Friday, April 10, 2009

US Energy Secretary: Mission of State's Labs Is Still Critical.

New United States Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is calling Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs an incredible intellectual treasure.

Chu say's their work will impact the sustained prosperity of the country.

He made his first trip to the state's labs on Thursday and Friday.

We were invited, on base, to listen to the Energy Secretary deliver remarks on the Role of Nuclear Security Labs in Meeting National Challenges.

Nearly 450 Sandia employees filled the Steve Schiff auditorium. Others watched on closed circuit television at NSA labs across the country.

Chu's remarks came just five days after President Obama outlined his new program to reduce the nation's nuclear stockpile and pursue a global ban on nuclear testing.

On April 5th Obama said, "the cold war has disappeared, but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the threat of a nuclear attack has gone up."

Obama also announced his plans to aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of a comprehensive test ban treaty. He’s also set a goal to reduce nuclear warheads and stockpiles.

The President says the U.S. will negotiate new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year.

“It is for that reason,” Secretary Chu says that “the NSA labs will continue to serve a critical mission, in many ways an even more critical mission, in non-proliferation activities of the United States.

Listen to this audio post to hear why Chu thinks the U.S. might be forced back into nuclear testing.

Chu said the U.S. does not want to restart nuclear weapons testing, but the prospect of proliferation around the world, especially among rouge nations and terrorists is growing.

The technical crowd laughed when Chu said, "“it’s the national labs who provide the technical expertise; so, that when we have intelligence that they can actually interrupt the intelligence correctly. They can actually tell the difference the difference between an aluminum tube and a centrifuge."

Chu said the NSA labs have an ability to work on large-scale projects using computer simulations to find methods for the world to mitigate climate changes. He also wants the labs to focus on developing renewable energy sources.

Chu, a former Nobel Prize winner, also talked about two other critical missions for Sandia and Los Alamos.

He says the NSA labs have an ability to work on large-scale projects using computer simulations to find methods to mitigate climate changes. Chu also wants the labs to focus on developing renewable energy sources.

Chu ended his speech with this profound thought:

Humans need to take care of the planet. There is no other place to go.

Bonus Audio: Chu’s Q&A with reporters following a tour of the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) Microelectronics Laboratory at Sandia National Laboratories.

Science Reporter John Fleck, who has covered the labs for years, blogged about Chu's visit here and here, and filed his story at the ABQJournal.

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Governor Flip Flops on Double Dipping!

On Friday, Gov. Bill Richardson changed his mind and vetoed a bill aimed to place more stringent restrictions on "double dippers." The issue has been in the spotlight ever since a local TV reporter chronicled several state workers who had "faked" their retirement and still collecting both a salary and pension.

The governor is allowed to change his mind, but on a windy afternoon in late February, Richardson told me personally he was going to sign legislation that would have curtailed the practice.

He said the double dipping was being abused and it needed to be restricted.

Richardson agreed it hurts the morale of many state employees "we're trying to move up" the ladder in state government.

Listen to our short one-minute conversation where the Governor promised to "sign it."

New Mexico Independent reporter Marjorie Childress wrote here that Richardson believes the system is generally “fair and efficient,” but that he does share concerns that it’s being abused.

Richardson said:
While in general this system is both fair and efficient — and provides for an experienced talent pool from which public agencies can hire skilled management and technical employees — in a few high profile, high salary cases there has been a perception in some quarters that this system has been abused. Frankly, I share that concern.

HB 616 was State Representative Lucky Varela. It would have required state workers to wait at least 365 days before being rehired. Their new salaries would have been capped at $35,000.

Earlier this week the Governor received a letter from NM Attorney General Gary King saying parts of the bill sent to the 4th floor for the Governor's signature could be unconstitutional.

Earlier this week, the Governor told me that he was measuring the public sentient and had polled state workers on their view of the proposed law. He also wanted to determine the fiscal impact of the contentious bill before making today's decision.

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Nearly $50 Miilion Awarded For Highway Construction Projects.

Gov. Bill Richardson says the state has awarded contracts for four highway reconstruction projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The projects are valued at around 50-million dollars and are expected to start in a month.

