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Morning Word: Special Session Up in the Air

Governor leaves the door open

Morning WordTuesday, March 31, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
Maybe, maybe not. No one knows for sure if Gov. Susana Martinez will call a special session this spring or summer. That, plus why are dangerous dogs being released for adoption?

It's Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Without funding for community projects, a tax package or education reform, some political analysts have suggested Gov. Susana Martinez call a short one- or two-day special session. The Albuquerque Journal reports she has no plans to schedule one, but ABQ Business First says there’s a small chance she will.
"If I were to have a special session, it wouldn't be just for capital outlay. It's not just about capital outlay. If we see a justified pact can be made, there's always room for discussion," Martinez said.
Read the stories here and here.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has decided to limit the use of outside contract attorneys. The decision follows a story in The New York Times about his predecessor, Gary King, partnering with private attorneys to sue a nursing home operator in New Mexico.

Read more at the Los Alamos Daily Post. 

A Santa Fe City Councilor says a new report showing official mismanagement of a $30.3 million parks and trail construction bond is “horrifying.”

Read why at the Santa Fe New Mexican. 

While Indiana deals with pushback over a new religious freedom law that allows businesses to refuse service to gay people, a teacher in Estancia is suing because she claims the district is discriminating against her for her religion.

See it at KRQE. 

The Indiana measure is similar to one in New Mexico.
Our own so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act was made law in 1978, and limits the government's ability to stop the quote "free exercise of religion"—defined in New Mexico as "an act, or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by religious belief."

See it at KOB. 

Tularosa-area families who live downwind from the Trinity atomic bomb test site are planning to protest a weekend tour of the range. They claim the country hasn’t dealt with the long-range health effects of the radiation fallout in the area since the first Manhattan Project bombs exploded there 70 years ago.

Read more at the Alamogordo Daily News. 

A report released yesterday from the Anti-Defamation League shows a 21 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks around the country in 2014—four of those right here in New Mexico.
They included anti-Semitic slurs written on mailing labels and stuck on the door of an Albuquerque Jewish delicatessen; the distribution of hate literature in Albuquerque; and anti-Semitic picketing in Santa Fe during a protest of the Israeli invasion and shelling of Gaza.

Rick Nathanson has details. 

The City of Albuquerque animal shelters appear to be allowing families to adopt dogs with a dangerous history of aggression.
In more than 100 cases last year, the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department has allowed the dogs to be adopted by families or returned to their owners even though they flunked nationally recognized standardized tests that showed the animals had dangerous tendencies.
Two employees have resigned in protest.
Both say they have taken their concerns to city animal welfare director Barbara Bruin, who has dismissed their complaints, overruled their recommendations and even reprimanded them for raising the public safety concerns.
Read Coleen Heild’s investigative report here. 

The US Attorney for the District of New Mexico Damon Martinez has been appointed vice chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee.

Read it at the Daily Times. 

Juvenile justice officials are considering closing youthful offender detention centers in Lincoln, Chavez and Eddy counties. If they do, offenders could be sent to Belen or McKinley county.

Read more at the Ruidoso News. 

Ecocats, Earthletes and Shades of Green. Those are your top three state high school Envirothon teams.
Envirothon is an international competition that tests students chops in topics about the environment and natural resource management—forestry, wildlife, aquatics, soils and a “current topic” that this year is urban and community forestry.

Good stuff at the Taos News. 

It’s taken years to get off the ground in Santa Fe, but after much hullabaloo, the 11-screen Violet Crown Theaters are set to open the doors of the brand-new Railyard space at the end of April.

Read more at SFR. 

Southwest Chief Chugs Along

Train won't bypass New Mexico and now officials are looking for way to cooperate

Local NewsMonday, March 30, 2015 by Justin Horwath

With Amtrak officials saying that its storied Southwest Chief route won't change course, the New Mexico Department of Transportation is working with local stakeholders to find funding to repair the old tracks that carry the train through various small towns in Northern New Mexico. 

Last year, BNSF Railway said it wouldn't pay for repairs on sections of the route that run through Kansas, Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Gov. Susana Martinez' administration balked at the idea of state taxpayers picking up the tab for upgrades of the route in New Mexico, in part because Amtrak already receives federal subsidies. 

The route runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. Click here for SFR's account of a ride along parts of the route, and an overview of the funding debate that threatened it last year.

