Schools Could Face Funding Cuts, New Mexico Swears In Newly Elected Secretary Of State

Dec 9, 2016

New Mexico Looks To Public Schools To Fix Budget DeficitsAssociated Press

The chairman of an influential legislative budget committee says state funding for public education in New Mexico is almost certain to be reduced further to offset plunging state revenues.

Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith said Thursday that the Legislature cannot leave out potential cuts to public schools as it wards off budget deficits.

Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is urging lawmakers to hold steady operational funding for education in the next fiscal year, after a recent 2.5 percent budget cut. The administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is proposing to tap cash balances at school districts instead. Public education accounts for 43 percent of state general fund spending.

New Mexico's oil-dependent economy is reeling from a downturn in energy markets.

Lawmakers say a possible moratorium on new charter schools might save money.

New Mexico Swears In Newly Elected Secretary Of State – The Associated Press 

New Mexico is preparing to swear in a new secretary of state to oversee elections and campaign finance regulations.

Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver is taking office on Friday afternoon, under regulations allowing for the early replacement of the office's interim leader.

The Democrat and long-time Bernalillo County clerk campaigned on promises to encourage voter participation and reform a scandal plagued agency.

Toulouse Oliver will serve out the final two years of a term vacated by Republican Dianna Duran, who resigned in 2015 and was convicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges. Duran acknowledged using campaign funds to fuel a gambling spree.

Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter served as secretary of state for the past year under an appointment by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Proximity Of Oil And Gas Parcels To Chaco Park Spur ProtestThe Associated Press

Environmentalists are challenging plans by federal land managers to lease four parcels in northwestern New Mexico for oil and gas development, saying the property is too close to Chaco Cultural National Historical Park.

The world heritage site and its outlying archaeological remnants have become the focus of the fight over expanded drilling in one of the nation's largest natural gas fields as environmentalists push to curtail development in the region.

The Bureau of Land Management has already established a 10-mile buffer around the park.

Environmentalists say the parcels in question — which cover less than two square miles — are near the homes of Navajo residents and within 20 miles of the park.

BLM officials in Farmington said they will review the protest.

The next lease sale is scheduled for Jan. 25.

State Police To Close 2 Dispatch Centers, Lay Off 11The Associated Press & KRQE

The New Mexico Department of Public Safety is closing two dispatch centers and laying off 11 dispatchers as it moves toward a more streamlined system for handling emergency calls.

KRQE-TV reports that a communications center in Alamogordo will close Feb. 3 and one in Roswell will close in April.

Calls that would have gone to those two centers will be routed to Las Cruces. Las Cruces is one of three regional dispatch hubs that will eventually be able to handle all radio and telephone traffic for DPS agencies statewide.

Officials say the hubs, located in Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, will have updated dispatch systems that can field calls and send them to units anywhere in the state.

Proposal To Increase Media Access To Court Records AdvancesThe Associated Press 

A New Mexico Supreme Court panel has advanced a proposal that would expand online access for court records for the media.

The Supreme Court-appointed subcommittee on Thursday voted to recommend the proposal, which would allow attorneys, certain criminal justice workers, people representing themselves in civil court and the press to access unredacted court records through a secured online system.

Those interested in the online access would have to apply for login information and credentials through the Judicial Information Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The proposal now goes to the Judicial Information System Council, another Supreme Court-appointed group that will discuss the proposal at its Dec. 15 meeting. If that group advances the proposal it will go to the state Supreme Court justices for approval.

Police Release Names Of 3 Kids Fatally ShotAssociated Press

Albuquerque police have released the names of the three children who were fatally shot inside their Albuquerque home by a gunman as their mom fought to shield them.

Police said Thursday that 5-year-old Elijah Mascarenas, 6-year-old Olivia Mascarenas, and 9-year-old Ian Mascarenas died Monday shortly after George Daniel Wechsler unloaded on the family.

Wechsler later turned the gun on himself.

Authorities say the 45-year-old Wechsler had briefly dated the mother, 36-year-old Cheryl Mascarenas, who was wounded in the shooting. She is listed in critical condition.

Police say Mascarenas recently broke up with Wechsler and asked him to stop calling. A few days before the shooting, police say Wechsler sought to bring the children Christmas gifts.

The Mascarenas family in a statement asked for privacy.

Interior Secretary Jewell Visits Acoma PuebloAssociated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has completed what's likely her final trip as a cabinet head to Indian Country, with a visit to Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Jewell toured the tribe's nearly thousand-year-old village atop a mesa, as she and other Obama administration officials aim to appeal to the French government and antiquities collectors to curb the trafficking and auctioning off of tribes' ceremonial items, especially at Paris auction houses.

French authorities this year halted the auctioning of an Acoma shield, which remains in Paris, after a broad push by tribal leaders and the Interior and State departments to block the sale.

Jewell also visited a school that's expected to transfer from federal to tribal management next year under an Obama administration initiative that aimed to place more Bureau of Indian Education schools to the local control of tribes.

Suspect In Fatal 2015 Shooting In Albuquerque Pleads GuiltyAssociated Press

One of six suspects accused in the fatal shooting of an Albuquerque man last year has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and six other charges.

Prosecutors say 18-year-old Jeremiah King entered into two plea agreements Thursday.

He's scheduled to be sentenced in February and faces up to 25 years due to the plea agreement. Two of those years will be served in the juvenile detention center.

King pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized use or theft of a credit card of another.

A second plea agreement covered six charges including first-degree murder, aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence.

Police say Fox admitted firing the shots that killed 60-year-old Steven Gerecke in July 2015.