The Department of Transportation has awarded Silver City-based James Hamilton Construction, work on US-62/180 and New Mexico 128.

State officials say work on US-62/180 will take place from Carlsbad to the Texas State line. Some new lanes will be constructed. The cost is estimated at around 17 million dollars and should be done in 18 months. Work on New Mexico 128 will take place around Jal to the Texas state line. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
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NM Governor Faces Friday Deadlines.

Governor Bill Richardson has to either sign or veto any bills sent to him by the NM Legislature last month by the end of the day today.

One high profile measure remaining is a bill restricting double dipping by state employees. Originally, the governor indicated he would sign the contentious bill, but on Wednesday he told 770kkob he was having second thoughts after getting a letter from the State’s Attorney General Gary King warning him the bill could be challenged on constitutional grounds.

Yesterday, the governor signed three education bills and a slew of renewable energy and green jobs bills, including a renewable energy tax credit and funding for green job training.

A list of those bills is listed here.

Photo credit: Mark Bralley

Energy Secretary Visits National Labs in New Mexico.

The U.S. Secretary of Energy is making his first visit to Albuquerque today. Stephen Chu will tour the nuclear laboratories at Sandia national Labs. The energy secretary is expected to outline the critical role Sandia will play in advancing the nuclear security agenda outline earlier this week by President Barack Obama.

He’ll also talk about the contributions the labs make to addressing issues like energy security, climate change and even economic development.

Yesterday, Secretary Chu visited the labs in Los Alamos.

The energy secretary will be joined on the tour at Sandia Labs on Friday by Senate Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Freshman Congressman Martin Heinrich and longtime Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Governor: Looking for New Faces!

It's crunch time for Governor Bill Richardson.

There are only three days remaining for the Governor to make a decision to sign or veto a number of bills sent to him at the end New Mexico's legislature on March 21st.

Today, he signed eight bills on trips to Albuquerque and Roswell.

The governor says he's saving the most "contentious" bills until the last because he wants to make sure he understands public sentiment and their fiscal impact on an already tight state budget. (Although he didn't waste a lot of time signing the death penalty repeal once it reached his desk.)

Richardson also spent a minute telling us what qualities he's looking for in individuals seeking to replace County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta if she accepts an offer to become a Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Interior Department. Hint: He's looking for new faces.

In this audio post, Gov. Richardson says he still hasn't made up his mind on a bill that would place new limits on state workers who are "double dipping."

Earlier, at a memorial highway dedication for slain Sheriff's Deputy James McGrane Richardson told me he would sign the "double dipper" legislation if it reached his desk. But, he received a letter from NM Attorney General Gary King yesterday that warned the governor that some parts of the bill would not meet constitutional measure.

Currently, employees who retire must wait 90 days before going back on the state payroll. The bill he's considering now will force retirees to wait at least one year before being rehired and cap their salaries at $30,000.

At the end of the audio post above, we asked Gov. Richardson what qualities he's looking for in a candidate to replace Deanna Archuleta. He say's there's no shortage of people asking for the job. Joe Monahan and other bloggers have hinted former commissioners Lenton Malry and Tom Rutherford want the post. Other's have speculated that APS Board member and attorney Marty Esquivel is interested in the Commissioner's position.

Last weekend, we were the first to tweet that AMAFC Board member Danny Hernandez is seeking the appointment. Barbara Wold at Democracy for New Mexico also has a post here on Hernandez's ambitions.

Meanwhile today, the Governor signed a total of eight bills during trips to Albuquerque and Roswell.

Photo Credit: MG Bralley

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez joined Governor Bill Richardson and International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold A. Schaitberger at bill signing in downtown Albuquerque on April 8, 2009.

The first bill signed on Wednesday protects the health and lives of New Mexico’s firefighters, an important ignition interlock bill and two auto theft bills.

“Senate Bill 303, The New Mexico Occupational Disease Disablement Act, is an important measure that says ‘Thanks’ to our firefighters, the more than 1,300 men and women who risk their lives and health for the safety and well-being of the rest of us,” said Governor Richardson.