"We continue to be supportive of the Southwest Chief and of keeping them in New Mexico," state transportation department spokeswoman Melissa Dosher writes in a statement to SFR. "The NMDOT is working on ways to help devise methods for funding the repairs on the portion of the tracks in New Mexico."

That includes coordination with the Southwest Chief Coalition, she writes, in attempting to apply for federal grants to finance track repairs in the state. In Kansas, she writes, officials obtained a so-called TIGER Grant from the federal Department of Transportation last year to help with infrastructure repairs while other municipalities in that state and Colorado participated in various levels of matching funding as a part of the grant.

"BNSF said it will have an updated cost estimate for maintaining the line in New Mexico next month," Dosher writes. "We continue a productive dialogue with Joe Boardman, the president of Amtrak."

 

Violet Crown Cinema Ready for its Close-Up

Santa Fe spin-off of the Austin-based cinema set for April 30 opening

Arts Monday, March 30, 2015 by Enrique Limón

After much hullabaloo, the 11-screen Violet Crown Theater is set to open the doors of the brand-new Railyard space on April 30. This after a private VIP reception scheduled for later this week.


The road to opening the movie house has not been a smooth one. Back in May 2013, we published concerns from area residents and business owners who opposed the theater. At the time some alleged “bad-faith dealing” over picking the Austin-based cinema’s bid over other viable ones.

Still, construction plans went forward, and now, along with offering new releases, classics, arthouse films, food and drink, theater owner Bill Banowsky hopes the multiplex will play host to initiatives involving local community groups.

“We’ve had a number of really positive conversations about how we can work together to utilize our cinema space in a way that is helpful to what they are doing,” he told SFR in December of last year.
 
The public opening is scheduled for Thursday, April 30, with the cinema’s Facebook page announcing Marvels’ Avengers: Age of Ultron for its maiden opening weekend.



DEA Downtown

Woman connected to Santa Fe Oxycodone ring gets time in prison

Local NewsMonday, March 30, 2015 by Joey Peters

A woman connected with the DEA raid of a Santa Fe boutique store will serve 18 months in federal prison after recently pleading guilty to distributing Oxycodone.

Sarah Romero, 35, is one of five Santa Fe residents who were arrested and charged in September 2013 with distributing the powerful prescription narcotic in Santa Fe County for at least nine months. Among the five defendants is 31-year-old Ashraf Nassar, store owner of Heavenly Boutique, the high-end women's clothing store formerly located just off the Plaza on West Santa Francisco Street downtown.

During the raid of the store and two homes, federal agents seized 7,300 milligrams of Oxycodone, 270 marijuana plants and $1,000 in straight cash. 

So far, three of the five arrested, including Romero, Phillip Anaya and Daniel Trujillo, have entered plea deals since then. In addition to serving the 18 months in prison, Romero will also be supervised for three years afterwards. According to a press release by the US Attorney's Office, Anaya will serve 46 months in federal prison while Trujillo faces up to 20 years in custody.

Nassar and Krystal Holmes have pleaded not guilty and still await trial.

All were charged with a 16-count indictment for taking part in a Oxycodone traffic ring. 

In 2013, Nassar also made headlines for getting into violent disputes with his cousin, Musa Nassar, who runs the jewelry store Santa Fe West Gallery just across the street from his cousin's store (for more on those events, which included a drive-by and 32 pounds of pot, click here). At the time, Ashraf and Musa were apparently fighting over $500,000 Palestinian territory belonging to their family.

Morning Word: Mixed Economic Signals

Job growth up, but middle class shrinks

Morning WordMonday, March 30, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
We've got spring fever and 12th-graders have senioritis. Can something be done to keep the state's most talented youth from leaving home for good? We begin the last week of March with mixed economic news.

It's Monday, March 30, 2015

New Mexico continues to rank ahead of Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama as the state most dependent on federal government spending. Two national labs and a slew of bases account for most of it, but so does the state's high poverty rate.

Richard Metcalf has the details. 

The increase in poverty is another sign that New Mexico's middle class is shrinking faster than in other states.

Joey Peters recaps Stateline's infographic.

Another signal is the state's ever-present brain drain. Students in Carlsbad, for instance, love growing up there, but most say they don't plan to return after four years of college.

