Wilderness Plans Draw Fire From New Mexico Ranchers, ABQ Schools To Avoid Layoffs,

Feb 23, 2017

Latest Wilderness Plans Draw Fire From New Mexico Ranchers – The Associated Press 

New Mexico's two senators have introduced legislation they say has been years in the making to set aside tens of thousands of acres as wilderness on opposite ends of the state in areas recently designated as national monuments.

But ranchers from some rural communities fear the designations will amount to another layer of bureaucracy aimed at pushing them from the land.

The Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association has passed a resolution against future wilderness and monument designations, and its members along with groups representing ranchers from elsewhere in the state are fighting the latest proposal.

The legislation calls for establishing several tracts of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico and the Rio Grande del Norte Monument on the northern end of the state.

Albuquerque Schools To Avoid Layoffs Amid Budget Crisis – The Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Staff at Albuquerque Public Schools will not face layoffs or furloughs this year as the district has found other ways to cover a $12.5 million budget cut.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday that instead of making the money through staff changes, the district is taking $6.65 million out of cash reserves and making up the rest from a number of areas, including substitute teacher funds and staff reductions by attrition.

The $12.5 million budget cut came Jan. 31 when Gov. Susana Martinez signed several bills that pull from school district cash reserves in an effort to address the state's massive deficit.

District Executive Director of Budget and Strategic Planning Debora Warren says cuts in the middle of the school year can be challenging because many schools have already spent their budgets.

Experts Say Warm Weather Could Threaten New Mexico Snowpack The Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

Meteorologists expect abnormally dry, warm weather to follow New Mexico's unseasonably warm February, creating concern about the snowpack in the northern part of the state.

The New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/2mpcjpc ) that mountain snowpacks are at or above normal levels. The question troubling experts is how much snow will endure the windy, warm weather until the spring runoff season.

February temperatures hit record or near-record highs in Santa Fe and other parts of the state, and the National Weather Service predicts above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation will continue over the next three months.

If the snowpacks dry up, northern New Mexicans will be counting on rain to keep crops alive, maintain stream flows and reduce the threat of wildfires this summer.

Las Cruces To Settle Holding Cell Beating Suit For $400,000 – The Associated Press & The Las Cruces Sun-News

The city of Las Cruces has agreed to pay $400,000 to a man who claims police officers used excessive force on him when he was detained in a holding cell.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the settlement figure between the city and Ross Flynn was confirmed Wednesday. Flynn filed the lawsuit in 2015, claiming his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments were violated when he was arrested by Las Cruces police officers in December 2014.

Flynn was detained in a holding cell at police headquarters after he was accused of threatening a woman with a firearm over a parking dispute. The lawsuit alleges that two officers, Richard Garcia and Danny Salicido, beat Flynn, fracturing his skull.

The two officers were fired in May 2015. Criminal charges against them were dismissed.

New Mexico Lawmakers Seek New Powers For Oil RegulatorsThe Associated Press

Efforts to increase the enforcement powers of New Mexico oil and natural gas regulators over drilling and environmental violations have earned an initial nod of approval from a panel state lawmakers.

A state Senate panel endorsed legislation Thursday that would restore the state's authority to impose administrative penalties of up to $10,000 when aquifers are polluted or threatened by drilling operations, and lesser fines for other violations of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act. Texas allows daily penalties of $10,000.

Major oil companies are showing renewed interest in Permian Basin deposits in southeastern New Mexico amid a string of multi-billion dollar lease acquisitions.

A 2009 state Supreme Court decision held that the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division was not authorized to assess administrative penalties and must pursue lawsuits instead.

Lawsuit Against Ex-Espanola Coach Moved To Federal Court The Associated Press

A lawsuit filed by parents against the former boys basketball coach at Espanola Valley High School has moved to federal court.

Lawyers for the parents of four former players filed papers last week to move the lawsuit against Richard Martinez to U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit says Martinez regularly battered one player during the last basketball season and assaulted the father of another player.

Martinez's attorney, Sam Bregman, says the former coach did nothing wrong.

The parents are seeking an undisclosed amount in damages and attorney's fees.

A previous Espanola superintendent fired Martinez in April and then resigned when the school board didn't support the termination.

New Mexico Panel Halts Beer Ban For DWI ConvictsThe Associated Press

A Democratic-control House committee has tabled a proposal that would have banned alcohol for New Mexico's repeat drunken drivers.

The House Consumer and Public Affairs voted 3-2 on Thursday to sideline a bill that would have mandated a lifetime alcohol ban for those convicted of a third drunken driving conviction.

The measure would have been one of the most restrictive DWI laws in the country.

Republican Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert of Corrales says the law was needed as a preventative measure for a state that has one of the highest rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the nation.

But Democrat Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque says treatment was the answer and not regulating someone's behavior that had nothing to do with driving.

A similar proposal won House support in 2013 but languished in the Senate.

New Mexico Considers Special Chile Pepper License PlateThe Associated Press 

With red and green chile saturating nearly every facet of life in New Mexico, a legislative panel is supporting a measure to adorn special license plates with the hot peppers.

The House Transportation and Public Works Committee on Thursday gave a favorable recommendation to the legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad.

Brown says most New Mexicans can't go a day without enjoying chile and a new license plate would recognize the popular peppers.

