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Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 p.m. MST

  • DRY NEW MEXICO

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's top water adviser is warning New Mexico lawmakers that spring runoff is expected to be grim. Mike Hamman legislative committee members Tuesday that short-term voluntary water conservation programs like leaving some agricultural fields unplanted for a season or two would help New Mexico meet its water delivery obligations to neighboring states. Other southwestern U.S. water users are already taking action such as leaving water in Lake Mead and sending more water to Lake Powell to ensure obligations along the Colorado River can be met. In New Mexico, officials are seeking a $48 million appropriation to expand the program that pays farmers to leave fields fallow. 

  • VIRGIN GALACTIC-TAXES

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Pity the poor space flight passenger: Flying up up and away from Earth could get even more expensive as New Mexico lawmakers consider taxing the tickets on Virgin Galactic. A bipartisan bill in the state Legislature would close a loophole excluding spaceflight passenger tickets from gross receipts taxes. The move aims to harvest revenue as Virgin Galactic prepares for regular commercial service. The company told investors it had about 700 reservations already. With the ticket price of $450,000, the tax would be at least $31,000. Virgin Galactic said it will continue working with the state to grow aerospace in New Mexico.

  • PETROGLYPHS DAMAGED

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Federal officials are investigating spray-painted graffiti and other damage to petroglyphs dating back thousands of years at a site west of Santa Fe. A U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman says the damage to La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs likely occurred Jan. 18. The agency's field office in Taos has ordered supplies to try and remove the paint, but the agency says the long-term effects are unknown. According to a news release, those convicted of damaging cultural sites face penalties of up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine per charge under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

  • NEW MEXICO-PRETRIAL DETENTION

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Mothers who lost their sons to violence are telling New Mexico lawmakers that something has to be done. Prosecutors from around the state say judges need more information to determine if defendants are too dangerous to be released while waiting for their trials. The mothers testified Monday as the debate over the state's pretrial detention system began in the Legislature. They argued that proposed legislation would ensure the most dangerous suspects accused of murder, rape or other violent crimes remain behind bars. Civil rights advocates, public defenders and others have concerns about the constitutionality of the proposal and say it would generate more legal challenges.

  • COVID-19 TESTING FACILITY CLOSURES

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two New Mexico COVID-19 testing sites that were not on the list of facilities approved by state public health officials have closed indefinitely. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the New Mexico Attorney General's Office said in a statement it will investigate the Illinois-based operator, Center for COVID Control. The operator ran roughly 300 testing sites nationwide including one in Santa Fe and one in Albuquerque. According to its website, sites are closed so that all staff can undergo more training. Center for COVID Control has been plagued with allegations including listing insured patients as uninsured. The Rolling Meadows, Illinois company is facing state investigations elsewhere.

  • UNSALARIED LEGISLATURE-NEW MEXICO

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The nation's only unsalaried legislature is considering whether to abandon its amateur status. A New Mexico Senate panel on Monday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would enable the state's 112 legislators to collect salaries. Approval by the New Mexico Legislature would send the measure to a statewide vote. New Mexico's "citizen legislature" of volunteer politicians has long been a source of civic pride in the state. Proponents of legislative salaries say steady pay would attract more young candidates from working households to serve as lawmakers and alleviate some conflicts of interest.

  • TAX LAW-CITY LOSSES

HOBBS, N.M. (AP) — A southeastern New Mexico city is pushing to amend a state law that municipal officials say is resulting in an unintended loss of gross receipts tax revenue for their community. The measure passed by the New Mexico Legislature and enthusiastically signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2019 included complex changes to state tax laws. Among other things, it was billed as a way to help communities by requiring companies to pay gross receipt tax where services are provided rather than where the companies are located. Hobbs City Commissioner Dwayne Penick says the city could possibly be looking at losing $20,000 to $25,000 a month because of the destination tax.

  • NEW MEXICO-TEACHER SHORTAGE

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Educators gathered outside the state Capitol on Sunday, hoping lawmakers hear their plea that something be done to address New Mexico's teacher shortage. The rally was part of what union officials have dubbed the "3 Rs" campaign — respect, recruit and retain. In an online petition, organizers say the historic level of vacancies across all positions within the state's education system could jeopardize learning for generations of New Mexico students. They say there are more than 1,000 vacant licensed positions in the state and that those vacancies represent over 20,000 students without a well-trained, permanent classroom teacher.