Richardson said, "Under SB 303 we will now have important occupational safeguards for our professional firefighters who expose themselves to stressful and disease-causing situations. Under this law, when firefighters become ill, they will be able to focus on treatment and care as opposed to litigating the causes of the disease or illness. Some of the diseases covered include a number of cancers, heart injury and stroke. New Mexico joins 42 other states with important presumptive causation laws for firefighters."

Senator Michael Sanchez sponsored SB 303.

Getting Tougher on DWI.

The Governor also signed Senate Bill 275. It requires DWI offenders to complete their court ordered mandate or six months of ignition interlock prior to getting their full driver’s license privileges back. Offenders will no longer get their license back until they have an interlock installed into a vehicle.

“No more excuses – if you don’t get an interlock because you don’t have a car --you wont be getting your license back until you get an interlock – period,” said Governor Richardson.

The Governor signed two important, duplicate, auto theft bills today, House Bill 31 (Rep. Bill Rehm) and Senate Bill 26 (Sen. Mary Jane Garcia). Both chambers passed the bills and both had bipartisan support. HB 31 and SB 26 increase the penalties for taking, receiving and embezzling vehicles.

There are a number of new, increased penalties under this law – including up to 9 times stiffer penalty for stealing or receiving a stolen car. Under the current law offenders only face 1 year in prison which will now be increased to up to 9 years. Taking or receiving a vehicle worth more than $20,000 is now a 2nd degree felony. A car worth less than $20,000 and more than $2,500 is now a 3rd degree felony and a car worth less than $2,500 is a 4th degree felony. And repeat offenses will now see stiffer penalties. And the new law includes tougher penalties for embezzlement and specifically targets chop shops.

“Auto theft is often linked to other crimes like robbery, drugs and identity theft,” said Governor Richardson. “So not only are we getting tougher on auto theft, we are also cracking down on crime in New Mexico.”

[Updated: 4/11/2009]

Bonus Audio: Governor's remarks to school children at Comanche Elementary before signing three education bills.

And Secretary of Public Education Veronica Garcia's comments on the bills and what she thinks about APS Board members excepting themselves from Character Counts! rules that apply to school children in their trust.

To see a full list of the action Governor Richardson has taken on the 2009 Legislative Bills, signed, vetoed and still pending, click here

Photo credit: MG Bralley

Governor Wants Consensus On Domestic Partnership Bill

Governor Bill Richardson says he won't put a domestic partnership measure on his special session call unless there is consensus between the Catholic Church and gay activists.

Listen to the governor's comments here:

This morning, Trip Jennings, at the New Mexico Independent, reported the governor wants to make sure there is a clear definition of domestic partnerships before moving forward.

We still don't understand why the Catholic Church needs to be consulted in a legal matter. But they have been flexing their muscle on this issue.

America's constitution is fairly clear on two points here.

First, there is a separation of church and state. Second, there should be no discrimination against any class of people, especially in 2009. Clearly the state does not recognize "church" weddings. Heterosexual couples must get a marriage license.

For extended coverage on the civil rights for the GLBT community read Barbara Wold's blog Democracy for New Mexico here. But, first listen to comments from Senate Majority leader Michael Sanchez.

He told us this morning that he doesn't believe any domestic partnership bills will be included in a "likely" special session this year, but he's optimistic that it can be passed next year, despite a resounding defeat this year.

Sen. Sanchez also told us he'd consider carrying the measure forward.

The majority, leader also told us webcasting on NM Senate proceedings is fine, "its got its time and its place." He predicts viewers will have a better [camera] angle next year where only one camera was placed at the back of the chamber.

In the audio above, Sen. Sanchez also told us if he decides to run for state office (he has told us before today that he has an interest in challenging Lt. Governor Diane Denish for the governor's job in 2010)he'll consider honoring political contribution limits before the 2011 start date.

We asked Sen. Sanchez if there needs to more ethics reform and transparency in the legislature before health care reform can be passed.

"We took some steps to make people understand that we are opening up our conference committee. There is more transparency. The campaign contribution limit is there, and I think it's good."

