Heinrich votes against prescription drug imports

Martin Heinrich was one of 13 Democratic U.S. senators who voted against legislation earlier this week that would have allowed Americans to buy prescription drugs from other countries.

The measure, a health care reform idea often supported by progressives, came as an amendment to legislation aimed at changing Senate rules to allow majority votes on budget bills. The procedural changes, which the Senate narrowly approved in the early hours of Thursday, are the first step in Republican plans to repeal as much of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, as they can.

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Lawmakers look at slicing APS into smaller districts

Near the end of his announcement for mayor last weekend, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis took a shot at the city’s public school district, saying it needed “radical repair.”

With more than 95,000 students in the school system, APS ranks as the 31st largest public school district in the nation—outsizing the public school systems in bigger cities like Detroit, San Francisco and Boston.

Lewis is making the idea of breaking up the school district a part of his mayoral platform. To do so requires action from the state legislature.

State Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, could be the lawmaker that takes on the issue this legislative session, which starts next week. Read the full story here

The line starts here: ABQ’s crowded mayoral race

The race for Albuquerque mayor became a major focus for a group of Democrats, one Republican and one independent over the weekend.

On Saturday, a group of Democrats spoke about their respective visions of what the next mayor of Albuquerque should focus on, while Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis officially announced his intention to run for the city’s top office on Sunday afternoon.

Lewis told supporters gathered at the business incubator Fat Pipe ABQ that he will focus on public safety, economic development and education. Read the full story here. 

2016 Top Stories: Demesia Padilla resigns

A year and a half after a preliminary probe from the State Auditor’s office concluded that Demesia Padilla used her state position to benefit her former private client, the Taxation and Revenue Department secretary resigned from office this month after nearly six years on the job.

The revelations of an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Hector Balderas revealed far more potential misconduct from Padilla.

First, TRD employees interviewed corroborated previous reports and evidence that Padilla, as head of the department that taxes New Mexicans, did insert herself into the audit of a company she previously did accounting work for.

But a search warrant affidavit filed by Attorney General Special Agent Ed Griego revealed that Padilla may have also embezzled money from the client, Harold’s Grading and Trucking—more than $25,000 in all.

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Beyond the food tax: Legislators aim for an overhaul of the system

Media coverage of planned tax legislation has so far focused on one hot-button topic of the proposal—reinstating a state tax on food.

Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester and advocacy groups like New Mexico Voices for Children have vocally opposed the idea.

But the two state representatives behind the proposal have not actually filed any legislation on the matter for the session that begins in January. Legislators could begin introducing bills on Dec. 15.

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said any proposal he introduces will aim at a near-complete overhaul of the state’s complex gross receipts tax (GRT) system. 

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State auditor opens special audit on Jal water issues

State Auditor Tim Keller recently designated the City of Jal for a special audit on the city’s water billing issues.

The move comes two months after Keller’s office opened a case into an arrangement where the city in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch gave a local ranch a discount on utility water worth $1.2 million over a 25-month period between 2012 and 2014.

NM Political Report, in partnership with the Jal Recordfirst reported on the city’s water deal with the Beckham Ranch in September.

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Congressional Dems decry ‘McCarthy-era tactics’ in abortion investigation

A controversial congressional panel investigating abortion practices in New Mexico and the across the country is under scrutiny for its tactics and mission from some of its own members.

In a report released this week titled “Setting the Record Straight: The Unjustifiable Attack on Women’s Health Care and Life-Saving Research,” Democratic members of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives skewered the majority in the committee for using “McCarthy-era tactics” to conduct “an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care.”

The Select Panel, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, earlier this year sought subpoenas from Southwestern Women’s Options and the University of New Mexico and recommended the state Attorney General open a criminal investigation into the health clinic’s fetal tissue donation policy to the university.

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What do Trump’s trade proposals mean for New Mexico?

Just months before Donald Trump’s surprise victory to the nation’s top office, Gov. Susana Martinez penned an op-ed about a bright spot in New Mexico’s otherwise weak economy.

That bright spot is also a geographical location—the border.

“We are quickly positioning our state as a gateway of international trade throughout the Americas,” Martinez wrote in June, “and we are embracing our newly found leadership role, which wouldn’t be possible without the cross-border relationships we’ve built.”

Last year, for example, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, respectively, ranked as the two metropolitan areas in the nation with the highest economic growth in exports. In 2012 and 2014, New Mexico also led the nation in export growth.

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Bill would force internet devices to filter pornography, other ‘obscene’ material

A New Mexico legislator is getting on board with an effort to force manufacturers of electronics that connect to the internet to install filtering devices that would block online “obscenity.”

State Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, told NM Political Report he plans to sponsor a bill that would do so in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

The bill, called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, is backed by a group attempting to introduce identical bills in the legislatures of at least 23 other states this coming year. Nine state legislators and 11 lobbyists are listed as members of the national group, which bears the same name as the legislation, according to the group’s website.

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Union questions tactics in ‘ramped-up’ food benefits investigation

The state and federal government have “ramped up their investigations” of the New Mexico’s alleged widespread falsification of food aid applications, according to the union that represents the state’s case processors in the Human Services Department.

And the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 18 question whether investigators are targeting “frontline workers” more than the administrators at HSD for responsibility in the scandal.

An online post from AFSCME also claims that the investigation is criminal and advises all union members to “contact your union representative before participating in any interview.”

