measure would prevent New Mexico doctors from facing prosecution for helping terminally ill patients end their lives.

Six other states and the District of Columbia allow residents to end their lives legally with medication prescribed by a physician.

In June, the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to overturn a state law preventing doctors from ending the lives of terminally ill patients.

New Mexico's assisted suicide law makes it a felony for doctors to end the life of a terminally ill patient.

Change In Policy Leads To Thousands Of Suspended LicensesThe Associated Press & KRQE

A change in how the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division notifies drivers about expiring emissions tests led to thousands of car registrations being suspended and hundreds of fines.

KRQE-TV reports that in late 2016, MVD removed reminders about emissions tests from re-registration postcards, instead sending separate letters about emissions. By November, it became clear drivers weren't getting the new notices, because at least 3,643 car registrations were suspended for failing to get tested.

MVD has apologized for the problem, claiming they fixed it. The agency has reinstated many drivers' suspended registrations and refunded some people who were fined. MVD does say the emissions test reminders are a courtesy and drivers should also keep track of that information.

New Mexico Lawmakers Reject Moratorium On Charter Schools – The Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has rejected a proposed moratorium on new charter schools.

A bill to freeze the approval of new charter schools until 2020 failed on a 34-34 vote in the Democrat-led House. The defeated initiative responded to concerns about scarce public funding and academic accountability at schools without publicly elected boards.

An evaluation last year by the Legislative Finance Committee found charter schools in New Mexico are spending more per student than traditional public schools with similar academic results. About 100 charter schools enroll 7 percent of students statewide.

Three Democrats joined with Republican lawmakers in rejecting the bill. They were Reps. Debbie Rodella, Patricio Ruiloba and Carl Trujillo.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is a strong supporter of charter schools.

Audit: Oil Industry Owes Eddy County $460,000 In Back TaxesThe Associated Press

An audit has discovered that the oil and gas industry owes a southeastern New Mexico county hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

An incomplete audit of Eddy County's finances has found more than $460,000 in back taxes owed to the county from oil and gas companies.

Eddy County contracted Total Assessment Solutions Corp. last year to conduct an audit on behalf of the County Assessor's Office. The audit is looking to identify, map and find the valuation of oil and gas property within the county. The audit was ordered after the assessor's office raised concerns that oil and gas companies may not have been reporting and paying taxes on all properties.

The audit found 111 omitted drilling rigs and 101 miles of omitted pipeline that hadn't been claimed. The audit is ongoing.

New Mexico, Feds Begin Sorting Out Mineral Rights Mix-Up – The Associated Press

The State Land Office has ordered a sand and gravel company to stop digging in northwestern New Mexico after it uncovered a mix-up regarding the mineral rights on the property.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the federal Bureau of Land Management initially permitted the operation in 2010 but the federal agency didn't actually hold the mineral rights.

Federal officials acknowledged the mistake, saying the rights went to the state as part of a 1963 land swap. The BLM owned only the surface rights but that information was never transferred to its digital mapping system.

BLM spokeswoman Donna Hummel says officials learned of the problem Monday and are working with the state to determine the royalties owed to the Land Office. She called it a very unusual situation.

Dunn says that lost revenue could have benefited public schools.

New Mexico Senate Oks Bill That Would Raise Tax On Gasoline – The Associated Press

A clash about whether to increase taxes in New Mexico escalated Thursday as the Democrat-led state Senate pushed forward with a proposal to raise more money from taxes on gasoline, diesel and vehicle sales.

Joined by three Republicans, Democratic senators approved a bill that would provide $183 million to shore up state general fund reserves and boost funding for road maintenance.

The plan would raise the tax on retail sales of gasoline for the first time in more than 25 years, adding 10 cents to each gallon — or 27 cents overall. The tax on diesel would increase by 5 cents, and vehicle sales taxes would increase from 3 percent to 4 percent.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said through a spokesman Thursday that she opposes the gasoline tax hike and would veto it.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith sponsored the plan as a partial solution to the state's budget crisis. He said as much as $300 million in new revenues are needed next year to protect the state's credit rating and avoid cuts to state spending on public schools and other government services.

Without new revenue streams, Smith said, "We're going to be forced to cut education, higher education, health care, corrections, law enforcement — by at least 5 percent."

Martinez has voiced opposition to outright tax increases as New Mexico wrestles with a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, instead calling on state government to "tighten its belt." She has indicated a willingness to rescind tax credits and deductions.