Sanchez also says it took him a few days after the grueling 60-day session to rejuvenate, but he's back on the job practicing law in Belen and Los Lunas.

Photo Credit: MG Bralley

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Sanchez Plans to Reintroduce Bill to Expunge Criminal Records.

Democrat Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez isn't giving up. Earlier today, Sanchez told us next January, during the short session he'll reintroduce legislation that would expunge some criminal records.

On Saturday, Governor Bill Richardson vetoed the measure at the urging of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

In this audio he explains it's important to allow people who have been wrongly arrested to have their records erased after a period of time.

Employers argued they need to know the backgrounds of their employees and prospective hires.

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Another Big Day of Bill Signings.

Governor Bill Richardson is keeping busy. He'll be in downtown Albuquerque this morning. Today, he's signing bills approved by legislators to toughen sentencing for auto thefts and DWI and another to give firefighters protection from occupational diseases. Later he's expected to sign legislation on meth abuse, domestic violence and even a measure prohibiting importing, transporting, breeding, or selling a live feral hog.

New Mexico ranks as one of the 10 worst out of more than 350 metro areas. But a new law, which will take effect July 1st, is being signed by the Governor today. It's aimed at changing that. Supporters hope strengthening laws will deter criminals by increases sentencing for those caught stealing vehicles.

The law changes with each conviction. Every time a person is convicted of stealing a car, the longer he or she will spend in jail.

State Rep. Bill Rehm from Albuquerque said, "It's going to take a while for the word to get out. And for the thieves to understand that the second time, you're going to jail for three years. The second time, nine years."

The Albuquerque's Chamber of Commerce lobbied for the bill and said getting off the top of the most stolen list would make the city more attractive to potential businesses.

Firefighter Occupational Disease Coverage

This morning, at AFD Station #1 in downtown Albuquerque, the governor will sign a bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Sanchez (D-Valencia). The bill provides an occupational disease presumtion for full time non-volunteer fire fighters for the purpose of making Workers Comp claims. The diseases covered are eleven cancers and five infectious disease. All have volumes of medical data linking our incidence of exposure to increased risk.

Complete coverage throughout the day on News Radio 770KKOB.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pretty in Pink: Breast Cancer Grants Announced Today.

When Nancy Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1982, an early breast cancer diagnosis had a five-year survival rate of 74 percent.

Today, with earlier detection and more effective treatments, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent. Moreover, nearly 75 percent of women over the age of 40 now receive regular mammograms - compared to just 30 percent in 1982.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has helped make the difference by investing more than $1.2 billion in research and community outreach.

Later today the Susan G. Komen for the Cure will announce $60-million in new grants today despite the recession. A complete list of the grants can be found on

Every fall, the Central New Mexico Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure hosts the Annual Central New Mexico Komen Race for the Cure. This year, more than 4,800 participants will run and walk their way to help find a cure for breast cancer. The Race includes a breast cancer survivor celebration, a 5K Run/Walk, a 1 Mile walk, sponsor tents and more.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Homeowners & Buyers Get Predatory Lending Protection

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish

The NM Mortgage Originators Licensing Act, a big part of Lt. Governor Diane Denish's legislative package, has been signed. It ensures public oversight of the mortgage originator industry which was previously unregulated.

On Monday, Denish said:
New Mexico now has the strongest consumer protection for home buyers in the nation. Licensing of mortgage originators will certify the many reputable New Mexico players in the business and remove the few bad actors, assuring consumers that getting a mortgage from a New Mexico mortgage broker will be a safe and honest transaction. This tightening of our Home Loan Protection Act will ensure that USDA, FHA, and VA loans remain available to low-income and first-time homebuyers, a critical tool in helping those New Mexicans who most need assistance in purchasing a home.

Angela Muxworthy, President of New Mexico Mortgage Lending Authority commented:

The New Mexico Mortgage Lenders Association is proud to have worked in conjunction with Lt. Governor Diane Denish, RLD, the NM AG's office, and consumer advocacy groups in support of sweeping, comprehensive and effective mortgage reform in New Mexico. [The State] has taken another step to the forefront of the national effort to help stabilize the local housing market through this legislation.

