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Today's News

  • Measure to create Navajo Code Talker museum advances

    BY ROBERT NOTT
    The New Mexican

    They spoke a language most people -- including many in their own nation -- could not understand.

    They befuddled their Japanese enemies who tried to make sense of the strange code.

    And when World War II ended, they knew they had played a part in keeping the world free.

    “We helped win the war,” said Sen. John Pinto, 94, one of the few Navajo Code Talkers who’s still alive.

    His voice choked with emotion and sadness when he spoke of his Navajo comrades who died during the war. But Pinto’s face flashed a wide grin when members of the Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance his bill to create a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans Center on Navajo land in McKinley County.

    The measure, Senate Bill 365, has a long way to go to become law.

    Pinto, D-Gallup, is requesting $1 million to build the museum. The site, close to the Arizona border, is the area that generated the majority of the Code Talkers.

    “We used our indigenous language to win many battles and the war,” said Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, in testifying for Pinto’s bill.

  • House Republicans call for apology over derogatory comments about private schools

    House Republicans are calling on Rep. Damon Ely (D-Corrales) to apologize for the comments he made about New Mexico’s private schools on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday.

    During debate over House Bill 45 (HB 45), a bill that would prohibit public funds for textbooks for private schools, Ely accused private schools of discrimination.

    “I did not want any taxpayer money going to private schools that would discriminate on the basis of those things that this body has defined as hate crimes,” said Ely.

    “To accuse our schools of discrimination is a serious allegation,” Rep. Rod Montoya (R-Farmington.) “New Mexicans deserve to know which schools are discriminating or those who are making these allegations need to apologize.”

    Republican lawmakers say the bill defies a Supreme Court decision made in December that found that providing textbooks to private schools, a long-standing practice in New Mexico, is permissible under the state constitution.

    Democrats contend the state Supreme Court decision states that providing textbooks for private schools does not violate the constitution and that it does not mean the state Public Education Department has to pay for and supply textbooks to private and religious schools.

  • Dems push plan to tap more from ‘permanent fund’

    BY ROBERT NOTT
    The New Mexican

    A proposed constitutional amendment to draw more money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education jumped its first hurdle with ease Wednesday.

    The House Education Committee voted 10-4 on party lines for the measure. Democrats supported the measure, House Joint Resolution 1.

    It would take another 1 percent -- at least $150 million a year -- from the $17.5 billion state endowment.

    The bill’s proponents, including Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, say early childhood education can transform New Mexico, often regarded as one of the worst states in the nation for public education.

    Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she wants “a moonshot” in the school system. Martinez said his proposed constitutional amendment would provide it.

    “This is the money stream that can help us buy that rocket ship for that moonshot,” he told the committee members.

    The proposal would have to overcome a number of tough challenges before it could take off.

    Though the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has supported the measure in the past and will again this year, it will eventually land on the desk of the Senate Finance Committee. The proposal has repeatedly stalled there.

  • Bill lets parties choose: Open primaries or pay for them

    BY ANDREW OXFORD
    The New Mexican

    One lawmaker wants to give political parties a choice of whether to let independent voters participate in primary elections.

    The option is: Let independents vote or pay for the election yourselves.

    Backers hope Senate Bill 418 will win over legislators wary of letting just any voter help pick their party’s nominees.
    If it does, the bill could also end for now a long-running debate over the role of independent voters, who are a growing segment of the electorate in New Mexico. It is one of 14 states where a voter must be affiliated with a party to cast a ballot in a primary.

    The bill has an unlikely champion in its sponsor, Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. He has voted against open primaries in the past.

    Moores has been sympathetic to the argument that requiring political parties to let independents vote in primaries would violate the rights of free association.

    “The government should not be able to tell the Republican Party or the Democrat Party how to do it,” he said.

    But, Moores said, taxpayers should not have to cover the costs of a party’s primary if independents do not have the right to participate.

  • Hilltop Inn opening mired in repairs, permitting issues

    Renovation of the Hilltop Inn hotel on Central Avenue has been held for the past 16 months by roof and water damage repairs and county permitting, according to the owners.

    The opening date for the hotel property is now uncertain.

    The owners, Atomic City Investments, started the renovations in September 2017 but are now waiting on the county to issue the latest set of permits to begin a new round of improvements.

    The property was closed in October 2013 after the last owners went through a foreclosure proceeding.

    “We’ve had a date (to open) on this for a long time, but there are just pieces that delay us for months,” Atomic City Investments Spokesman Kuzi Mutsiwegota said. “But, we’re definitely closer than we’ve ever been.”

    Last week, Atomic City Investments submitted a renovation plan. The county sent them back additional questions asking for more details on their plans for the interior of the building.

