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Challenges Women Veterans Face, Oil Prices & the Economy, Problems at the two National Laboratories

This week on New Mexico in Focus, we continue our coverage of veterans’ issues with a discussion of the challenges faced by women vets. Almost 280,000 women have served post-9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a new report by the Disabled Veterans of America. While the number of male veterans is expected to decline by 2020, the number of women veterans is expected to grow dramatically, to 11 percent of the veteran population. But as the report points out, there are serious gaps in every aspect of the programs that serve women. And female veterans are more likely to experience homelessness and unemployment. Producer Megan Kamerick talks about these issues with two veterans as well as representatives from Women Veterans of New Mexico and Henderson House, a program launched by the YWCA Middle Rio Grande to serve homeless women veterans.

The Line opinion panel looks at declining oil prices and how that will impact the state’s economy and the budget in the 2015 legislative session. Last August, state officials predicted $285 million more for the budget, but that seems likely to decrease. While lower gas prices are great for consumers, about one third of New Mexico’s revenue comes from oil and gas production. And employment growth in the oil patch has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise anemic job picture here.

The Line also looks at problems at the two national laboratories in New Mexico. A report by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General accuses Sandia National Laboratories of using federal funds to lobby for a noncompetitive extension of its contract with the Department of Energy and that it engaged former Rep. Heather Wilson in these activities. The contract is valued at about $2.4 billion per year. Wilson has refuted the report’s characterization of her involvement with the contract extension. And Los Alamos National Laboratory is facing renewed scrutiny after an in-depth report by the Santa Fe New Mexican found evidence of short cuts and lax documentation on a barrel shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant that caused a radiation leak, shuttering WIPP and contaminating 20 workers.

And the group weighs in on shifts taking place or likely to happen among the Democratic leadership in the legislature following mid-term elections that saw Republicans take control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in more than 60 years.

Host: Gene Grant

Correspondent: Megan Kamerick

Megan Rachelle Brown, Program Coordinator at YWCA’s Henderson House
Denise Edwell, Veteran and client of Henderson House
Judy Quintana, President, Women Veterans of New Mexico
Sgt. First Class Carla Torres, New Mexico National Guard

Line Guest Panelists:
Dan Foley, Former House Minority Whip
Sophie Martin, Editor, & Attorney
Stephanie Maez, Center for Civic Policy
Stephen Spitz, New Mexico People, Places and Ideas

The Producers of NEW MEXICO IN FOCUS are Megan Kamerick and Floyd Vasquez. Associate Producer is Kathy Wimmer. Funding for this program was provided in part by the McCune Foundation.

Episode 819 for air November 21, 2014

Uniformed Service Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the Republican Party of New Mexico, New Mexico Spaceport

This week on New Mexico in Focus, producer and correspondent Floyd Vasquez examines a legal claim made by the State of New Mexico that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It involves the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the law that protects service members’ reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up from the reserves or National Guard. It prohibits employer discrimination based on military service or obligation. Following a 3 week trial earlier this year, a New Mexico jury found that the Children, Youth & Families Department violated the rights of an Iraq war Veteran. CYFD did not appeal the jury’s verdict but argued successfully before the New Mexico Court of Appeals that the State of New Mexico is not subject to USERRA based on sovereign immunity. The case is now before the New Mexico Supreme Court and is being watched closely by stakeholders nationwide.

NMiF host Gene Grant and The Line opinion panel look at the shift in the New Mexico House of Representatives to Republican control for the first time in 62 years, and the new leadership, including Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, who will be speaker of the House, and Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, who will be majority leader. Change is also coming to the Republican Party of New Mexico, with Chairman John Billingsley announcing he will not seek re-election. He has been publicly critical of Gov. Susana Martinez’s political advisor, Jay McCleskey, and has expressed concern about funding trends in campaigns.

The Line also looks at the outlook for the New Mexico Spaceport following the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo in the Mojave Desert recently. Experts say the uncertainty about when the company may actually launch tourists into sub-orbit has exposed the Spaceport’s vulnerability in putting all its eggs in the Richard Branson basket. Critics say the Spaceport should have diversified its infrastructure and business by attracting more tenants, and thus capitalize on the growth of the commercial space industry that is taking place elsewhere.

And the Line discusses a proposed ordinance in San Miguel County that would impose some of the strictest requirements in the country on oil and gas drilling. This comes as a federal judge considers the future of an ordinance that bans oil and natural gas drilling in neighboring Mora County. He ruled some parts of the ban are unconstitutional.

Host: Gene Grant

Correspondent: Floyd Vasquez

Gary Kaiser, Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve
Dave Pederson, General Counsel, Office of the New Mexico Attorney General
Sgt. First Class Phillip Ramirez, Afghanistan and Iraq veteran

Line Guest Panelists:
Tom Garrity, The Garrity Group
Sophie Martin, Editor, & Attorney
Rob Nikolewski, New Mexico Watchdog
Inez Russell Gomez, Santa Fe New Mexican

The Producers of NEW MEXICO IN FOCUS are Megan Kamerick and Floyd Vasquez. Associate Producer is Kathy Wimmer. Funding for this program was provided in part by the McCune Foundation.

Episode 818 for air November 14, 2014