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Local News

  • House OK’s campaign finance reform

    By Steve Terrell

    The New Mexican

    After six years of trying to require "dark money" organizations and other independent-expenditure groups to report their political backers, supporters of campaign-finance reform got their bill through the state House of Representatives on Monday night.

    The House on Monday passed Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Jim Smith, D-Sandia Park. The bipartisan vote was 41 to 24. Six Republicans joined with the 35 Democrats to vote for the bill.

    The Senate had already passed the bill, but it will have to go back there for consideration of House amendments. If the Senate doesn't oppose any of the changes, it will go to Gov. Susana Martinez for signature. She has signaled some interest in the bill.

    "This is huge," said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, which for years has been the major group pushing the issue. "The citizens of New Mexico support this. Our poll found 91 percent support this."

    Harrison said she doubts the Senate will have any trouble with the House amendments – mostly technical changes. She noted that Wirth was in the House chamber during the vote and he had no problem with the amendments.

  • Panel rejects expanded background checks

    By Steve Terrell

    The New Mexican

    A legislative committee on Monday effectively killed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases – an issue that drew large crowds to the Capitol as well as big campaign contributions and intense lobbying and advertising.

    The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548 after a lengthy hearing. It marked the defeat of the most recent gun-control bill sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos.

    Democrat Eliseo Alcon of Milan joined the six Republicans on the panel to stop the measure, which would have required background checks on all sales of firearms at gun shows and from advertisements on the internet or print publications.

    Garcia Richard said other states that have approved similar bills have seen fewer violent crimes and suicides involving guns.

    Earlier in the session, Garcia Richard carried a similar measure, HB 50, which cleared two committees, including the Judiciary Committee. But last month she voluntarily pulled her own bill before it reached the full House of Representatives, asking it go back to the Judiciary Committee.

  • Scientists race to prevent wipeout of world's coral reefs

    SOUTH ARI ATOLL, Maldives (AP) — There were startling colors here just a year ago, a dazzling array of life beneath the waves. Now this Maldivian reef is dead, killed by the stress of rising ocean temperatures. What's left is a haunting expanse of gray, a scene repeated in reefs across the globe in what has fast become a full-blown ecological catastrophe.

    The world has lost roughly half its coral reefs in the last 30 years. Scientists are now scrambling to ensure that at least a fraction of these unique ecosystems survives beyond the next three decades. The health of the planet depends on it: Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world.

    "This isn't something that's going to happen 100 years from now. We're losing them right now," said marine biologist Julia Baum of Canada's University of Victoria. "We're losing them really quickly, much more quickly than I think any of us ever could have imagined."

    Even if the world could halt global warming now, scientists still expect that more than 90 percent of corals will die by 2050. Without drastic intervention, we risk losing them all.

  • County postpones library HVAC replacement

    Los Alamos County will delay improving the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Mesa Public Library because of a budget shortfall, officials announced Monday.

    The Public Works Department instead opted to make smaller improvements to the 24-year-old HVAC system designed to improve the airflow.

    The upgrade was expected to cost $2.5 million. The interim improvements are estimated to cost $5,000, according to Wayne Kohlrust, project manager for the Los Alamos County Public Works Department.

    “Projected revenues have not been as expected for this fiscal year, and therefore it is prudent to have a one-time deferral of this project originally slated to occur this summer,” County Manager Harry Burgess said in a statement. “We understand that our community’s top employer, LANL, (Los Alamos National Laboratory) has been operating under a continuing budget resolution for the most of the last six months, and believe that this fact has resulted in lower than expected revenues that we have been experiencing.”

  • Panel delays vote on early childhood ed initiative

    By Andrew Oxford

    The New Mexican

     

    Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education.

    The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday.

    A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee's 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close. A majority of a committee's members must be present for it to act on legislation.

    Without a quorum, the Rules Committee chairwoman, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, adjourned the committee altogether.

    "We're at a standstill," she told the remaining members, all Democrats.

    One cosponsor accused the resolution's critics of leaving to avoid a vote rather than go on the record opposing the proposal.

    "They know a vote against this is a bad vote," said Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque.

  • Reading bill dies quietly

    By Robert Nott
    The New Mexican

    For seven consecutive years, Gov. Susana Martinez has unsuccessfully pushed a bill to hold back thousands of third-graders who score below par on standardized reading tests.

    A pair of similar bills this year haven't even received a hearing before a legislative committee. And with just five days left in the 60-day legislative session, it is unlikely that they will.

    Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she didn't know whether the panel would have time to hear House Bill 114, introduced by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. But even if Garcia Richard's committee takes up the measure, it almost certainly would table it.

    "I am never going to support mandatory retention," said Garcia Richard, herself a teacher. "But I do support the intervention portions of that bill" to provide extra help to children who don't read well.

    Despite the fact that her committee is "all caught up" on legislative bills, Garcia Richard said, she wasn't sure where Youngblood's bill stood in terms of a hearing date.

  • New Mexico tops latest unemployment list

    ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — New Mexico has the worst unemployment rate in the nation, according to figures released Monday by state and federal labor officials.

    January's jobless rate of 6.7 percent remained unchanged from the previous month, but that's still higher than the 6.5 percent recorded a year ago.

    Nationally, the rate increased slightly to 4.8 percent despite an uptick in hiring in January as employers added 238,000 jobs.

    The employment outlook has added fuel to a fiery debate in the New Mexico Legislature, where Democrats have blasted the Martinez administration over the stagnant economy. With less than a week remaining to shore up a significant budget shortfall, they say they have little choice but to push $350 million in various tax and fee increases.

    Much of the problem stems from the downturn in the oil and gas industry, which contributes one of the largest chunks of the state revenue used to fund government programs.

    The Martinez administration said Monday that New Mexico is too reliant on the oil and gas industry and the federal government.

    Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the state Economic Development Department, said lawmakers should be focused on legislation that creates a more business-friendly environment in New Mexico.

  • Powell announces candidacy for New Mexico land commissioner

    SANTA FE (AP) — Democrat Ray Powell is running again for New Mexico state land commissioner, an office he's held twice before.

    A statement released Monday morning by Powell says he planned to announce his candidacy at an environmental justice rally at the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

    Powell served as commissioner from 1993-2002 and again from 2011-2014, when he narrowly lost the 2014 general election to Republican Aubrey Dunn.

    The land commissioner oversees management of 13 million mineral acres and 9 million surface acres.

  • Today in history 3-13-17
  • Navajo Nation officer died after encountering 2 people

    PREWITT, N.M. (AP) — A tribal police officer shot dead over the weekend in a remote community on the nation's largest American Indian reservation died after he encountered two people in a vehicle along a county road while responding to a domestic violence report, authorities said Monday.
    Preliminary reports indicate Navajo Nation Officer Houston James Largo, 27, was critically wounded when he came into contact with the two after being sent to a rural address north of the town of Prewitt, said McKinley County Sheriff's Deputy Roberta Jaramillo.
    "A female saw that the officer was down and called dispatch over his radio," Jaramillo said.
    Navajo police were already on the scene when sheriff's deputies and New Mexico state police officers arrived. Authorities quickly identified a suspect and the search intensified as daylight broke. Footprints helped officers to track the suspect, who was taken into custody early Sunday.
    Authorities did not immediately release any information about the suspect, the circumstances of the arrest or what led to the shooting.