    “We still plan on an opening,” Mutsiwegota said. “The reality of the hotel is that it’s an existing structure that was created quite a long time ago and to bring it up to code, this is what we’re being required to do. It’s a lengthy process.”

  • County drops Gordons after nearly 30-year concert run

    Fans of the Gordon Summer Concert Series were shocked Wednesday following the announcement on social media by the Robertson Gordon family that Los Alamos County decided not to renew their contract as providers of the annual summer concert series at Ashley Pond.

    The Gordon Family has provided the concert series free to the public for the past 29 years.

    Last year, Russell Gordon retired and passed the torch to his son, Abe Robertson Gordon.

    “With a heavy heart, the Gordon family will bid farewell to the Los Alamos community and the concert series,” said the Robertson Gordon Family on Facebook Wednesday evening. “We received an email today from the county that they have recommended another promoter for the summer concert series.”

    The family also thanked the community.

    County officials said they were not ready yet to reveal who the new promoter was because the contract award had not been finalized.

  • Garcia Richard appoints key staff

    State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard announced the appointments of four executive staff members Thursday.

    “As Commissioner and with the assistance of the talented new staff we have hired, as well as the staff that has been here for years, the land office will push a bold agenda. We are just getting started on leveraging the mandate of this office to raise more money for the beneficiaries of our state trust lands. Ari, Jordan, Craig and Angie have the experience we need to assure success,” Garcia Richard said in a news release.

    Ari Biernoff was appointed as general counsel, a position charged with identifying and overseeing legal issues in all departments. Biernoff served as a senior litigator with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office under attorneys general Hector Balderas and Gary King, managing innovative litigation programs. Before that, he clerked for Justice Patricio Serna of the New Mexico Supreme Court and Judge Henry Kennedy of United States District Court for the District of Columbia. He also worked as senior counsel at the New York City Law Department and in private practice in New York. 

    Biernoff earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. 

  • House to consider juvenile prostitution bill

    By Robert Nott
    The New Mexican

    A bill that would decriminalize prostitution for people under the age of 18 is on its way to the full state House of Representatives.

    Members of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced the measure on Wednesday.

    House Bill 56, co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Gail Chasey and Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque, would ensure that juveniles in prostitution cases are not charged with a crime.

    The bill also requires state agencies to provide them with protective and trauma services.

    "If you think about it, a child below the age of 18 is also below the age of consent, so how can that child be consenting to prostitution?" Chasey told the committee. "She's more likely a victim of human trafficking."

    April Land, a professor at the University of New Mexico's School of Law, agreed.

    "It is no longer appropriate to criminalize children for being sexually exploited," Land said.

    Social workers and others at the hearing called the proposal a "safe harbor" bill.

  • Judge refuses Nevada's latest bid for plutonium shipment ban

    By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press

    RENO, Nev. (AP) — A federal judge denied Nevada's latest request Thursday to immediately block all future shipments of weapons-grade plutonium to a nuclear security site near Las Vegas.

    The state wanted the shipments blocked until potential safety and environmental risks could be reviewed further. U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du denied the state's request a day after the Energy Department revealed that it had already sent half of the highly radioactive material that it had planned to move from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site.

    The judge in Reno said in a 16-page ruling that proceedings will continue on a regular schedule in a lawsuit Nevada filed in November seeking to block plans the Energy Department approved in August to transfer a full metric ton of plutonium to Nevada.

    The department disclosed for the first time Wednesday that the shipment was sent sometime before November and said it doesn't intend to ship any more to the site 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Las Vegas.

    Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford asked Du in new court filings to schedule a status hearing Monday on the growing controversy. On Thursday, Du directed lawyers for the state and the federal government to work together to come up with a time to hold such a hearing.

  • Lodgers tax bill would plug Airbnb loophole

    By Andrew Oxford
    The New Mexican

    Book a hotel room in Silver City and you will probably find a 5 percent lodgers tax on your bill. But not if you book a casita on Airbnb.com.

    A loophole in New Mexico law means many vacation rentals are exempt from the tax that local governments charge on stays at hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns.

    State lawmakers this year aim to close that loophole, which cities and hotel operators argue would only be fair as websites like Airbnb become increasingly popular among travelers in a state where tourism is a big business. But it may also add to the cost of some visitors' New Mexico getaways.

    The rise of websites like Airbnb has upended much of how governments regulate housing and the tourism industry.

    Travelers can go online to rent a room or a whole house from a property owner in whatever place they plan to visit.

    Airbnb said it booked about 366,000 guests in New Mexico during 2018.

    But short-term rentals marketed to tourists have come under scrutiny in some cities where housing is hard to find and residents are squeezed out of certain neighborhoods.

    Taxes pose a whole other issue.