NM Attorney General Gary King added:

This legislation will help us tackle the underlying problems that caused the mortgage lending crisis by putting in place strong regulation of loan originators, outlawing predatory mortgage practices and expanding consumer protections for New Mexicans. My office will continue to work closely with the Financial Institutions Division and the Lt. Governor’s office to enforce this law and assure that homeowners are protected.

The Mortgage Originator Licensing Act was crafted by Lt. Governor Diane Denish in partnership with Attorney General Gary King, members of the industry and consumer advocates. SB 342 was sponsored by Senator Phil Griego and championed in the House by Representative Lundstrom. SB 342 takes effect July 1, 2009.

New Law Shines New Light on State Business

Also on Monday, the Lt. Governor hailed the signing of the State Contractor and Contract Database. The bill brings transparency to state government by requiring all contractors who have contracts with the State worth more than $20,000 to be listed in an online, searchable database made available to the public.

Denish noted:

New Mexicans deserve to know who is doing business with their government. This law will enable all citizens to track state government contracts, follow the flow of public money, and understand how it is being used. Ethics reform in government starts with transparency, and I’m proud to have worked hard on this effort which guarantees more sunshine on the business of government.

HB 546, sponsored by Representative Al Park, will take effect on January 1, 2010.

Photo credit: Mark Bralley

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International Auto Show Returns to New Mexico This Month.

While US automakers continue to revitalize their companies, New Mexico car buyers and enthusiasts are looking forward to the annual Auto Show. It's scheduled now for the Albuquerque Convention Center April 17-19th. Look for the classic muscle cars as well as new hybrid models.

We just got the group's news release and we're looking forward to finding some good deals at the show. We'll also get a chance to win $3000 for a down payment on a new car, $1000 in Rock Band gear, and a chance to meet former Dallas Cowboy great Bob Lilly.

It's the sixth annual NM Auto Show; the fifth at the Convention Center. The 2008 Show was moved to Fairgrounds to accommodate the National Bowling Congress event in Convention Center.

Hybrid Options
Maybe it's time to seriously look at getting a Hybrid. Show producer Motor Trend will feature the “Green Trail” , highlighted displays of alternative fuel option vehicles that range from the Toyota Prius to the debut of the stunning Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.

Then again, You've Gotta Love the Classics.
In 1969 cruising on Menaul and Central featured the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang. Forty years later Dodge and Ford will introduce the new generation of these popular muscle cars with 2009 models of the Challenger and Mustang.

Charity Preview Night
On Thursday April 16 the Auto Show hosts a charity benefit for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico. Tickets are $50 each and the two participating non-profit organizations receive 100% of all proceeds. The Western-themed event will offer first view of vehicles on exhibit, a dinner catered by Smokehouse BBQ of Rio Rancho and live country music. Free Friday

Free Tickets at Sonic Drive-Ins

Sonic Drive-Ins in Albuquerque, Bernal, Bernalillo, Bosque and Rio Rancho are distributing free admission tickets for Opening Day Friday April 17. Tickets are also redeemable for a $3.00 discount on regular adult general admission price of $8.00 on Saturday and Sunday.

Featured Attractions
Daily Rock Band competition in the convention center’s East Wing conducted by “The Edge” and “94 Rock” radio stations. The daily winner receives $250 and the three daily winners compete Sunday afternoon for a grand prize of $1,000 cash and a 54” plasma TV from Paradise Village.

Participating Manufacturers
Acura Chrysler Dodge Jeep
Ford Buick Cadillac Chevrolet
GMC Saturn Pontiac Honda
Lincoln Mercury Nissan Smart
Subaru Toyota Scion

Show Hours:
Friday noon-10 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

For more info and to watch a preview video visit the show's website here.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Obama Address: Global Challenges and Renewed Alliances.

In Europe, President Barack Obama has arguably had one the best weeks of his young presidency.

In this week's video address, filmed aboard Air Force One, and before North Korea blasted it's rocket test into the Pacific Ocean, the President discusses the breadth and depth of the global challenges we face, as well as our potential to address them through renewed international alliances.

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