Regulators Approve Smaller PNM Rate Increase, Supreme Court Clears Way For Ranked Choice In Santa Fe

Jan 10, 2018

Divided Panel Clears Way For PNM Rate Increase ­– The Associated Press

New Mexico regulators have cleared the way for an even smaller rate increase for customers of the state's largest electric utility while backtracking on an earlier finding that questioned investments made in a coal-fired power plant.

The 3-2 vote by the Public Regulation Commission came Wednesday following a hearing in Santa Fe.

Commissioners expressed frustration with the process after already having approved a 9 percent rate increase in December and finding that Public Service Co. of New Mexico's coal-related investments were not prudent.

Following Wednesday's debate, the commission moved to take up the prudency question in a future proceeding while reducing the rate increase to about 2 percent.

The change stems from the recent federal tax overhaul. Utility officials say customers will benefit because the utility won't need to raise as much revenue thanks to lower corporate taxes.

New Mexico Agency Defends Handling Of Elderly Care ContractAssociated Press

A New Mexico state agency overseeing services for the elderly is defending its decision to end its contract with a major coordinator of services such as home-delivered meals and adult daycare.

In a statement Tuesday, the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services said it terminated its contract with the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging because of concerns about the group's handling of state and federal funds.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has criticized the cancellation of the contract as a reckless move that disrupted elderly services to thousands of New Mexico residents, echoing the concerns of Democratic state lawmakers.

She is calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate. Aging and Long-Term Services Secretary Kyky Knowles says his contract decision safeguards federal funding for elderly care.

Judiciary May Intervene As New Mexico Weighs School FundingAssociated Press

New Mexico lawmakers and the state's Republican governor are seeking more money this year for public schools as a state district court contemplates whether more sweeping changes may be needed to fulfill constitutional guarantees for an adequate education.

Closing arguments were filed Tuesday in a school-funding trial that highlights the plight of low-income, Native American and English-language learners at New Mexico public schools. A decision by District Court Judge Sarah Singleton is expected in the spring.

The Democratic-led Legislature wants to increase annual general fund spending on public education in the coming fiscal year by nearly 2 percent to about $2.7 billion. Gov. Susana Martinez is seeking $20 million more.

Many school districts, parents and advocates are seeking more profound changes for school resources.

Additional proposals would hike taxes on tobacco products and divert money from the state's sovereign wealth funds.

Court Denies Santa Fe's Challenge to Ranked-Choice Voting The Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has cleared the way for ranked-choice voting in Santa Fe after rejecting the city's legal challenge.

The court delivered the ruling Tuesday, but provided no explanation on why it denied the city's petition.

The city filed an emergency appeal with the state Supreme Court last month, seeking to overturn a judge's previous order that the city must use the voting system for municipal elections in March.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference on the ballot. The order of preferences whittles down the candidates until there's a clear winner.

Santa Fe voters approved a city charter amendment for ranked-choice voting in 2008. The city council voted in July to postpone the system due to concerns about implementation.

Two State Lawmakers Propose Criminal Justice Reforms - By Mary Hudetz, Associated Press

Two state lawmakers are putting forward a series of anti-crime proposals, including one they say would boost police retention by allowing for $15,000 bonuses for veteran officers.

Republican Rep. Nate Gentry and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto said Tuesday that their proposals represent a sweeping, bi-partisan approach to addressing crime — from tackling policing and court rules to trying to ensure behavioral health treatment for inmates leaving prisons or jails.

Their proposal focused on inmate care would require jails and prisons to screen inmates held for at least 100 days for mental illness and addiction. The facilities also would have to enroll inmates identified as suffering from mental illness or substance abuse in Medicaid before their release.

They expect the measures will be debated during the 30-day legislative session that begins next week in Santa Fe.

New Mexicans Rejoice As Parts of the State See RainThe Associated Press

Light rain showers over Albuquerque on Wednesday morning ended the fifth longest dry spell in recorded state history.

According to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, the storm system brought less than a millimeter of rain and ended a 96-day streak without measurable precipitation.   

