Sandoval County Settles Jail Suicide Suit, NM Wants Faster Procedures For Sexual Assault Kits

Mar 8, 2017

Sandoval County Settles Jail Suicide Suit For $1.8 Million – The Associated Press & KOB

Sandoval County has agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from a jail inmate who killed herself after leaving her isolation cell.

KOB-TV reports that attorney Jack Jacks filed a lawsuit after Raynbow Gignilliant killed herself weeks after she was released from solitary confinement at the Sandoval County Jail. Gignilliant had been in isolation for two months before her death in 2014.

Jacks also filed suit against the jail's medical provider. That settlement amount has not been disclosed.

Jacks says Gignilliant was not allowed out of her cell for recreation or even to shower. He says her mental health deteriorated while in isolation to the point that she was hallucinating and throwing feces around the cell.

New Mexico Wants Faster Procedures For Sexual Assault KitsAssociated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved guidelines to ensure DNA evidence kits from sexual assaults are processed quickly and don't languish in storage.

The Senate voted Tuesday to require that local law enforcement send sexual assault test kits for processing within 30 days.

New Mexico law enforcement agencies have been grappling with a backlog of thousands of untested evidence kits.

The bill now moves to the House, where a related bill would ensure sexual assault victims can track the status of sexual assault kits and any DNA profile of an assailant that emerges.

State Auditor Tim Keller's office spent the past year querying law enforcement agencies about their policies for handling the kits and found a lack of resources, training and unhelpful attitudes about the credibility of victims.

Regulator Links Southwest Methane Cloud To Natural SeepsThe Associated Press

New Mexico's top oil and natural gas regulator says a giant cloud of the greenhouse gas methane hanging over the Southwestern United States comes in large part from natural seeps from underground formations and coal mining operations.

At a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, acting New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Kenley McQueen said the methane hot spot over the Four Corners region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah dates back 10 million years in his opinion.

The former natural gas executive believes a NASA survey missed the "larger contributions" of methane from coal-seam outcroppings and coal mining.

States are being left alone to calculate methane emissions at oil and gas operations after the Environmental Protection Agency this month withdrew an Obama-era request that drillers provide emissions data.

State Police Drill Inspection Process For Nuclear RepositoryThe Associated Press & The Current-Argus

New Mexico State Police are gearing up for when nuclear waste shipments return to the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository.

The Current-Argus reported Tuesday that patrolmen practiced inspection procedures at Carlsbad's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in preparation for shipments to resume next month.

State police will have to examine motor vehicles to check for radiation leaks, undergo hazardous waste training and learn how to inspect radioactive loads.

Trucks transporting waste to the facility must be deemed completely defect-free in inspections. Minor issues like broken taillights or non-functioning turn signals will result in an inspection failure.

Waste shipments are set to resume in April. The exact date for shipments has not been finalized.

City Council Approves Deadline For Rape Kit TestingAlbuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque City Council approved a measure that puts a three-month deadline on police to test sexual assault kits.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the council voted Monday on a measure, which now goes to Mayor Richard Berry. Police would have three months to test kits under the rule.

But at least one advocate was frustrated by the provision that delays the rule taking effect until the Albuquerque Police Department Crime Lab is fully staffed. It must go into effect no later than October 2018.

Connie Monahan with the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs says that means a victim may have to wait until then to get a kit tested.

City Councilor Pat Davis, who introduced the resolution, said he wanted to give APD time to hire more qualified analysts for the crime lab. New Mexico has the highest number of untested rape kits per capita in the country and the majority are from the Albuquerque area.

Southern New Mexico County Adopts Plans For 4-Day Work Week Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

Commissioners in one southeastern New Mexico county have decided to shift to a four-day work week to cut utility costs and improve employee morale.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that Eddy County commissioners approved the switch on a 4-1 vote during a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner John Henry voted in opposition, saying several constituents in Artesia were against the change.

The new hours will begin in April and as a result, county government buildings will close their doors on Friday but stay open later Monday through Thursday.

Assistant County Manager Kenney Rayroux says the exact amount potentially saved by the shorter week is impossible to determine.

