Tuesday News Roundup: Proposed Navajo Junk-Food Tax Fails At Council

Apr 22, 2014

Proposed Navajo Junk-Food Tax Fails At Council The Associated Press

An effort to resurrect a junk-food tax on the country's largest American Indian reservation has failed.

The Navajo Nation Council earlier this year approved an additional 2 percent sales tax on snacks high in fat, sugar and salt. Tribal President Ben Shelly vetoed the measure, saying it was unclear how the tax would be enacted and enforced.

A bill to override that veto came before tribal lawmakers Tuesday but fell three votes short.

Lawmakers approved a separate measure to eliminate the tribe's 5 percent sales tax on fresh fruit and vegetables.

Elected officials across the country have taken aim at sugary drinks with proposals to limit the size of beverages that can be sold, raise taxes or require warning labels. But those efforts have not gained widespread traction.

Senators Seek Support For Southwest Chief Route The Associated Press

Three U.S. senators are seeking support for capital improvements to Amtrak's long-distance routes, including one that passes through New Mexico and Colorado.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Mark Udall of Colorado have sent a letter to the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that's considering funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation and other agencies that oversee Amtrak.

The senators say long-distance service is a critical link for small and rural communities.

Amtrak has said it would consider rerouting the Southwest Chief to a more southern route if no agreement is met on maintaining the current track, which links Chicago and Los Angeles.

Amtrak has suggested New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas share the costs of maintaining and improving more than 600 miles of track in those states.


Bill Calls For Suspending Police Oversight Panel - The Associated Press

Albuquerque city councilors are expected to take action on a measure next month that would suspend civilian oversight of the city's troubled police department.

Councilor Isaac Benton introduced the proposal to suspend the Police Oversight Commission during Monday's council meeting. A different proposal would establish a new oversight agency with a funding source and certain powers.

Critics contend the current commission has no power, and the U.S. Justice Department in its scathing investigation of Albuquerque police recommended oversight of the police department be revamped.

Other council proposals expected to be considered next month would change how the police chief is chosen.

The mayor now picks the chief, but one new proposal would make the mayor's choice subject to council confirmation. Another proposal calls for election of the chief.

Santa Fe Bicyclist Fatally Hit By Train Identified – The Associated Press

Police in Santa Fe have identified a bicyclist who was killed when struck by a Rail Runner passenger train over the weekend.

Police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt says 60-year-old Suzanne LeBeau of Santa Fe was killed late Saturday morning.

Westervelt says LeBeau was riding her bike on a path parallel to Zia Road when she crossed the train tracks and was hit by the southbound train.

The police spokeswoman says the operator blew the train's horn multiple times and that the crossing's signals and lights were all working properly.

Court Urges Rewrite Of Child Pornography Law – The Associated Press

New Mexico's highest court has overturned convictions in two child pornography cases, saying it's unclear under state law if prosecutors can bring multiple charges against someone for possessing dozens of pornographic images of children.

In issuing a ruling on Monday, the state Supreme Court recommended the Legislature rewrite the law against possession of child pornography.

The court, in a 4 to 1 decision involving two cases from the Clovis area, said James Michael Olsson and William Ballard can each be charged with only one count of possession of child pornography.

Olsson had pleaded guilty to six counts after initially being charged in 2005 with 60 counts. Ballard was convicted of 25 counts of child pornography possession in 2009, but the Court of Appeals reduced the convictions to five counts.

Democratic Incumbent Legislator Bumped From Ballot The Associated Press

A judge in Gallup has removed Democratic Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint from the June 3 primary election ballot.

District Judge Louis DePauli determined Monday that Jeff didn't have enough valid signatures on her nominating petitions to qualify as a candidate.

Jeff has broken Democratic ranks in the House and sided with Republicans and Gov. Susana Martinez on several high-profile legislative votes.

The judge ruled in favor of an election challenge by McKinley County voter Larry King, who brought the lawsuit with the assistance of Conservation Voters New Mexico. The group contends Jeff has a poor environmental voting record.

Two other Democrats are running in House District 5 in northwestern New Mexico.

Jeff's lawyer, Germaine Chappelle, didn't immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

UNM's Crusoe Gongbay Suspended, Facing Charges – KOB-TV

The University of New Mexico says running back Crusoe Gongbay is facing rape charges and has been suspended from the team.

University officials issued a statement Monday night saying the 20-year-old turned himself in to campus police.

Coach Bob Davie says he's aware of the allegations, and due to the serious nature of the charges, the junior has been suspended indefinitely.

KOB-TV reports that Gongbay and another man who is not a student each face two counts of second-degree criminal sexual penetration and one count of kidnapping.

The charges stem from April 13, when a female student reported she was the victim of sexual assault. Investigators say they consulted with the district attorney's office before requesting arrest warrants.

It's not immediately clear if Gongbay has an attorney.

N.M. Plans To Make Payments To Workers In JuneThe Sante Fe New Mexican and The Associated Press

 Thousands of current and past New Mexico state government workers are due to receive payments this summer for back wages in a union contract dispute with the state.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the state Department of Finance and Administration says it will start cutting checks for back pay in July. However, the department cautions that the payments to 10,300 past and current employees are subject to what it calls "budget availability."

The department also says 5,700 current employees will receive a corrected hourly pay rate beginning in June.

Department spokesman Tim Korte says the payments will cost taxpayers more than $30 million but that the Legislature only appropriated $2.7 million. Korte says agencies are figuring out how to come up with the rest of the money.

Drones Unearth More Details About Chaco Culture The Associated Press

Long before the picks and shovels come out, there's a new tool that could help scientists shed light on archaeological mysteries long buried by eroding desert landscapes from the American Southwest to the Middle East.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas and the University of North Florida teamed up last summer in New Mexico to test a customized drone outfitted with a heat-sensing camera in an area called Blue J, just south of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

They recently published their findings, saying the remote-controlled drone was able to quickly scan the landscape, picking up on the heat signatures of stone architecture hidden under layers of sediment and sagebrush.

They discovered the outlines of what are believed to be ceremonial pits known as kivas and other features that could reshape archaeologists' understanding of Chaco's influence.


Feds Celebrate At Site Of First River Gage – The Associated Press

The head of the U.S. Geological Survey and other water managers are gathering along the Rio Grande to commemorate what was America's first river gage.

Installed more than a century ago, the gage at Embudo Station in northern New Mexico was the measuring device that set the foundation for modern water management across the West and the nation.

Now, the USGS stream-gaging program includes more than 8,000 gages that make nearly 250 million daily observations.

Officials say the gages are critical in forecasting floods and droughts. Information collected by the gages is also used to manage river flows, establish water rights and deliver water to farmers and municipalities.

Acting USGS Director Suzette Kimball and New Mexico State Engineer Scott Verhines [ver-HINES] will be among those at Tuesday's ceremony.