While the moisture is welcomed, water managers and environmentalists are most concerned about snowpack levels in the mountains along the New Mexico-Colorado border that feed the Rio Grande basin.

A recent forecast issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows Rio Grande flows at various spots in northern New Mexico could range from 15 to 24 percent of average this year. 

New Mexico is also battling with Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court over management of the Rio Grande on the southern end of the state. It could be years before the case is resolved, but communities and farmers are worried about their ability in the future to pump groundwater to supplement supplies in dry years.

State Supreme Court Suspends Changes On Juvenile RecordsThe Associate Press, The ABQ Journal

The New Mexico Supreme Court has suspended new amendments to a court rule that banned public access to juvenile records to allow for more time for input.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the decision comes 10 days after the changes took effect.

Under the new amendments, records in juvenile cases will be sealed automatically.

The state Supreme Court said in an order issued Tuesday that it did not receive any input after the amendments were first published for comment in March, but received comments after the amendment took effect on Dec. 31.

Many claimed they were unaware of the proposed changes.

The state Supreme Court is taking comments before it decides whether to withdraw, revise or reinstate the previously approved amendments.

Santa Fe Man Faces Charges In Drug Trafficking Case The Associated Press

A Santa Fe man is accused of leading a drug trafficking ring that distributed crack cocaine in northern New Mexico.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the district of New Mexico detailed the charges against 31-year-old Kevin Madrid on Tuesday.

Madrid has pleaded not guilty. He's being held pending trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Santa Fe Police Department arrested Madrid in December following a long-term investigation.

According to an indictment, Madrid is accused of conspiring with others to distribute more than 280 grams of crack cocaine in Santa Fe County between March and December 2017. He's also accused of distributing drugs in Bernalillo County in October.

New Mexico Supreme Court Overturns Domestic Violence Ruling - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

In the case of a man arrested numerous times on domestic violence charges, the New Mexico Supreme Court says a person's right to confront an accuser can be forfeited if that defendant is accused of wrongdoing through coercion or intimidation.

The court in an opinion issued Monday said such behavior can have the same result as making an overt threat to ensure a victim's silence.

The justices found that the district court should have allowed prosecutors to use some of the victim's statements in the case of Joshua Maestas.

Despite talking with police and testifying before a grand jury, the woman later decided not to cooperate with prosecutors, resulting in the case being dropped.

The state attorney general's office and victim advocates consider the court's opinion a positive step in the fight against domestic violence.

New Mexico Considers Tobacco Tax Increase The Associated Press

A New Mexico state senator is sponsoring legislation to raise taxes on tobacco products to increase funding to public education.

Democratic Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City announced Wednesday a bill that would increase the price of a pack of cigarettes by $1.50 and impose an equivalent tax on cigars, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes. Any increase in revenue would go toward operations for public schools throughout the New Mexico that rely on state government for majority of spending.

A similar bill last year won approval in the state Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives. New Mexico last increased taxes on a tobacco product in 2010.

A coalition of public health advocacy groups supports the legislation, including the American Cancer Society.

It was unclear whether New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez would support the measure. She has been a staunch opponent of tax increases, while calling this year for tax reforms and increased spending on education.

New Mexico State Lawmaker Seeks To Block Border WallAssociated Press

A New Mexico state lawmaker is seeking legislation to obstruct plans for a new border wall by the Trump administration.

Democratic Rep. Bill McCamley of Mesilla Park in southern New Mexico said Tuesday that he will introduce legislation that prohibits the use of state land in the construction of a new wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Donald Trump's administration has proposed spending $18 billion over 10 years to significantly extend the border wall with Mexico. The New Mexico State Land Office oversees a patchwork of land holdings along the state's southern border with Mexico.

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has discretion over whether McCamley's proposal can be heard during a 30-day legislative session that begins Jan. 16, and it was unclear if she would allow it.

Arizona Man Celebrated For Showcasing Humanity In Photos The Associated Press

A northern Arizona man who was celebrated for the humanity showcased in his photographs throughout the world has died.