Read more in the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

If you plan to join the other 1,300 or more New Mexicans ready to emigrate to another state for work, then you'll want to consider riding the rails. Amtrak has decided it will continue to roll through Northern New Mexico, with stops in Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy on its way to Albuquerque and on west to Los Angeles.
This ends more than two years of fear and uncertainty in Northern New Mexico’s smaller communities about whether Amtrak would alter the route and leave them without a stream of visitors with money to spend.
Amtrak had wanted officials in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to ensure track maintenance. Even without a line in the state budget for direct repairs, New Mexico Transportation Secretary Tom Church says his group is “devising ways to pay for repairs in New Mexico.”

Milan Simonich has the good news. 

Winthrop Quigley rolled out a two-part series in the Albuquerque Journal comparing how police officers in Tucson and Albuquerque respond to people suffering from mental illness.
Paul Hopkins, a veteran mental health counselor in Albuquerque and a member of the chamber’s mental health systems task force, said the key difference is that the Tucson area has a system with which to deliver mental health services and the Albuquerque area does not.
It’s an important series, considering that nearly a fifth of New Mexicans suffer from mental illness.

Read it at the ABQ Journal.

A passionate plea from New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil to state lawmakers for more money worked. Legislators bumped funding up 2.8 percent, but now court administrators and public defenders have their fingers crossed the governor signs off on their $161 million budget allocation.

Phaedra Haywood has details. 

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, and Bernalillo County Opioid Abuse Accountability Initiative Committee Co-Chairman Harris Silver also have their fingers crossed that the governor signs off on a measure that will allow the state jail and corrections officials to help get inmates signed up for Medicaid before they are released. That could prevent long gaps in behavioral and mental health care services.

Oliver Uyttebrouck has the story. 

The New Mexico attorney who sued the Albuquerque Journal for libel in the early 1980s has died.
William Marchiondo was 87.

Read more at JoeMonahan.com

For the first time since 1975, the General Social Survey (GSS) has found that a majority—52 percent—of Americans support marijuana legalization. That’s a 9 percent jump since 2012.

Read the poll's results at High Times. 

A four-part newspaper series on the pitfalls of marijuana legalization in Colorado is getting panned by the Columbia Journalism Review after details surfaced that Colorado Gazette editors never disclosed the freelance reporter it hired to write “Clearing the Haze” was anti-pot from the get-go.
"The general public reading this will have no idea that Christine is extremely opposed to marijuana legalization and that she’s married to a doctor that has been one of the most vocal voices in this whole process warning of the potential unintended consequences of all this,” says Ricardo Baca, editor of the Denver Post’s marijuana news and culture blog The Cannabist
Read more at the Columbia Journalism Review. 

Farmers around New Mexico, looking for a new cash crop that doesn't use a lot of water, hope that Gov. Susana Martinez takes US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s, R-Kentucky, lead and signs a bill that will allow New Mexico State University to import industrial hemp seeds and study the plant. But first she may need to bury the hatchet with the Democrat senator who sponsored the bill.

Read it at Ringside Seat. 

The Public Service Company's confidential plans to acquire a new source of coal for its 40-year-old San Juan plant has irked open government supporters and renewable energy advocates.

Patrick Lohmann has more.

Good News on a Friday? New Mexico Adds Nearly 16,000 Jobs in Year

Unemployment down, too

Local NewsFriday, March 27, 2015 by Justin Horwath
New Mexico added nearly 16,000 jobs from February 2014 while the unemployment rate dropped over the year, the New Mexico Department of Workforce solutions announced Friday. 

With the state adding 15,900 jobs, the over-the-year job growth rate in February 2015 came to 2 percent, the department said.

"This is New Mexico's thirtieth consecutive month of over-the-year employment growth and the most substantial growth the state has seen since December 2006," reads the department's release. "This is also the first month since May 2006 that no industry has posted an over-the-year loss in employment."

Education and health services added 4,300 jobs, it said, a gain of 3.4 percent, accounting for more than a fourth of jobs gains in the state over the year.

New Mexico's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6 percent in February, up from 5.9 percent in January, said the department. In February 2014, New Mexico's unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. 

We're still behind the national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent. The only neighboring state with higher unemployment is Arizona, at 6.5 percent, according to preliminary Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Utah's unemployment rate is 3.4 percent. Oklahoma's is 3.9 percent. Colorado's is 4.2 percent. In Texas, the unemployment rate is 4.3 percent.