Some employees voiced concerns that they will have to miss their children's afterschool events due to the longer hours.

Nation's Only Latina Gov Working On 'A Day Without A Woman' Associated Press

The nation's only Latina governor and New Mexico's first female executive will be working on "A Day Without a Woman."

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said the Republican governor will be working out of her office Wednesday as the New Mexico Legislature nears the end of its 60-day session.

Organizers of January's Women's March are calling for women to take the day off Wednesday and not spend money to highlight women's role in society.

The one-day protest is aimed at calling attention to economic bias faced by women. It coincides with the U.N.-designated International Women's Day.

Marches, rallies and events are planned across the nation, including in Albuquerque.

New Mexico Governor Hurts Knee While Skiing Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has injured her knee while skiing in Utah as she traveled there for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association.

A spokesman for Martinez said Tuesday that she "took a spill" and would get her knee checked out in the coming days.

While in Utah, Martinez has criticized the Democrat-led state Legislature for wasting time on matters such as selecting a state dance instead of addressing a crisis in state finances.

The Legislature has until March 18 to approve a budget that would address major shortfalls in funding for public schools, Medicaid and other programs.

Martinez says she may be forced to call a special session to deal with major state issues. Senators met Tuesday with administrators of cash-strapped schools and universities.

New Mexico Considers Tobacco Tax Hike To Fund Schools Associated Press

A proposal to increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products in New Mexico is headed to the floor of the Senate for consideration.

A Senate panel advanced the tax measure Tuesday while withholding its full endorsement. The bill would increase the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes by at least $1.50.

Taxes on other tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars would increase from 25 percent to 75 percent.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has staunchly opposed any tax increases as lawmakers search for ways to raise new revenue to offset slumping state revenues.

The tobacco tax would raise $89 million next fiscal year for public schools.

E-cigarettes heat a nicotine liquid into a vapor, delivering the chemical that smokers crave without harmful tar from burning.

Dems Pan Governor's 'Meaningless Bills' Attack Associated Press

House Democrats are taking issue with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's threat to call a special session over criticism Democrats are focusing on "meaningless bills."

Democratic New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf said in a statement Tuesday that the Republican governor is ignoring progress made by lawmakers like the House passing a budget. He said lawmakers have passed measures to open New Mexico to the hemp industry and to expand broadband access.

Martinez says state lawmakers' focus on "meaningless bills" such as establishing the official state dance may force her to call a special session.

The Republican governor's office told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she may have no choice but to call a special session to address pressing issues since the Democratic-controlled Legislature is debating measures such as a holiday song about empanadas and posole.

New Mexico Warily Studies Republican Health Overhaul PlanAssociated Press

New Mexico's health care sector is warily studying a proposal by U.S. House Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act that cut the state's uninsured rate in half since 2013.

New Mexico Primary Care Association President David Roddy said Tuesday that proposed limits on future federal funding for Medicaid could threaten expanded capabilities at community health clinics that rely heavily on federal funding to treat the poor and uninsured.

The House Republican proposal would reduce federal matching funds for newcomers to Medicaid health coverage starting in mid-2019, and implement overall federal spending to a limited, per-beneficiary amount.

New Mexico's expanded Medicaid program covers nearly 900,000 residents. State government is struggling to keep up with its Medicaid demands amid a budget crisis linked to a downturn in the oil sector.

House Passes Measure To Reinstate Solar Tax Credit Associated Press

A bipartisan measure that would reinstate a tax credit aimed at boosting roof-top solar installations in New Mexico has cleared one legislative chamber.

The House voted 36-31 Monday evening in favor of the bill, which would renew the state's solar market development tax credit for another eight years. It would set a cap of $5 million for solar thermal and solar photovoltaic systems.

The credit expired in 2016 despite attempts during the previous legislative session to extend the program.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque, says the solar industry is one of the few economic bright spots in New Mexico.

According to legislative analysts, about $31 million was invested by New Mexico homeowners in solar systems in 2015. Installation resulted in $6.7 million in labor costs.