Local News

  • 2018 State Legislature: Sen. Pirtle: Exempt healthier food from tax

    A state senator wants New Mexico to resume taxing a wide variety of foods while leaving exempt a selection of healthier groceries, arguing the move could encourage better nutrition in a state where diabetes and obesity are prevalent.

    New Mexico ended the gross receipts tax on groceries in 2004, but Senate Bill 129, sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, would levy taxes on groceries except for meat, tortillas and anything covered by the federal Women Infants Children nutrition program, commonly known as WIC.

    And Pirtle’s bill also calls for restricting food stamp purchases to meat and products covered by the WIC program.

    Pirtle, a Republican dairy farmer from Roswell, argues this could support better nutrition.

    But health aside, the proposal comes amid ongoing debate about tax reform and whether New Mexico would be better off taxing food again in order to make it feasible for the state to lower the overall gross receipts tax rate shoppers pay for most purchases. It is also likely to meet staunch opposition from advocacy groups that argue reinstating the food tax would hit the poor hardest. And Democrats are likely to oppose limiting how the roughly 460,000 New Mexicans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use their benefits.

  • Aspen Elementary put on lockdown this morning; situation resolved quickly

    Aspen Elementary School officials locked down the school for about an hour at about 10:15 a.m. Monday when a resident reported seeing a person walking near the school with what appeared to be a rifle.

    “A community member called this morning saying they saw a young man near Aspen with a rifle; we are not sure if it was a toy or a real weapon,” School Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus said in an email.

    Los Alamos police immediately contacted Aspen Elementary School officials and told them to go into lockout mode, Steinhaus said.

    A lockout is when all the doors and windows to the outside of the building are locked and no one is allowed outside until the situation is resolved.

    According to police, the rifle was an air gun, and the person in possession of it was walking by the school to go to target practice in a nearby canyon.

    Aspen Elementary Principal Kathryn Vandenkieboom said the students and the staff were never in danger. The lockout was lifted at 10:35 a.m.

    School is scheduled to proceed with regular hours, Vandenkieboom said.

    Vandenkieboom also said the staff had just taken a three-hour safety course last week, so everyone knew what to do when they were informed of the situation by police.

    No citations were issued in connection with the incident.

  • Dunn switches to Libertarian Party

    By Andrew Oxford The New Mexican State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, one of New Mexico's top elected Republicans, has switched parties and registered to vote as a Libertarian.

    Dunn said Saturday he is considering his next political move as his term comes to an end later this year. Some Libertarians have launched a campaign to draft him as their candidate for the U.S. Senate.

    Regardless of his next steps, Dunn's departure from the GOP means Republicans now hold one less statewide elected office. And it comes as the party grapples with factional battles as well its very identity in a purple state during the age of President Donald Trump.

    Dunn's move, though unusual, is hardly a surprise. A rancher and banker from Southern New Mexico, he has long been at odds with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

    He has clashed, too, with some oil companies and generally developed a reputation as the sort of libertarian-leaning Republican that can be a rare breed in the party.

    "I was on the outside," Dunn said of his decision to switch parties. But he also has been one of the few Republicans to win a statewide election in recent years. Dunn won elected office for the first time in 2014, ousting Democrat Ray Powell as land commissioner in a race so narrow it prompted a recount.

  • Bill to allow utility to charge customers for losses to be heard Tuesday

    Steve Terrell

    The New Mexican

    Controversial legislation that would allow the state’s largest utility to recover losses from closing the coal-burning San Juan Generating Station is scheduled to face its first test next week in front of a state Senate committee.

    The Senate Conservation Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 47, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, on Tuesday.

    The bill would allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to sell bonds to recoup money lost if it closes the San Juan Plant in 2022. The utility last year issued a plan that calls for ending the company’s reliance on coal power completely by 2031.

    An identical bill in the House of Representatives, House Bill 70, has yet to be heard by a committee. Both bills have bipartisan sponsorship. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, while the House bill is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, and co-sponsored by Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.

  • 2018 State Legislature; Bill to clarify sex abuse reporting clears first hurdle

    The New Mexican

    A bill that would help clarify how New Mexico educators identify and report cases of sexual abuse against students cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday when the Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced the measure.

    Senate Bill 31, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, seeks $100,000 from the state general fund for the Public Education Department to provide experts who can train public school administrators and teachers how to detect and report sexual violence in schools.

    Stewart, a retired teacher, told the committee members that educators know how to detect signs of physical violence that are obvious. “We see the bruises. ... I’ve seen cigarette burns on children’s arms,” she said.

    But signs of sexual assault and trauma are not easily visible to the naked eye, she said.

