In Brief - New Mexico - Feb. 21, 2014

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The Associated Press

Sergeant pleads guilty in death
LAS CRUCES — An Air Force sergeant in New Mexico has pleaded guilty to negligent child abuse in the death of his infant daughter.
Prosecutors say 29-year-old Peter John Zayas entered his plea Wednesday in a federal court in Las Cruces.
He’s been in federal custody since his April 2012 arrest.
Zayas’ sentencing hearing hasn’t been set yet, but prosecutors say he could be facing up to 18 years in prison.
Zayas and his wife were arrested by the FBI for allegedly causing the death of their 2-month-old child in October 2007.
At the time, Zayas was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo.
In his plea agreement, Zayas acknowledged that his daughter sustained fractures to her skull, ribs and other parts of her body as a result of his negligence.

Man faces life in prison
ALBUQUERQUE — Federal authorities say a New Mexico man is facing life in prison after pleading guilty to setting fire to his former girlfriend’s home.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Yarbrough said that 32-year-old Dan Curtis Thompson, of Shiprock, N.M., pleaded guilty this week to a federal arson charge.
Thompson and his twin sister, Christina Thompson, were arrested in October in connection to a January 2013 fire at the Navajo Housing Authority in Ojo Amarillo. The town is located on the Navajo Reservation.
Thompson admitted that as his resentment toward his former girlfriend grew, he began planning the fire.

Bill calls for study of pot
SANTA FE — The House has approved a measure that calls for studying the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.
The nonbinding memorial passed the House 31-28 late Wednesday.
Under the measure, the Legislative Finance Committee would conduct the study and report its findings later this year. The committee will be looking specifically at state revenue and agricultural production levels as well as addiction rates and the availability of law enforcement resources.

Lawmakers approve judge retirement changes
A proposal to improve the long-term finances of a pension system for judges has won final approval in the Legislature.
The Senate unanimously endorsed the measure Tuesday night, sending it to Gov. Susana Martinez.
The legislation requires judges to contribute a larger share of their salaries to the retirement system. Government employers — with taxpayer money — also would provide more.
New judges would have to work at least eight years — up from five years currently — to qualify for a pension.
The retirement fund is projected to be fully funded in 30 years if the proposed changes are enacted. Currently it has only 56 percent of the assets needed to cover future retirement benefits.
The governor vetoed a judicial pension overhaul last year.

Payments continue for absent legislators
Two New Mexico state representatives have been getting paid for the Legislature’s 2014 session though they have been absent because of health problems.
The Santa Fe New Mexican  reports that records released Tuesday indicate Democratic Reps. Phillip Archuleta of Las Cruces and Ernest Chavez of Albuquerque each received more than $1,500 for the first 10 days of the session.
Their absences have been excused because of their health problems. Archuleta has faced a difficult recovery from hip surgery, and Chavez reportedly was weakened by a spider bite.
New Mexico legislators don’t receive salaries. Instead, they get daily “per diem” payments for attendance. They also receive mileage reimbursements.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Kenny Martinez, D-Grants, said Martinez believes the payments are appropriate.
“The speaker does feel it is appropriate to pay out per-diem checks because the representatives have introduced legislation and are closely monitoring their bills,” Martinez’s spokeswoman, Carla Aragon, said in an email. “They also have submitted capital-outlay requests, and they are still working to address the needs of their constituents.”

Minimum wage hike proposal fails in House
A proposal that would let New Mexico voters decide whether to boost the state’s minimum wage next year has failed to pass the House.
The proposed constitutional amendment needed the support of 36 House members to make it onto the ballot next November. The vote came up short Wednesday night at 33-29.
The measure had been a top priority for Democrats. They said a wage hike would help tens of thousands of workers.
Opponents said the higher wage could force businesses to trim their workforce and it could lead to higher prices for goods and services.
New Mexico’s minimum wage has been $7.50 an hour since 2009. The proposed constitutional amendment would have adjusted the minimum wage for inflation since 2009 — setting it at an estimated $8.40 starting in July 2015.

Senate rejects Navajo gambling compact
New Mexico lawmakers have dealt a setback to the Navajo Nation by rejecting a gambling compact that would have allowed the state’s largest American Indian tribe to open three additional casinos.
The Senate voted 31-10 against the agreement Wednesday, which the House had approved the day before.
The compact required approval of the Legislature and the U.S. Interior Department to take effect.
Navajo President Ben Shelly expressed bitter disappointment and said the Navajos would consider their options, including possible legal action against the state.
“I always thought that the state of New Mexico has always been friendly to Native Americans,” Shelly said after the vote. “I can’t believe that they have only been friendly to a few — the pueblos — and not to the Navajo Nation.”