Judge stops, for now, some of state’s reasons for denying wage theft claims

A judge temporarily halted a New Mexico state agency’s self-imposed limitations on wage theft claims.

In a ruling Tuesday afternoon, Santa Fe District Judge David Thomson ordered that, for now, the state Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) cannot automatically deny complaints of wage theft that total more than $10,000. The state department is also not allowed to automatically turn down claims that happened more than a year before they’re made. “Wage theft” refers to an employer denying payments owed to an employee in any way, which can include paying below minimum wage and refusing to pay overtime, for example. Thomson’s temporary restraining order against the state comes because of a class-action lawsuit filed just two weeks ago by “low income workers” who made wage theft claims against their employers to DWS. Ten individuals named in the lawsuit allege that DWS’ handling of their wage theft claims violate multiple state laws.

Senate panel advances background check bill

A state Senate committee listened to an hour of emotional testimony Tuesday, then voted 5-3 on party lines to advance a bill expanding background checks for people buying guns. The packed hearing room included a sea of red T-shirts worn by members of a gun safety advocacy group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Many people fighting the measure also turned out, including a group of law enforcement officials who wore stickers announcing their opposition to Senate Bill 48 and the identical House Bill 50, which is scheduled for its first committee hearing Saturday. People on both sides of the issue shared personal stories with the Senate Public Affairs Committee about how violence has adversely affected their lives. Robin Brulé of Albuquerque, who supports expanding background checks, recounted how a robber shot and killed her mother, a 75-year-old retired teacher, last year in Arizona.

After Trump order, NM colleges, universities urge affected students not to leave country

At least three four-year universities in New Mexico are telling international students affected by President Trump’s controversial executive order affecting immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries to not leave the United States. The University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology formally instructed international students from any of the seven countries to not travel outside the U.S. in the near future. Trump’s executive order temporarily bars those from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country. “Citizens of those countries, who wish to return to the US, should not plan to travel abroad at this time,” UNM wrote in a news release Monday. In his weekly letter to students and faculty, UNM Acting President Chaouki Abdallah noted that Trump’s order affects “more than 100 individuals in the UNM community.”

On Sunday, NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers made a similar call to his students.

Lawmakers push for ‘aid in dying’ in NM

Michael McCamley liked to plan. It was part of his job in the U.S. Army and according to his son, state Rep. Bill McCamley of Dona Ana County, that instinct to plan for the unexpected extended to family matters, including death. In 2010, doctors diagnosed the retired lieutenant colonel with a rare, terminal disease similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. After discussing it with his family, the elder McCamley decided to fill out an advance directive stating that he was not to be kept alive artificially if and when that time came. “Everyone knew what the situation was and what his decision was,” Rep. McCamley said.

Legislators look ahead to deal with next budget

When state Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest goes before lawmakers to speak about his budget for the Medicaid insurance program, many want to run for cover. One year, he needed as much as $100 million from the general fund to fully pay for all the new enrollees under the federal Affordable Care Act and provide the same level of service. Last fall, he said he needed another $80 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. On Thursday, he told the House Appropriations and Finance Committee that request had dropped to $42 million. “This is a significantly better picture than you saw in the fall,” Earnest said.

NM Dems file legislation to blunt Trump’s impact

A local legislator’s bill to bar New Mexico law enforcement from imposing federal immigration laws is getting attention as a measure to challenge President Trump’s expected crackdown on illegal immigration. “Given the repressive potential coming from the Trump administration, I wanted to make sure our immigrant community felt safe and protected,” the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said in a recent interview. Hers is just one of several proposals sitting before the New Mexico Legislature directly reflect what’s happening as a result of 2016’s contentious campaign and the election of Donald Trump as president. State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, for example, is carrying a bill that would require New Mexico’s electors to cast their votes to reflect the national popular vote. State Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, has a measure to eliminate “faithless” electors, or state electors who cast votes without abiding by their state’s vote totals.

EPA freeze worries conservationists, some elected officials

It was a tumultuous week for federal employees. On Monday, President Donald Trump announced a hiring freeze across the government. The administration also suspended social media posts from at least five agencies, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On top of that, news trickled out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was freezing all new grants and contracts. While hiring freezes aren’t uncommon, the EPA’s stay appears to be unusual, if not unprecedented.

Disputes linger on where to scrounge funds for state budget fix

While lawmakers say measures to patch an unconstitutional budget hole are the 2017 Legislature’s first priority, disagreements over a solvency package Tuesday kept most of the plan from moving forward to the governor. Four bills together would roll back some capital construction projects, sweep money from cash balances, including dollars earmarked for education reforms and economic development, and tap into reserve funds squirreled away by school districts and charter schools. “No one’s happy about having to cut the public schools in the middle of the year,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. The exact amount of money that lawmakers scrape together will depend on the final version, but the legislation would beef up state government’s $6 billion general operating fund by adding some $260 million. If signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, as expected, the solvency plan would close a $70 million deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Questions remain as company seeks to re-open long-defunct copper mine

Turning off I-25, south of Truth or Consequences, drivers head west through long, open stretches of creosote bush and honey mesquite. On stormy days the scent of rain on that Chihuahuan desert scrub sneaks its way into cars and trucks, even through closed windows. It’s only a 30-minute drive from the interstate to Hillsboro, but the trip is reminder that small communities in the southwestern part of the state still have a close relationship with the land—and with history. Only about 100 people live in Hillsboro, which today includes a smattering of houses and galleries, a post office and the General Store and Cafe on the south side of Percha Creek. But at its peak in the 1880s, the town was more than 10 times that size.

Cannabis patients, producers push for expansion of program

Eight years ago, Sean Gabaldon didn’t think too much about cancer. As a high school basketball coach he strived to be an example of health to the boys on his team. One day he went to urgent care because his body felt as if he had “done a bunch of sit ups.” After a series of scans that day, doctors diagnosed Gabaldon with stage-four Burkitt lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. Gabaldon never went back to work as a teacher and coach after that initial diagnosis. “It moved so quick, I literally went home for the weekend and never came back,” Gabaldon said.