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A surreal, bizarre election night for state Dems, GOP

A night that ended with one of the most stunning upsets in modern presidential history began, in Albuquerque and likely in many other cities throughout the country, with Democrats feeling optimistic about the country on the cusp of electing its first female president.

At the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque, an enthusiastic crowd of state Democrats gathered to watch the election results and, they thought, to welcome Hillary Clinton to the White House.

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who easily won reelection to represent the Albuquerque area, showed up wearing a white pantsuit. She also wore a button bearing Clinton’s face on her chest

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Albuquerque Journal cuts staff, including in newsroom

New Mexico’s biggest daily newspaper is scaling back.

The Albuquerque Journal recently eliminated six positions, including one in the newsroom, according to Brian Fantl, the newspaper’s senior vice president and chief operating officer.

On top of this, five more reporters recently left the newsroom, and it’s unclear whether their positions will be refilled.

One of those positions, which belonged to staff writer Ollie Reed, is getting eliminated, Fantl confirmed. Reed was laid off Thursday.

Others “may come back on consultant agreements,” Fantl said.

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In Albuquerque, Trump promises he will win New Mexico

Donald Trump has lagged in support behind Hillary Clinton in New Mexico in all public polls this election season.

But the boisterous Republican presidential nominee promised a crowd of roughly 2,500 people he would win the state. The crowd gathered Sunday to hear Trump speak in an airplane hanger just outside of the Albuquerque International Sunport.

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AG says APS violated open records law. Now they’re still denying a mother the documents

For more than a year, Laura Gutierrez has been at standstill in a dispute with the state’s largest public school district.

Gutierrez is seeking records from an internal investigation of an Albuquerque Public Schools police officer that came after she alleged the officer tased her son during the fall of 2014.

While APS handed over a memo stating that the investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, it also withheld releasing supporting documents like a field investigator’s supplemental report, witness statements and a forensic interview conducted with Gutierrez’s son, Michael Bruening.

“I should be able to know what my son said in the interview,” Gutierrez, who formerly went by the name Laura Bruening, told NM Political Report.

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Former election foe stands by hacking allegations against Senate candidate

More than a year before announcing his candidacy in a high-profile race for a state senate seat, Diego Espinoza filed a defamation lawsuit against a 2014 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

The lawsuit alleged that Espinoza experienced “public and personal humiliation,” among other damages, after candidate David Clements accused him of hacking his campaign email account.

Now, nine months after a judge dismissed the case with prejudice, Clements can still publicly make the allegation against Espinoza.

“If there’s any benefit or silver lining to deal with Espinoza’s frivolous lawsuit, it’s that to the day I die I can tell anyone who asks me, ‘Yeah, he hacked me,’” Clements, who ran for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2014 on a libertarian-minded platform, said.

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Reports: Jal gave ranch million-dollar water discount

JAL - Like many areas in New Mexico, water is in short supply in this southeastern oil patch town of 2,500 people.

In the past few years, city officials have tried to address the matter by limiting water use, including barring businesses from buying city water for industrial use in the summer of 2013.

But between 2012 and 2014, the city gave one ranch an unusual perk — a more than $1 million discount in its water bills. On top of this, Jal continued to sell industrial water to Beckham Ranch, Inc. for six months after the ban went into effect.

Public records indicate that the city gave Beckham Ranch $1.2 million in credits for water billed and charged to this ranch between August 2012 and April of 2014, during an oil boom in southeastern New Mexico.

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House candidate faces deposition in civil case after ex-employee’s child rape conviction

A candidate for the state House of Representatives will have to answer questions about one of her former employees who pleaded guilty to raping one child and molesting another, according to a ruling by a district judge.

The ruling comes after Rebecca Dow, a Republican looking to win election to a House seat in Truth or Consequences, allegedly stonewalled the mother of one of the two child victims from seeking information about the employee who molested her child.

That employee, Alejandro Hernandez, worked for the Sierra County chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. He is now serving a six-year prison sentence for harming both children.

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House Majority Leader gave staffer big contracts after the session ended

New Mexico lawmakers haven’t been in session for nearly seven months, but that didn’t stop the majority leader of the state House of Representatives from awarding more than $100,000 in contracts to his top staffer.

But Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, defended the contracts of his de-facto chief of staff Ryan Gleason as “well worth the expenditure.”

Gentry snagged Gleason — an attorney who previously was a legislative assistant Sen. Pete Domenici, the New Mexico state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a research director for the state Taxation and Revenue Department — from state Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro.

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Lawsuit: Company managing NM welfare program told employees to commit fraud

A month after five state of New Mexico employees testified in federal court that they were instructed to falsify emergency food aid applications, another lawsuit filed in Las Cruces district court made strikingly similar allegations.

But instead of directing her allegations toward state government, Lorraine McCullough directed her allegations toward SL Start and Associates, a private, Washington state-based company that bills itselfas a health provider for adults and children with developmental disabilities.

That’s because this company is contracted with the state Human Services Department to manage the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). TANF is the program most commonly called welfare.

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The state messed up this family’s benefits—and now wants the family to pay

After receiving federal food aid benefits for nearly a year to help feed themselves and their now four-month-old infant, Amphai Kelley and Somkid Krotha benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, recently expired.

That’s not necessarily their problem.

New Mexico’s Human Services Department also wants the couple to pay back more than $2,000 in food aid awarded to the couple since last fall. The state now says they shouldn’t have received the food aid in the first place.

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