Solitary Confinement Suits Cost State Counties Millions, Death Penalty Bill Tabled

Mar 6, 2017

Solitary Confinement Suits Cost New Mexico Counties MillionsThe Associated Press/CJ Project

New Mexico lawmakers are weighing whether the state will join a small but growing list of states that have placed limits on solitary confinement.

A bill proposes banning solitary confinement for pregnant women, juveniles and inmates with severe mental illness who are held in jails and prisons.

Other similar measures have been proposed in recent years.

Debate over the bill comes as former jail inmates in the state win major payouts from counties over their treatment while in isolation.

A lawsuit filed by George Abila of Roswell resulted in the most recent judgment against a county. Eddy County agreed to pay him $1.9 million in January.

He says he was held in a cell without a bed, sink or toilet for six months.

Death Penalty Bill Tabled In House CommitteeSanta Fe New Mexican

Efforts to reinstate the death penalty were blocked by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Sunday along party lines.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the committee voted 3-2 to table the bill after hearing from about two dozen opponents of the death penalty. The state’s Roman Catholic bishops have opposed the reinstatement as well, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque and would have allowed the death penalty for the murders of children or law enforcement officers.

A fiscal analysis of the bill found it would cost the state up to $7.2 million annually over three years to reinstate the death penalty, which was repealed in 2009.

Amazon To Collect Sales Tax In New Mexico Starting In AprilThe Associated Press

Online retail giant Amazon will soon begin collecting taxes on purchases being sent to New Mexico addresses.

Officials with the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department confirmed Monday that the new sales tax will begin in April.

The tax will combine state and local rates to total about 7 percent.

Department spokesman Ben Cloutier says the revenues generated by Amazon's collections will be significant, likely in the tens of millions of dollars.

Some of the revenue will go into the state's general fund and the rest will be allocated to the cities where the item was purchased.

As New Mexico looks to fill a budget gap, lawmakers are considering measures to force internet vendors without a physical presence in the state to collect gross receipts taxes.

Bill To Bar Carrying Guns In The Roundhouse Clears SenateThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico Senate has approved a proposal to make it illegal for anyone but police officers and concealed-carry license holders to have a gun in the state Capitol.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the bill by Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque and Republican Sen. Bill Sharer of Farmington was approved Saturday in a 29-12 vote.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor for non-police to openly carry a gun in the Roundhouse.

And it would be a fourth-degree felony to discharge a gun in the Capitol unless done in self-defense or defense of another.

The bill was prompted by instances of people carrying rifles to hearings in the Legislature.

Forecasters warn Of Windy Conditions In New MexicoThe Associated Press

Forecasters with the National Weather Service are warning of windy conditions across New Mexico.

The combination of strong to potentially damaging winds and extremely dry conditions have resulted in critical to extreme fire danger along the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to Socorro and across the eastern plains.

Blowing dust is reducing visibility in some parts of the state.

Forecasters on Monday reported gusts of nearly 80 mph near Red River and over 70 mph east of Los Alamos. Several other communities around the state reported gusts over 50 mph.

New Mexico Republican's Town Hall In Ruidoso Draws 300Associated Press

Approximately 300 people turned out for the first town hall held this year by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the sole Republican in New Mexico's congressional delegation.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the two-hour event Saturday in the southern New Mexico mountain town of Ruidoso was rowdy but nonviolent except for one punch thrown by one man at another who took a photo of the other man.

Discussion topics included Republicans' plans to repeal the 2010 health care law, and Pearce was drowned out by boos when he said the Affordable Care Act is collapsing.

Pearce said afterward it was important to have a civil discussion and hear varying viewpoints.

He also said he didn't mind the rowdiness. He said that's how the process works when people have strong opinions.

Senate Approves New Mexico Bill On Guns, Domestic ViolenceAssociated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved a bill to require people involved in domestic violence situations to surrender their guns and prohibit them from purchasing guns while a protective order is in effect.

The Senate's 25-15 vote Saturday sends the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces to the House for consideration.

Under the bill, surrendered firearms would be turned over for safekeeping to law enforcement, a federally licensed gun dealer or an individual who has undergone a federal background check and who is not a household member of the gun owner.

The bill requires a court to determine whether a person presents "a credible threat" and requires that the person be given notice and an opportunity to be heard.

US Officials Prepare For Irrigation Season Along Rio GrandeAssociated Press

Federal officials are getting ready for the irrigation season along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and water will start moving through the system in the coming week.

