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NM Treasurer Shares Budget Concerns, Federal Immigration Court Backlog Tops 500,000 Cases

Jul 21, 2016

New Mexico Treasurer Shares Budget ConcernsThe Associated Press

New Mexico State Treasure Tim Eichenberg says data through the end of May show that revenue collections aren't keeping up with projections.

As a result, Eichenberg said Thursday that it's unlikely the budget crafted by state lawmakers for the current fiscal year can be supported.

Eichenberg's concerns echo those of one of the Legislature's top budget hawks, Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming. Smith has asked Gov. Susana Martinez to call a special session to address future spending as well as a deficit for the fiscal year that just ended.

The state treasurer's office says the situation needs to be addressed to ensure that critical functions of government — from schools and health care to police and prisons — are not interrupted.

Board OK's Plan To Cut Cultural Affairs' JobsThe Associated Press

The state Personnel Board has voted unanimously to approve a plan by the New Mexico Cultural Affairs Department to cut nearly a dozen staff positions as it grapples with a more than $2 million budget shortfall.

The board heard from advocates for the state's museums and historic sites during a meeting Thursday before making its decision. Those advocates asked that the Cultural Affairs Department look for other options.

Department Secretary Veronica Gonzales told board members that the agency's numerous divisions have come together to trim as much as possible, but it's still being forced to trim operating hours, freeze all nonessential contracts and reorganize management of its historic sites.

She told the board she recognizes the role of the sites in preserving New Mexico's history and that the cuts are painful.

Appeals Court Denies New Mexico Man's E-Filing Fee ComplaintThe Associated Press

A federal appeals court has rejected a New Mexico man's argument that e-filing fees in the state's judicial system burdened his access to the courts.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling Thursday, saying the court's $3.70 and $6 fees for attorneys to file cases online on behalf of their clients did not hinder Stephen Whittington's contitutional right to an attorney.

Legislation in 2009 cleared the way for the state's Administrative Office of the Courts to purchase pricey case-management software that requires the filing fees for attorneys.

Whittington, of Clovis, filed the class-action lawsuit against the courts in 2013, saying more than 40,000 civil cases filed had been subject to the fees.

The fees do not apply to civil suits stemming from domestic violence cases and disputes, sealed court actions, and unlawful detention claims.

Woman In Illegal Body Cavity Search Settles Border CaseThe Associated Press

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has agreed to pay $475,000 to a New Mexico woman who accused agents of forcing her to undergo illegal body cavity probes.

American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Texas and New Mexico announced the settlement Thursday that also requires training for Customs and Border Protection officers.

A 2013 lawsuit said the unnamed 54-year-old U.S. citizen was "brutally" searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012.

Court document said the woman was selected at an El Paso Port of Entry after a drug sniffing dog jumped on her.

The lawsuit says no drugs were found but the woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and vaginal exams without a warrant.

Federal Immigration Court Backlog Tops 500,000 Pending Cases—Associated Press

The Associated Press has learned that the immigration court backlog has eclipsed half a million pending cases.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review says there are now 500,051 pending immigration cases in the agency's 59 courts.

The backlog has been steadily rising in recent years as the number of unaccompanied children and people traveling as families have been caught crossing the Mexican border illegally in recent years. Since 2011 more than 200,000 cases have been added to the court's docket and the backlog likely will keep rising.

More than 51,000 people traveling as families and more than 43,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala, have been caught crossing the border illegally since the start of the budget year in October.

CDC Awarding $1 Million To New Mexico To Fight Zika Virus The New Mexico

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is awarding $1 million to New Mexico to fight the Zika virus.

The award is New Mexico's share of about $60 million the CDC is giving states, cities and territories to support efforts to protect Americans from the virus.

The funding is in addition to $25 million awarded July 1 as part of CDC's preparedness and response funding to states, cities and territories in areas at risk for outbreaks of Zika.

On Aug. 1, the CDC will award another $10 million to quickly identify cases of microcephaly and other adverse birth outcomes linked to Zika and to refer affected infants and families to services.

