August 11 First News: NM Congressional Dems Seek Greater Oversight of State HSD (Listen)

Aug 11, 2014

Democrats in New Mexico's congressional delegation are seeking more federal oversight of the state Human Services Department because it suspended Medicaid payments to 15 mental health providers last year. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan made the request to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. The state suspended payments because of fraud and overbilling- allegations, and contracted with Arizona companies to take over management of most of the suspended providers. The system changed in January as Medicaid managed care companies assumed responsibility for behavioral services and contracting with providers. The congressional letter expressed concerns that services have been disrupted. But Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott said more people are receiving services since the transition to the Arizona providers.

As public schools open across New Mexico this week, the Public Education Department says a slightly smaller share of New Mexico teachers were rated as effective or better based on updated figures from a new evaluation system. The agency said nearly 73-percent of teachers were evaluated as effective, highly effective or exemplary. That compares with 76 percent when the department initially released ratings. The latest figures cover almost five-thousand additional teachers. Some districts submitted their data late. The department also made adjustments to some ratings after correcting data from districts. The latest figures cover close to 21-thousand teachers across New Mexico. Twenty-three percent were rated minimally-effective and four-percent were deemed to be ineffective. According to the department, 53-percent of teachers were rated effective, 18-percent were highly effective and the top one-point-three percent received the highest grade, "exemplary."

Organizers of a task force charged with addressing chronic homelessness among Native Americans in New Mexico's largest city say they expect to develop recommendations by the end of October. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and other officials met in Arizona last week, to discuss the framework and goals of the task force and to set some deadlines. One deadline calls for hiring a task force leader by the end of the month. Berry says homelessness goes beyond the city and the Navajo Nation and solutions developed by the group could have impacts across New Mexico and Arizona. The creation of the task force stems from the beating deaths of two homeless men who were camped at a vacant lot on Albuquerque's southwest side. Three teenagers have been indicted on first-degree murder charges.

The state of New Mexico is seeing a rise in concealed carry permits that let people carry a concealed handgun into most public and private places. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that more than 343-thousand New Mexicans received concealed-carry permits last year, nearly 60-thousand more people than in 2012. The newspaper obtained the figures through a public records request. A concealed carry permit lets a person carry a concealed, loaded handgun into most public and private places unless notices are posted. Permit holders must complete a 15-hour firearms safety course. Gun safety instructors attribute the rise partly to a resurgence in America's gun debate after 20 elementary students and six teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut during December 2012.

Two top officials in President Barack Obama's administration are in Santa Fe to discuss the potential for renewable energy development in the Southwest and the challenges of exporting that power to market. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will be among those at today’s meeting. The gathering of federal, state and tribal officials is part of the administration's effort to develop recommendations regarding the transmission, storage and distribution of energy. Previous meetings in other states have covered rail and barge transportation issues, the growing connections between natural gas and electricity production and infrastructure limitations in developing shale resources. One area of foucs during the New Mexico meeting will be how the federal government works with tribes when it comes to energy development and transmission.

Santa Fe Weather: Partly sunny with scattered showers and thunderstorms, mainly after noon, the high today, 76. Tonight: Mostly cloudy, with the low, 56. Tomorrow: Partly sunny with a high of 78,with showers and thunderstorms. The chance for precipitation is 50-percent today, 40-percent tonight and 20-percent tomorrow.