US Investigating Allegations On Albuquerque Police Videos Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Albuquerque police lapel camera videos have been altered or deleted.

Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth M. Martinez says the department has received several requests for a federal criminal investigation and that the department won't comment further "due to its ongoing investigation into this matter."

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry's administration said in late November that the city would have an independent investigator review a former city police records supervisor's allegation that police employees tampered with videos from police shooting cases.

City Councilor Pat Davis previously called for such an examination.

Former records supervisor Reynaldo Chavez alleged in a sworn affidavit that police employees had altered and, in some cases, deleted videos that showed the events surrounding at least two police shootings.

Federal Nuclear Waste Dump Has More To Do Before ReopeningAssociated Press

The U.S. Energy Department and its contractors have been working for nearly three years to reopen the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository following a radiation release, but more needs to be done.

A preliminary review of the readiness effort at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant identified 21 issues that need to be resolved before operations can start at the southern New Mexico facility.

Officials also highlighted another 15 issues that can be addressed as waste disposal work resumes.

State officials are also inspecting the repository this week and must sign off before any work begins.

The repository has been shuttered since February 2014, when a drum of inappropriately packed waste burst thanks to a chemical reaction. The radiation release contaminated a significant portion of the disposal area.

Suit Alleges Massive Real Estate Contract, Mortgage SchemeAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is accusing an Albuquerque-area businessman of engaging in a massive real estate contract and mortgage scheme that allegedly included fraud and other wrongdoing.

The suit filed Thursday in state District Court in Albuquerque accuses Jesus Cano and a limited-liability company known as JSS of Albuquerque LLC of preying upon hundreds of victims in Hispanic and Spanish-speaking communities in Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties.

According to the suit, the defendants engaged in fraud to obtain thousands of dollars from victims by making "empty promises" about home ownership.

The lawsuit seeks restitution to victims, payment of attorney's fees to the state and a court order barring Cano from offering real estate and mortgage services.

Cano did not immediately respond to a call for comment to his office.

New Mexico Agency Reports 2 More Hantavirus CasesAssociated Press

The state Department of Health reports two additional confirmed cases of hantavirus, both from McKinley County in northwestern New Mexico.

Hantavirus infection is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings or saliva.

The department says the additional cases involving a 59-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman who are hospitalized are the seventh and eighth cases in in New Mexico in 2016.

There have been four New Mexico fatalities from hantavirus this year. Those involved people from McKinley, San Juan, Cibola and Torrance counties. Two patients from Santa Fe and Sandoval counties recovered.

People contract hantavirus by inhaling the virus, often when they are cleaning up rodent droppings and nesting materials.

The department says it's important to close up any openings in homes so mice can't enter.

Political Candidates, Committees Tally Election SpendingAssociated Press

New Mexico political candidates and committees are disclosing how much money they spent in the final days of November election contests that gave Democrats majority control of the Legislature and the Secretary of State's Office.

The deadline for campaign finance statements arrives Thursday evening and will provide the public with final tallies for political fundraising and expenditures during the 2016 election cycle.

Political committees in particular unleashed a stream of negative advertising this year in the most competitive legislative races. Two candidates for Secretary of State spend more than $1 million, as Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver defeated Republican Nora Espinoza to become the state's top elections regulator.

Campaign contribution limits are increasing slightly. Individuals can give up to $5,500 per election toward statewide candidates and $2,500 to legislative candidates.

Board Declines To Reinstate Officer Cleared In Wife's DeathAssociated Press

A state board has declined to reinstate a former Albuquerque police officer acquitted of killing his wife in 2013.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board took no action on a request made Monday by Levi Chavez, who was asking that his law enforcement certification be reinstated.

The former officer was fired in 2011 following his indictment in connection with the death of his wife, Tera Chavez.

Chavez surrendered his law enforcement certification in 2013, the year he went on trial for the death. He was found not guilty.

Chavez says he believes he was only charged in his wife's death because he was a police officer.

State High Court Won't Intervene In Representation DisputeAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is refusing to intervene in a state budget-related issue involving representation in criminal cases.

The district attorney for Lea County had asked the high court to intervene after public defenders refused to take on additional indigent clients because of their swelling caseloads.

A District Court judge last week held the state's chief public defender in contempt of court.

However, the Supreme Court has denied the district attorney's request that public defenders be ordered to accept additional cases.

The court's brief order Thursday says the case isn't "ripe" for consideration.

New Mexico Will Swear In Newly Elected Secretary Of State Associated Press

New Mexico is preparing to swear in a new secretary of state to oversee elections and campaign finance regulations.

Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver is taking office on Friday afternoon, under regulations allowing for the early replacement of the office's interim leader.

The Democrat and long-time Bernalillo County clerk campaigned on promises to encourage voter participation and reform a scandal plagued agency.

Toulouse Oliver will serve out the final two years of a term vacated by Republican Dianne Duran, who resigned in 2015 and was convicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges. Duran acknowledged using campaign funds to fuel a gambling spree.

Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter served as secretary of state for the past year under an appointment by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Ruling Ends New Mexico County's Effort To Combat Fire Danger - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

An appellate court has dashed any hopes one southern New Mexico county had to address fire danger on national forest lands due to the inaction of the federal government.

A 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Denver found that Otero County's resolution to treat overgrown areas of the Lincoln National Forest along with a state statute enabling counties to take action under certain circumstances conflicted with federal law.

The judges said the case was a question of constitutional power and that federal law pre-empted the state law and the county's resolution.

New Mexico enacted the law in 2001, after a prescribed fire on federal land forced the evacuation of the mountain community of Los Alamos. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and the national lab there was temporarily closed.