Job Cuts Planned For New Mexico Museums, Historic Sites —Associated Press

The New Mexico Cultural Affairs Department is seeking approval from state personnel officials to trim nearly a dozen jobs in response to a $2 million shortfall.

The agency is scheduled to make the request during a meeting Thursday in Santa Fe. The personnel board will have the final say on the proposed layoffs.

The Cultural Affairs Department is among the agencies to be hit the hardest by budget cuts. The department oversees 16 museums and historic sites, including the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque.

Aside from layoffs, the department is reducing overtime, freezing all noncritical contracts and leaving vacant positions open.

Additional measures include cutting back hours at some state-run museums and historic sites.

Suspect In Fatal Beatings Of Homeless Men Pleads No ContestAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

One of three suspects in the fatal beatings of two homeless men in Albuquerque has pleaded no contest to first- and second-degree murder and no contest to aggravated battery with a dangerous weapon.

The teen was 15 at the time of the 2014 attacks and The Associated Press isn't naming him because he's still a juvenile.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the teen's plea deal Wednesday calls for 45 years in prison, but he's expected to serve 26.5 years with the remainder suspended.

He's scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 7.

Last year, Alex Rios was convicted of second-degree murder in the case. The 20-year-old Rios was sentenced in February to 67.5 years in prison.

Another co-defendant pleaded to second-degree murder in exchange for a maximum 20-year sentence.

Ex-Senator Waives Arraignment In Corruption Case—Associated Press  

Former New Mexico state Senator Phil Griego is waiving his right to a court arraignment on newly confirmed charges of fraud, bribery and perjury as the criminal corruption case moves toward trial.

The decision means Griego will no longer appear this week at a state district court in Albuquerque.

State prosecutors allege Griego used his position as a senator to profit from the 2014 sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe by pushing approval of the transaction through the Legislature without proper disclosure.

State District Court Judge Brett Loveless says evidence is sufficient to move forward with nine counts against Griego. Griego previously pleaded not guilty.

Griego resigned from the Senate last year amid a Senate ethics investigation.

Los Alamos Labs Work On 'Supercam' For Future Mars Mission— KRQE-TV, Associated Press

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers are working on a "SuperCam" that will collect soil samples from Mars with a laser.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reports scientists want to place the SuperCam inside the Mars 2020 Rover.

The data from the cam will be sent to earth and examined to determine if life ever existed on the red planet. Officials say the SuperCam also could determine the different minerals in the soil or rocks.

Roger Weins, a principal investigator, says NASA calls it a Swiss Army Knife kind of instrument because it does so many different things.

Weins says the SuperCam will be a long-term source of revenue as scientists explore Mars in the future.

Judge Allows Peabody Energy To Pay Property Taxes—Associated Press

A judge has allowed Peabody Energy to go ahead and pay nearly $30 million in property taxes in four states while the coal company goes through bankruptcy reorganization.

The decision Wednesday in federal court in St. Louis reprieve a Colorado school district that missed a property tax payment from Peabody in June. The state of Colorado has fronted the South Routt School District some $1 million in state funding because of the crisis.

The property tax payments should help other communities in New Mexico, Wyoming, and Indiana where Peabody owns coal mines. In Campbell County, Wyoming, Peabody has three open-pit mines and owes about $1.8 million in property and land taxes for 2015.

St. Louis-based Peabody filed for bankruptcy in April.

Police Say Man Who Sparked Scare Was Carrying BB Gun—Associated Press

Police say a man who mounted a BB gun resembling a rifle on a bi-pod near an Albuquerque boulevard will not face charges.

Officer Tanner Tixier says the man was detained for questioning Wednesday morning after police responded to 911 reports of a man with a gun. Police initially described the gun as an "unknown type of rifle, with an optic system, mounted on a bi-pod."

It turned out the man was aiming the BB gun at a paper bulls-eye for target practice in an open field between a Motel 6 and a strip club.

As the man packed up and began riding away on a bicycle, Tixier says, officers moved in to take him into custody. Police do not plan to release the man's name.

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