New Mexico's Dwindling Middle Class

The Land of Enchantment's middle class is smaller and shrinking faster than most other states

Local NewsFriday, March 27, 2015 by Joey Peters

Stateline, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, put together a neat (albeit sobering) infographic this week analyzing how much the middle class is shrinking in each state.

The news isn't good for anyone, as all 50 states saw a drop in middle class households since the turn of the millennium. But it's especially bad for the Land of Enchantment.

New Mexico's middle class saw a drop of nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2013, or more specifically from 48 percent to 43.2 percent of the state's households.

That's comparable to states like Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, North Dakota and Ohio. Only Wisconsin, according to the chart, had a higher middle class drop during the same time period, totaling 6 percent.

Stateline compiled the graph using data from the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey and the University of Minnesota's Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.

The news organization defines "middle class" as households making between 67 percent and 200 percent of their state's median income. That's significant because New Mexico's median income is lower than most other states in the country. And the Stateline report notes that the drop in middle class households occurred "even as the median income in most states declined, when adjusted for inflation."

New Mexico's 2013 median income was $43,872, a drop from $47,035 in 2000 when adjusted for inflation.

For perspective's sake, Texas' 2013 median income ranked at $51,704; Colorado's was $58,823; Utah's was $59,770 and Arizona's was $48,510. It's also worth nothing that each of New Mexico's neighboring states' share of middle class sit between 45 percent and 52 percent of all households—which are all higher that New Mexico.

For more, click here.

Graphic courtesy Stateline.

This Weekend

Put on your kimono

Weekend PicksFriday, March 27, 2015 by SFR

Scuba

Check out the work of Sandra Wang and Crockett Bodelson.

More Info >>

50 Watt Whale

Have some drinks and tap your toes with this local Rock band.

More Info >>


Japanese Cultural Festival

This event features stage performances throughout the day. For complete schedule click here.

More Info >>

MüShi

Jazz gets fiery with this fusion trio.

More Info >>


From Charlie Chaplin to Leonard Bernstein

Vocalists Patty Stephens and David Jenness and the John Rangel Trio perform in support of Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

More Info >>

Sweet Georgia Brown

This documentary celebrates the contributions of African-American women during World War II. The screening is accompanied by remarks from director Lawrence E. Walker and others. Call for reservations.

More Info >>




Get more information about how to spend your fun days when you sign up for the SFR Weekend newsletter, delivered to your inbox each Friday afternoon.

Morning Word: Female Therapist Investigated for Sexual Assault on Teen Offender

CYFD turns probe over to New Mexico State Police

Morning WordFriday, March 27, 2015 by Peter St. Cyr
A dozen teenage boys are being relocated from a detention center after one of them was apparently sexually assaulted by a female therapist. With the investigation ongoing, the director of the state’s juvenile justice system has resigned after two years. Also, Gov. Susana Martinez could be catapulted onto the Republican’s 2016 presidential ticket if she signs Rep. Zach Cook’s bill limiting property seizures.

It's Friday, March 27, 2015

A big shakeup in the New Mexico juvenile justice system after a teenage male offender was allegedly assaulted by a female staff therapist at a facility in Lincoln County.

Coleen Heild investigates. 

A thermal reaction between cat litter and nitrate salts inside a nuclear waste disposal container shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad likely caused its lid to pop and allow gases to leak out last year, according to an independent report released by the US Energy Department.

Read more at the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

The flu virus is still attacking residents around the state. The Department of Health reports 28 flu-related deaths this season, including the death of a baby in Doña Ana County.

Read it at SFR. 

Meanwhile, a discovery of “fancy water” at the labs may help doctors fight deadly bacterial infections. 

Read it at the ABQ Journal. 

The US Census Bureau shows areas around New Mexico’s oil field continue to be in the Top 10 fastest-growing areas in the nation.
The Hobbs area saw its population increase more than 2 percent to nearly 70,000 between July 2013 and July 2014. The area’s population in 2010 was listed as 64,727. 
Overall, New Mexico actually had a net loss of residents.

Vik Jolly has details. 

New Mexico tribes could be considering joining the growing medical marijuana industry. Tribes could leverage their sovereignty to grow marijuana for dispensaries, researchers and pharmaceutical companies, the consultants said, or even open resorts on tribal land that would target marijuana users.

Phaedra Haywood reports. 

