In Brief - New Mexico News - Oct. 23, 2013

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The Associated Press

Court to wait on marriage ruling

SANTA FE — New Mexico’s highest court says it won’t issue an immediate decision in a case that could decide whether gay marriage is legal statewide.
The state Supreme Court will hear two hours of arguments from lawyers in the case on Wednesday.
The court clerk told lawyers last week that the court won’t make a decision on the day of the hearing but will take the case under consideration.
The justices will hear one hour of arguments on constitutional issues and an hour on issues about state statutes involving marriage.
New Mexico law doesn’t explicitly authorize or prohibit gay marriage, but a state district court in Albuquerque has ruled it’s unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Eight of New Mexico’s 33 counties, including San Miguel, are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Audit didn’t uncover fraud

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration is standing behind a decision to suspend payments to behavioral health providers because of allegations of fraud and overbillings.
Newly released portions of a state-commissioned audit said the audit “did not uncover what it would consider to be credible allegations of fraud, nor any significant concerns related to consumer safety.”
A Human Services Department spokesman on Monday defended the agency’s decision to suspend payments, saying there was evidence of possible fraud from whistleblowers as well a company managing New Mexico’s mental health and substance abuse programs.
The attorney general’s office released heavily redacted parts of the audit last week. Auditors said they identified more than $33 million in overpayments to providers.
The attorney general continues to investigate the allegations against more than a dozen providers.

NM to offer late season hunts

SANTA FE — New Mexico plans to sell additional licenses to hunt trophy bull elk in the state.
The Department of Game and Fish is making available 275 archery hunting licenses through the agency’s website next week.
Only New Mexico residents can buy the licenses for the first 24 hours of the sale, which starts at 10 a.m. Oct. 30. Any licenses that remain will be offered to out-of-state hunters the next day.
Hunters are eligible to buy a late-season license only if they don’t have a 2013-14 elk hunting permit.
The additional licenses are for elk hunting in November and December in parts of southern and western New Mexico.

Gov weighs pay hike

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration is looking at the possibility of providing pay increases for certain public safety positions in state government agencies that have high vacancy rates.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell says positions being considered for possible pay increases include child-protection caseworkers, police officers, corrections officers and juvenile justice workers.
The Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/1c9l2VU) reports that Democratic Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela of Santa Fe wrote Martinez on Friday.
Varela asked Martinez to fill vacancies in the Protective Services and Juvenile Justice Services divisions of the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
Varela said high vacancy rates in positions protecting at-risk children contribute to staff burnout that creates still more vacancies.

Penalty phase for inmate begins

ALBUQUERQUE — An Arizona convict who murdered a retired Oklahoma couple following a 2010 prison escape should be spared the death penalty because he is incapable of controlling his impulses and making reasoned decisions, defense attorneys argued Monday.
Attorney Teri Duncan told jurors the defense will present testimony during the sentencing phase of John McCluskey’s capital murder trial that will show his mental capacity was reduced by brain abnormalities, emotional and physical abuse by his father, and a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.