    “It’s not that we’re not doing training,” she said. “The training is more focused on physical assault. ... We’re not going to fix everything with this [bill]. But we’re going to increase expertise” among educators.

  • Los Alamos man accused of stealing gun

    A 32-year-old Los Alamos man was arrested after a gun was stolen from an employer.

    Police reported that a man confessed that he stole a gun from his employer, then gave it to a friend to sell to a pawnshop in Albuquerque.

    Police charged Kevin Medinger with aggravated burglary, larceny of a firearm, larceny over $500 but less than $2,500, receiving stolen property and transportation of a firearm by a felon.

    The theft was reported by a Los Alamos resident in November 2017.

    The resident’s son reported that someone took his father’s Model 49 Smith and Wesson .38 Special, a firearm the resident told police was valued at about $1,000.

    The resident also said he also discovered $600 missing from a box in his living room, Medinger allegedly saw the resident pay him from for various odd jobs Medinger would perform.

    “He thinks the day it went missing was when he came home from a walk and found Kevin  in his home,” Corporal David Boe said in his 2017 report.

    Police finally contacted Medinger on Jan. 11 by phone, where he confessed to taking the gun, giving it to his friend to sell and getting between $210-220.

    The police picked up the gun Jan. 16 and returned it to the resident. They also issued a summons for Medinger to appear in court Feb. 23.

  • County hears update on small-scale nuclear power pilot project

    Los Alamos County has until April 1 to decide whether to invest $500,000 to $3 million into a small-scale nuclear power project that has been in the works for two years.

    The plan would be to install the nuclear power system at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls and the county would purchase power from the project.

    The Carbon Free Power Project is a nuclear power project that is in the planning stages for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems by NuScale Power.

    Officials from Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale Power presented the plan to Los Alamos County Council and the Board of Public Utilities Thursday.

    The main part of the project will consist of 12, 50-megawatt light water, nuclear reactor modules designed by NuScale, which plans to build the project in Idaho. NuScale plans to have the reactors online and plugged into the national power grid by 2025.

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory has also expressed interest in joining the group, but the lab is still in talks with the Department of Energy.

    Thursday’s meeting was all about the county’s involvement.

    NuScale officials answered many questions about the safety and design of their project.

  • GRT bill passes first hurdle

    The Senate bill that would allow the state to continue to receive gross receipts tax from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, received unanimous approval from the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee Friday.

    Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romero testified before the committee on Senate Bill 17, along with one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, (D-6). Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard (D-43) is co-sponsor.

    “It went very well,” Romero said. “We presented what we know about Senate Bill 17… and why we need to stabilize this tax.”

    Romero described the committee as “very receptive.”

    The bill’s next step is the Senate Finance Committee. A date for the hearing has not been set.
    Romero also told the committee that the commission also encouraged non-profit contractors and their potential partners to organize themselves as for-profit entities, before they submitted a bid, just in case Senate Bill 17 did not make through this session.

  • Measure to station state police at Gorge Bridge advances

    By Milan Simonich
    Santa Fe New Mexican

    Perhaps the least rancorous debate of New Mexico’s legislative session ended Thursday with a unanimous decision that satisfied no one.

    A committee of nine lawmakers from both political parties advanced a bill to spend $156,000 a year so state police officers can provide heightened security on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in Taos County.

    Legislators on the House state government committee said they were not sold on the bill, which calls for three state police officers to be assigned to the bridge. But, the lawmakers said, they believed a significant number of suicides on the bridge makes the bill important enough to keep it alive in hopes that it can be refined later.

    That means the measure, House Bill 166, will be considered later by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

    In New Mexico, two vastly different reputations define the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

    It is a place of breathtaking beauty, magnetic in attracting tourists and notable for inspiring artists.

    But the bridge also is notorious in Taos, having been the site of dozens of suicides in the last quarter-century.

  • Los Alamos scientists conduct study to help predict diseases

    Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and the Medical Associates of Northern New Mexico are looking for volunteers in Los Alamos County to participate in a respiratory pathogen study and provide information and swab samples.

    “The goal of this study is to develop a system that can predict future emergence of infections, propose the best public health solutions to prevent spread of diseases and provide suitable treatment for infections,” said Harshini Mukundan, of Los Alamos’ Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy group.

    The study takes place at the Medical Associates of Northern New Mexico clinic, 3917 West Road, Suite A, in Los Alamos from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The study will continue for nine months.

    The team encourages participation in the study to improve the ability to predict and alleviate emerging infectious diseases and plans to analyze the efficacy of laboratory diagnostics that identify respiratory infections.