Lawmakers approved a hemp research bill earlier this month, but Joey Peters reports that even if Gov. Susana Martinez signs the measure, it will be awhile before farmers start planting seeds.

Read it at SFR. 

Lawmakers may have opted not to reform the state’s payday loan rules in New Mexico, but now that industry could face new federal regulations.
The proposed regulations are designed to keep cash-strapped Americans from falling into what the agency describes as a predatory debt trap in which they must take out new loans to pay off the old ones — ultimately paying more in fees than the original amount they borrowed. 
Read it at the Los Angeles Times. 

People opposed to abusive property seizures by police are urging Gov. Martinez to sign a bill that cracks down on the policy. If she signs it, she could end up on the 2016 Republican presidential ticket. Here’s the money quote from the Washington Times:
"The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, is expected to sign the measure, making it the law, and it could catapult her to consideration for a place on the Republican ticket next year." 
Read more here. 

Dan Mourning, the manager of Expo New Mexico, says lawmakers' failure to pass a capital outlay bill will set important building projects back even further. Mourning had wanted $11 million to fix up the fair property.

Charles Brunt has the story. 

Blogger Joe Monahan says sprucing up or rebuilding Expo’s Tingley Coliseum is long overdue.

Read his take here. 

Train advocates continue to urge Gov. Martinez to support a $4-million-a-year cost-sharing agreement that would upgrade 636 miles of track from Lamy to eastern Kansas.

Read it at ABQ Business First. 

Jason Gibbs reports that officials are fast-tracking plans to study an international rail crossing at the Santa Teresa border.
Bill Mattiace, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority, said the project would be another key element in building the Santa Teresa area into a regional powerhouse for international trade and help attract more businesses to the industrial parks developing near the border crossing. 
Read it at the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Bernalillo County Commissioners have delayed action on the large 22-square-mile master land plan. Santolina would be developed on almost 13,800 acres of Bernalillo County land located southwest of Albuquerque — a long-term plan that would bring residential and commercial components to the site. 
Commissioners, it appears, want to see a development agreement before making their decision.

Read it at ABQ Business First.

Gov. Martinez has ordered flags flown at half-staff today in honor of Navajo Nation Police Officer Alex Yazzie, who was killed last week.

Read her proclamation here.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified the first name of state Rep. Zach Cook.



If Signed, How Narrow Will State Interpret Hemp Law?

Local NewsThursday, March 26, 2015 by Joey Peters

One of the rare bills that cruised through both chambers of the state Legislature this session would allow the state to grow hemp for research purposes.

Based on how the state Department of Agriculture interprets the legislation, New Mexico farmers still may not be able to grow the plant for a while. Jessica Gelay, a policy coordinator with Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, says that based on her reading of the bill, nothing would prevent the Department of Agriculture, which is housed at New Mexico State University, from being able to contract with private farmers to grow hemp, so long as its tied to research purposes.

But Gelay says that during committee discussions, lawmakers spoke about only allowing the department to grow hemp.

"Certainly the discussions did not indicate they'd be licensing anyone but New Mexico State University," Gelay says.

The bill, which currently sits on the governor's desk, is based on the 2013 federal Farm Bill, which allows states to write their own laws to grow hemp for research purposes. Though that research must be tied to a university or an agriculture department, states like Kentucky also allow private farmers to grow hemp, as long as they're contracted with the state or a university. 

Earlier this month, Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Katie Goetz pointed SFR to a federal Drug Enforcement Agency memo to Kentucky that appears to abide by a more conservative interpretation of Section 7606 of the 2013 Farm Bill.

"Only institutions of higher education and State departments of agriculture may be used to grow or cultivate industrial hemp," reads the letter, dated May 22, 2014. "Accordingly, it is the position of DEA that Section 7606 does not provide any authorization to private growers who are not institutions of higher education or a State department of agriculture within the meaning of Section 7606."

Gelay stresses, however, that the New Mexico hemp bill will give the state authority to write its own hemp rules if the federal government lifts more restrictions for growing the plant. That clears a path to commercial production of the plant without having to pass another bill in the state legislature.

Gov. Susana Martinez has remained mum on whether she'll sign the hemp bill, sponsored by state Sen. Cisco McSorely, D-Bernalillo. The bill passed both chambers with wide bipartisan support.

Morning Word: Special Session Up in the Air
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