The gas tax bill now moves to the House of Representatives, which has approved its own $250 million package of revenue increases that include one identical component — the tax increase on vehicle sales. Republicans in the House minority have come forward with their own budget remedies.

New Mexico Health Agency: Flu Activity Widespread In State ­– The Associated Press

New Mexico health officials say the state has widespread flu activity and that heightened flu activity is expected for weeks to come.

The state Department of Health says it's only halfway through the flu season so people who haven't gotten a flu shot should get one as soon as possible.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher says this year's flu vaccine is proving effective in significantly reducing the risk of having to visit a doctor's office for flu.

Gallagher also says everybody has a responsibility to help protect those who may be at a high risk of flu complications such as hospitalization or death.

The department says there have been 34 pneumonia and flu deaths reported so far during the 2016-2017 season.

Head of Sunland Park Heroin Distribution Ring Pleads Guilty ­– The Associated Press

A man described by federal authorities as the leader of a Sunland Park heroin trafficking ring has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and heroin distribution charges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says 69-year-old Raymundo Munoz of Sunland Park faces six years in prison when he is sentenced under a plea agreement after pleading guilty Wednesday in federal court in Las Cruces.

The office says the charges against Munoz were part of a 30-count indictment against 10 people who allegedly conspired to distribute heroin in Dona Ana County and elsewhere during 2016.

Five others also have pleaded guilty in the case.

New Mexico Senate Wants Lower Marijuana-Possession Penalties – The Associated Press

Criminal penalties in New Mexico for possession of small amounts of marijuana would be replaced with a $50 fine under a bill approved by the state Senate.

The Senate voted Thursday to replace penalties including possible jail time for low-level marijuana possession violations with a purely monetary penalty.

Possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana or drug paraphernalia would be handled much like a traffic ticket, with no court appearances unless the $50 fine is challenged.

Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces says the changes would free up resource for courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys to focus on pursuing violent crime cases amid a state budget crisis.

Eight Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill. The proposal now moves to the House of Representatives.

New Mexico House Oks Clean-Up Fund For State Trust Lands The Associated Press

New Mexico would gradually set aside up to $5 million to help remediate damaged or polluted state trust lands under a bill approved by the House of Representatives.

The House voted Thursday to create the State Trust Lands Restoration and Remediation Fund.

The restoration fund was first proposed by Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn as his agency grappled with waste-water spills by a financially troubled oil-well company. The fund could be tapped to clean up illegal dumping, restore watersheds from wildfire damage or deal with invasive plant species.

The bill diverts 1 percent of revenues from the state's land maintenance fund, or roughly $580,000 a year.

The maintenance fund receives money from activities ranging from cattle grazing to oil extraction. It is the source of the State Land Office's operating budget.

Immigration Concerns Dominate Dona Ana County Town Hall The Associated Press

Residents of Dona Ana County in southern New Mexico are concerned what President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration means for their border community.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that immigration concerns dominated a two-hour town hall meeting on Tuesday meant to connect residents of the county with Sheriff Enrique "Kiki" Vigil.

Many speakers at Tuesday's event asked Vigil if he planned to use his authority to protect undocumented immigrants.

Vigil says since he took office in January 2015, his deputies have been directed not to act as federal agents or to enforce immigration law.

He says recently he turned down a request from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that would have authorized his deputies of carry out immigration laws.

Several Injured After Car Plows Into Cafe In Santa Fe – The Associated Press

Police say several people are reported to be injured after a car crashed into a cafe in Santa Fe.

None of the injuries are considered life-threatening, but police say a few people are believed to have suffered broken legs.

A police spokesman says a driver intended to hit the brake on her car but instead stepped on the accelerator.

That caused her car to plow into the Jambo Cafe restaurant around noon Thursday.

Emergency vehicles transported victims to hospitals for treatment and police routed traffic around the area.

State High Court Hears Arguments About Criminal Records ­– The Associated Press, The ABQ Journal

The state Supreme Court is considering whether judges have the authority to order law enforcement agencies to expunge felony arrest records.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Wednesday, advancing the eight-year dispute between an Albuquerque police officer and a paramedic who was arrested for battery.

Paramedic Christine Stump was arrested for battery on a police officer after she grabbed the arm of a police officer as the two argued about who had priority over a scene. Stump and the officer reached an agreement out of court and the charges were dropped.

Public records, however, still show Stump has an arrest record.

Unlike most states, New Mexico law offers no guidance on the issue of expunging felony arrest records.