Researchers say New Mexico's soil and weather combine to give peppers grown in the state a unique flavor and character.

Under the bill, vehicle owners would pay an annual $35 fee for the plate. Some of the revenue would go toward manufacturing costs while most would be used for educational programs at the state Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

Santa Fe City Council To Vote On Immigrant Resolution – The Associated Press

The Santa Fe City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would affirm the city's immigrant-friendly policies without using the word "sanctuary."

What started out as a rebuke to President Donald Trump's efforts to address illegal immigration, the resolution has been softened and the reference to sanctuary removed.

The resolution will be considered at Wednesday's council meeting as the Trump administration continues to threaten withholding funds from local governments that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Rather than specifically identify Santa Fe as a sanctuary city, supporters say the resolution affirms the city's status as "a welcoming community for immigrants and refugees."

The resolution also states that the city has the authority to preserve the confidentiality of residents' information, including a person's immigration status.

Navajo officials: Plan In Place To Fix Vets Housing Program – The Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials say they have a plan for improving a problem-plagued veterans housing program.

Tribal President Russell Begaye's office says the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration submitted a corrective action plan in response to critical audit findings.

The findings included poor accountability for building materials, selection of ineligible veterans for homes, poor construction management and uninhabitable homes.

Begaye's office says the veterans housing program is revising its policies and procedures to implement the corrective action plan.

New Mexico Senate Confirms Gallagher As Health Secretary – The Associated Press

The New Mexico Senate has confirmed Lynn Gallagher as the head of the state's public health agency.

The unanimous vote came during Wednesday's floor session.

Gallagher has held the top spot at the state Health Department since March 2016 when she was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez following the death of then-Secretary Retta Ward.

Gallagher's resume included recent stints as deputy health secretary and general counsel for the Long-Term Services Department, after an early career in business and finance in New York and Florida.

The department said Gallagher has been focused on addressing substance misuse, teen births, diabetes and obesity.

Officials say teen birth rates in New Mexico have declined to their lowest level in decades, and the childhood obesity rate continues to trend downward.

Gabby Giffords Steps Into New Mexico Firearms Debate – The Associated Press

Former U.S. Congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords is stepping into a tense debate about whether to require background checks on most private gun sales in New Mexico.

Giffords and her national gun-safety advocacy group Americans for Responsible Solutions on Wednesday threw their weight behind efforts to build a broader support in New Mexico for bills designed to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence and the mentally ill.

The New Mexico Legislature is considering two high-profile bills to expand background checks on firearms transactions against a federal database and to remove guns from domestic violence situations where a protective order has been issued.

Bill provisions are being revised after supporter and critics faced off in a series of politically charged hearings.

New Mexico Considers Restricting Guns In Statehouse- Associated Press

Visitors to the New Mexico state capital would no longer be able to openly carry firearms under a bill endorsed by a panel of lawmakers.

The Senate Finance Committee voted to recommend approval of the initiative limiting firearms in the Capitol to law enforcement and concealed-weapon license holders.

New Mexico currently allows both open carry and concealed weapons in the state capital, including on the floors of the Senate and House.

Sponsors of the bill say it responds to people who have felt intimidated by people bringing rifles and other firearms to public hearings.

As sponsor of the bill, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto said the changes would preserve a treasured sense of openness in the Capitol without calling for metal detectors or other formal screening for firearms.

New Mexico Senate Panel To Hear Election Primaries Bill- Associated Press

A New Mexico Senate committee is scheduled to debate a measure that would make it easier for independents to vote in primary elections.

The Senate Rules Committee is slated to hear a bill sponsored by Sen. John Sapien that would let voters not affiliated with any political party vote in primary elections by choosing to affiliate by requesting a ballot.

Voters currently have to designate a party affiliation on the voter's certificate of registration.

Under the Bernalillo Democrat's proposal, voter's certificate of registration won't change the voter's party affiliation, but voters can still participate in a party's primary elections.

The measure comes after the New Mexico Supreme Court dismissed an attempt to open major party primary elections to independent voters but left the door open to legislative reforms.

New Mexico Seeks Safeguards Against Faithless Electors-Associated Press

New Mexico may take new precautions to guard against any possible revolt by presidential electors.

The state House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that would replace any presidential elector who does not vote for the candidate of the party that nominated them. The bill now moves to the Senate.

The initiative from Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen also would do away with the New Mexico's felony penalty for "faithless" electors. McQueen says there should not be an option to thwart the will of the electorate.

Despite rumblings of a revolt, only two Republican electors — both from Texas — cast protest votes for someone other than Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton lost four Democratic electors in Washington state and one in Hawaii.

Hillary Clinton won New Mexico's five electoral votes.

Transit Opponents Drop Lawsuit Against ART- Albuquerque Journal

A group of opponents have dropped a lawsuit that sought to halt the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project, or ART.

The Albuquerque Journal reports this followed a ruling against a temporary injunction that tried to stop the project.

The city is creating a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes along Central Avenue, also known as historic Route 66. The $119 million project is funded mostly by federal dollars.

Mayor Richard Berry said he was pleased with the outcome and pledged to work with community and business owners during construction.

Yolanda Gallegos, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said her clients are concerned about funding for ART and the effect it will have on traffic congestion, safety and local businesses.  She said they hope Berry and the next mayor will consider a redesign of the project.