It's battle of the budget as session nears end

From - by Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - State lawmakers will wrap up their sixty day session on Saturday, but the odds are they will be back in a special session. Gov. Susana Martinez says she will veto the budget bill and call lawmakers back in to come up with another one. Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith said talks continue with the Martinez administration, but there is no deal at this point. Martinez can't live with the budget that lawmakers crafted. Among other things, it leaves out $3 million in extra pay for outstanding teachers. Martinez also wants bigger tax cuts for businesses. New Mexico's corporate income tax rate is the highest in the region.
     "What the legislature has to do is have the desire and have the courage to put our kids first and to put our economy first, especially with the federal sequestration cuts looming over us we have to diversify our economy," she said. Democratic lawmakers say they're stunned that they will have to comeback in a special session over a $3 million difference in a budget that totals almost $6 billion.
     "The reality is that we would have to wait a couple weeks at least for people to go home and take care of any business, and then come back," said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat. "I don't think she would try to keep us here beyond Saturday, but I don't know. This is a Governor who doesn't disclose her information to us freely."
     A special session will cost the taxpayers about $40,000 a day, and that's on top of the regular session that's costing New Mexican's more than $8 million. Look for a special session sometime before the middle of May. That's mainly because the public schools will need budgets in place so they can do contracts with teachers and buy books and equipment and supplies for the school year that starts in August. Read more

Lawmakers approve change in email disclosure

New Mexico lawmakers have approved a policy that could shield legislators' email from disclosure through public records requests. 
The new legislative rule will govern how the Legislature handles requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act, which grants access to records about public business with certain exceptions, such as trade secrets. 
Legislators contend that much of their communication with constituents and others about legislation should remain confidential. Some lawmakers use email through personal accounts rather than a legislative email system. 
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government opposes the new records policy and disagrees with lawmakers who contend the state constitution provides special protections exempting legislative email from public disclosure.


Interior Secretary to settle northern NM water dispute

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be in New Mexico to finalize the latest settlement of a decades-long water rights battle in northern New Mexico
The Interior Department says Salazar will be meeting Thursday in Santa Fe with pueblo leaders from Tesuque, Nambe, Pojoaque and San Ildefonso. 
The water rights settlement was one of four included in legislation signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 that was aimed at delivering clean drinking water to tribes in New Mexico, Arizona and Montana
Under the agreement, a regional water system will be built to serve the four New Mexico pueblos and their neighbors. The federal government, the state and Santa Fe County will share the cost of building the system. 
The price tag has been estimated at more than $177 million.


Tainted heroin prevalent in San Miguel County

Authorities in northern New Mexico's San Miguel County say tainted heroin has caused one death and several hospitalizations among people booked into the county jail in Las Vegas in the past month. 
Detention Center Warden Patrick Snedeker says officials are using medical screenings and other steps to try to detect warning signs of use of contaminated heroin as people are taken into custody. 
Snedeker says symptoms include seizures, hyperventilation, hallucinations and dangerous changes in vital signs. 
He says the first case was when a 41-year-old woman died Feb. 19, a week after she was stricken at the jail and hospitalized.
According to the Las Vegas Optic, jail officials then began seeing the same symptoms in other inmates who were long-term chronic heroin users.


PERA proposal clears legislature

A proposal to improve the long-term finances of a pension plan for state and local government workers has cleared the Legislature and heads to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.  
The legislation would change benefits offered by the Public Employees Retirement Association, which has a $6 billion gap between its assets and the cost of future retirement benefits.
 The pension system covers nearly 90,000 state and local government workers and retirees. If signed into law by the governor, the legislation would lower yearly cost-of-living adjustments for pension benefits.
 The measure also would establish new retirement eligibility and benefits for employees hired after July 1.