The Bureau of Reclamation says it will begin releases from Elephant Butte Dam on Monday morning. The release will quickly ramp up to 600 cubic feet per second as the water heads to Caballo Reservoir, with the rate doubling the following week.

The release from Caballo is scheduled to begin March 31.

Officials say the dry riverbeds below both reservoirs will take on water quickly and the water will begin to flow downstream. Citing safety concerns, they're warning people to stay out of the river channels.

Gorsuch Willing To Limit Environmental Groups In Land CasesAssociated Press

An Associated Press review of Neil Gorsuch's rulings as a federal judge finds that the Supreme Court nominee has shown a willingness to limit the participation of environmental groups in lawsuits involving public lands.

In one case, Gorsuch said allowing conservationists to intervene could complicate and slow down the judicial process.

Gorsuch's Denver-based court hears disputes about public lands ranging from energy companies' drilling rights to the use of off-road vehicles in national forests across six Western states.

At times, he's favored the position of federal agencies when it comes to lands cases in which he's sought to limit environmental groups' participation.

But his record on such cases is relatively limited considering that the territory overseen by the appeals court contains vast swaths of national forests and parks.

New Mexico Paleontologist Uncovers New Dinosaur Species Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A new species of dinosaur has been discovered by a paleontologist at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Sebastian Dalman's discovery began with the examination of fossilized fragments in the museum's collection. The Albuquerque man had questioned the fragments, which had been in the collection since 1997 and were thought to be from a torosaurus, a relative of the triceratops.

Dalman then headed to the site in south-central New Mexico where the bones were originally uncovered to participate in two digs last year.

The search turned up more parts of the dinosaur, including pieces of its cranium.

Dalman says he put the parts together and identified a new species.

He's scheduled to formally announce his findings and the name of the animal at a conference in April.

Two Abortion Bills Blocked In HouseSanta Fe New Mexican

A bill that sought to ban abortions in New Mexico after 20 weeks of pregnancy failed to pass a House committee Sunday.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the 3-2 vote was along party lines in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. New Mexico is one of only several states that allows late-term abortions.

House Bill 220 would have banned such abortions unless a doctor said it was medically necessary. Another bill, House Bill 221, would have required a doctor to notify the parents or guardians of a minor of a planned abortion. It also had exemptions for victims of rape or incest. That failed in the committee as well.

Impassioned opponents and supporters of the bills offered testimony. Another bill that would have created new regulations for abortion providers also failed in the same House committee last week.

Maine City Considers Following Albuquerque’s Lead With Panhandlers Portland Press Herald, Associated Press

Officials in Maine's largest city are considering offering panhandlers work to keep them off the streets.

The Portland Press Herald reports the city is working on a 36-week pilot program that would offer panhandlers an opportunity to work for $10.68 an hour cleaning up parks and other light labor jobs, and connect them with social services.

City officials say the proposal is similar to a program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The newspaper says panhandling has become a growing concern in cities around the country, where business owners fear it hampers tourism, and residents and visitors complain about panhandlers asking for money on sidewalks and at stoplights.

Portland has a law against aggressive panhandling and also tried to ban loitering on street medians. The loitering proposal was deemed unconstitutional by courts.

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Industrial Hemp ResearchAssociated Press

A bill to create a research program for the industrial production of hemp in New Mexico is headed to the governor's desk for consideration.

The legislation was approved by the Senate on a 30-12 vote Friday and now goes to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for consideration.

The bill would require the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to set up an industrial hemp research program to study the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. A more restrictive Senate bill is making its way through the Legislature.

Thirty-one states have authorized hemp research, while actual production occurred in 15 states last year.

Hemp is prized for its oils, seeds and fiber. The 2014 federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for research and development.

New Mexico Senate Panel OKs 'Right To Die' BillAssociated Press

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

The Democratic-controlled Senate Public Affairs Committee voted Friday move 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.

New Mexico School Building Gets Historic DesignationLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

An elementary school in southern New Mexico that served for more than a quarter-century as a segregated school for African-American students has been added to the national list of historic places.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary was as a four-room school from 1926 until 1957. It has since served as the city of Vado's community center and home to a federal program that promotes school readiness for low-income families.

Vado residents gathered Tuesday to celebrate the building's historic designation, which became official on the last day of Black History Month.

The school, named after renowned poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, was constructed after a 1925 state law permitted racial segregation in public schools.

The school is among six surviving schools built during segregation in New Mexico.