April 13 First News: Lawmakers Join In Lawsuits Against The State

Apr 13, 2016

Immigrant advocates headed to court Tuesday after requesting an injunction against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department to prevent it from withholding tax refunds from certain foreign nationals. They say the state practice targets people who file taxes using Individual Tax Identification Numbers. That practice by Taxation and Revenue is the subject of a lawsuit filed on behalf of immigrant families by Santa Fe-based immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  State Senator Jerry Ortiz Y Pino compared the state’s action to accusations of fraud it levied against behavioral health providers three years ago.***#1Ortiz Y P: just like BH where they accused providers of fraud and then none of charges were founded.***Asked by the Santa Fe New Mexican about Senator Ortiz Y Pino’s statement, Tax and Rev Secretary Demesia Padilla said she has no idea why he would compare the two issues. In court Tuesday, attorneys for Taxation & Revenue argued the immigrant plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies to recover their tax rebates before filing their suit. Somos Un Pueblo Unido and Maldef were joined by Democratic State Representative Miguel Garcia and Senator Ortiz Y Pino, at a press conference at the Santa Fe District courthouse.  The lawmakers plan to be added as plaintiffs in the suit against the state.

US Senator Tom Udall is joining with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats in filing legislation that would require the IRS to develop a free, online tax preparation service.  The idea is that taxpayers could then file returns directly with the federal government.  The bill also would let taxpayers download third-party-reported tax information and ban the IRS from entering into agreements restricting its ability to provide the tax preparation services.  Warren will file the bill Wednesday.  Warren says taxpayers spend an average 13 hours preparing their taxes, paying about $200 for tax preparation services — almost 10 percent of the average federal tax refund.  The bill is co-sponsored by Vermont Sen Bernie Sanders and Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Al Franken of Minnesota, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Authorities say the mother of a 9-month-old girl who was inside a vehicle when an acquaintance sped off in the SUV is jailed and charged with child abuse.  Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies say in court records that 23-year-old Karen Arviso was intoxicated and unable to provide information Monday afternoon to help authorities find her daughter when the vehicle went missing.  Authorities accused her of appearing unconcerned for the well-being of her daughter, who was found in the SUV after suspect Lorenzo Benally allegedly abandoned it.  Authorities say a detective had to break a window to get the child out of the vehicle.  Jail records indicate Benally was booked yesterday on suspicion of child abuse, kidnapping and unlawful taking of a vehicle.

Former New Mexico Sen. Phil Griego is keeping a political campaign account open even as he fights criminal fraud and bribery allegations linked to his tenure as a lawmaker.  Griego filed a campaign finance report this week with state election officials that shows no contributions or expenditures since six months ago, when his account had a $42,000 balance.  New Mexico politicians can keep campaign accounts open for years on end without actually running for office as long as they file periodic reports.  Griego resigned from the Senate in March 2015 after acknowledging constitutional violations. The Secretary of State's Office has flagged several campaign account expenditures by Griego last year for possible violations.  Viki Harrison of Common Cause New Mexico says the situation "makes a joke out of our elective process."

Hawaii is looking for solutions to its homelessness crisis, and lawmakers are considering a program to help connect homeless people with day jobs.  They're modeling the three-year program after a similar approach in Albuquerque, and Tucson, Arizona.  The bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday also would provide workers with a lunch and a ride back to a shelter at the end of the work day.  Hawaii has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the nation. The program would begin on the island of Oahu, where most of Hawaii's homeless people live.  Many homeless people don't have internet access or cars, and The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii says the bill could help overcome those barriers.

State officials are letting a New Mexico man take a road kill mountain lion to a taxidermist.  KOB-TV in Albuquerque reports the New Mexico Game and Fish Department recently gave the OK for Arcy Vigil to keep the big cat after he found it dead along Interstate 25 in northern New Mexico.  State officials took the cat after he called to report it. Officials say the cat appeared had died from injuries from a vehicle.  New Mexico law prohibits residents from picking up a trophy animal without reporting to authorities first.  Vigil says after getting the cat back he took it to a taxidermist and will likely put it on a full mount.

An annual independent audit of finances at the office of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has taken note of a peculiar, century-old fund used for social events that is off limits from review.  State Auditor Tim Keller highlighted results Tuesday of the independent audit that shows excess balances in the governor's so-called contingency fund are rolled over from year to year without legal justification.  Public accounting firm Axiom LLC was chosen by the governor's office to perform the audit for fiscal year 2015. It says an excess balance of $66,000 was rolled over into the current fiscal year.  Auditors recommended unspent funds be returned to the state’s general fund instead.  A spokesman for the governor's office says no audit has raised the issue before and that the governor follows longstanding precedent.

A local Texas union of Border Patrol agents narrowly voted down a motion to break from the National Border Patrol Council's endorsement of presidential candidate Donald Trump.  The El Paso Times reports Local 1929 in El Paso voted 14-13 Tuesday night to support the union's national endorsement and reject a proposal to take a neutral stance in the presidential election.  The GOP hopeful has drawn criticism for a pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and launch mass deportations of an estimated 11 million immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.  The local represents about 1,700 agents — about 10 percent of the union's total membership — in the Border Patrol's El Paso sector, which covers New Mexico and West Texas.

An animal welfare group says it hopes undercover video filmed at a Pennsylvania farm showing how poorly hens are treated will get more U.S. food sellers to support cage-free eggs.  Mercy for Animals says video clips show chickens trampling each other, dead hens being pulled from cages and carcasses littering the floor. It says on Wednesday it's releasing clips recorded by an investigator who posed as a farm employee.  The Alpharetta, Georgia-based United Egg Producers group says a lot of its members believe cage-free is the future.