John Running's daughter, Raechel, says he died Sunday of health complications from a brain tumor at his Flagstaff home. He was 77.

Running briefly aspired to be a geologist before pawning a shotgun his father gave him as a teenager to buy a camera.

Some of his most consistent subjects were Navajos and Hopis who were displaced from each other's land in one of the largest relocation efforts in U.S. history.

His photos also became album covers for Canyon Records, which specializes in Native American music.

Raechel Running says her father always said when he looked into the eyes of people he was photographing, he could see the face of God.

Navajo Times Publisher Facing DWI, Speeding ChargesNavajo Times, Associated Press

The publisher of the Navajo Times is facing charges of aggravated drunken driving and speeding following a traffic stop over the weekend in a community near the Arizona-New Mexico border.

The newspaper reported Tuesday that Tom Arviso Jr. was stopped early Sunday by a New Mexico State Police officer in Gallup after he was clocked going more than twice the posted speed limit.

The officer said Arviso's speech was slurred, he appeared disoriented and had bloodshot eyes.

Authorities say Arviso failed field sobriety tests and a breath-alcohol test returned results nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Arviso declined to comment. He has served as publisher of the Navajo Times for more than two decades and is a member of the Associated Press Media Editors board of directors.

Stan Fulton, Casino Owner, Video Slot Machine Pioneer, Dies – Associated Press

Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino and a pioneer in the world of video slot machines, has died.

The casino said Fulton died Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he lived. He was 86.

No cause of death was released.

Raised in Hancock, Maryland, Fulton joined the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s before embarking on a business career where he built cable television systems and entered the gaming industry.

His company, Fortune Coin, developed one of the first video slot machines.

In 2000, Fulton purchased Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in New Mexico and bought a number of horses that had strong careers.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports New Mexico State University said Fulton was the institution's largest single donor.

City Officials Consider Plan For Public Toilet In Santa FeSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

City officials are considering installing a public toilet in downtown Santa Fe — an area that officials say lacks public restrooms, leaving local businesses to cater to tourists' going needs.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the city's Public Works Department formulated a preliminary plan that calls for a single toilet to be placed in what is now a curbside parking spot near Santa Fe Plaza.

Officials say the toilet would be inside a sort of kiosk and would come from a manufacturer in Portland, Oregon. A hand-washing station would be mounted on the outside.

Officials estimate the project would cost $130,000, and a funding source has not yet been determined.

GOP Candidate Drops Out Of Race For State RepresentativeDeming Headlight, Associated Press

A Republican candidate has dropped out of the race to represent New Mexico in the United States House of Representatives.

The Deming Headlight reports Andrew Salas, a brigadier general in the New Mexico National Guard, on Monday dropped out of the primary race. Salas entered the race for the state's second district Congressional seat in October.

Salas made his debut in electoral politics after a 37-year career in the military.

Salas says a new military assignment will continue to take him out of New Mexico during the home stretch of the campaign.

Salas' departure leaves four candidates running in the June 5 Republican primary: former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman, State Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, former Eddy County commissioner Jack Volpato and the latest entry, Gavin Clarkson, who announced plans to run for the seat on Tuesday. He’s a former Trump administration appointee who resigned from the Bureau of Indian Affairs after a harsh report into a tribal loan program he oversaw.

Hundreds More Sign Up For Annual Bataan Memorial MarchAssociated Press

Organizers of the annual Bataan Memorial Death March in southern New Mexico say this year's event could be the biggest on record given a flurry of registrations.

As of Monday, more than 4,150 people had signed up for the march. That represents 732 participants more than last year at the same time.

The memorial march is scheduled for March 25 in the rugged terrain surrounding White Sands Missile Range. It honors the World War II soldiers who suffered during the April 1942 march after thousands of American and Filipino service members surrendered to Japanese forces. Many died during the 80-mile march or became prisoners of war.

More than 7,200 people took part in last year's event.

Marchers can compete in teams or as individuals. In the heavy division, each participant carries a 35-pound rucksack.