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N.M. ranchers claim win on water rights

CARLSBAD, N.M -- Ranchers in a southeastern New Mexico community are claiming victory in a legal battle with a potash company over water rights connected to the Pecos River.

A state district judge decided last week to call on the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer to show cause for issuing the company seven "preliminary authorizations" to shift its water rights from use for potash refining to sales to the oil and gas industry, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

Eddy County District Judge Ray Romero said authorizations, which were issued without hearings or public participation, should be canceled as "illegal" permits. Ranchers in a rural area south of Carlsbad said that move could completely drain the Pecos.

Ken Dugan, attorney for the Carlsbad Irrigation District, said this meant the Office of the State Engineer must stop Intrepid Potash from pumping water from the Pecos River. "We are ecstatic [Romero] upheld his ruling and did the right thing," Dugan said.

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The Denver-based Intrepid Potash recently claimed ownership of about 35,000 acre feet of water rights along the Pecos, with 19,000 identified for consumption.

In response to the Intrepid Potash's claims, the Carlsbad Irrigation District filed litigation intended to block Intrepid's ownership of the water and seven "preliminary authorizations" granted by the Office of the State Engineer.

Mayor addresses meeting disruption

MOSS POINT, Miss. -- A Mississippi mayor said his online meeting was hacked with vulgar and racist words and images because of his recent comments about the coronavirus in his city.

Moss Point Mayor Mario King was leading a Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night on Zoom when someone interrupted the online gathering, which the mayor was also streaming on Facebook Live, news outlets reported.

The meeting was ended and the mayor did a separate Facebook Live stream, lasting nearly an hour, addressing the hack. King said this was not a new experience for him and that he often receives such messages. He said hackers tried to interrupt a different call earlier Tuesday.

The mayor has been an outspoken critic of the state's and Gov. Tate Reeves' response to the covid-19 pandemic.

Future Zoom meetings for Moss Point will still be held online, King said. He added that he will require a password for the online gatherings so that if there are any more issues, the user's internet address can be obtained.

Audit questions meal-program billing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Four organizations tasked with feeding low-income children in Tennessee billed the state for meals they did not serve, a state audit found.

According to Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson, the organizations participating in a food subsidy program "displayed a clear pattern of not following the rules," but the state "allowed the sponsors to return to the program year after year and continue to claim high-dollar reimbursements."

The audit, released Monday, added that Tennessee's Department of Human Services "failed to establish robust controls" for questionable meal claims, and it urged the agency to act in order to prevent fraud.

One operator, New Beginnings International Ministry, billed the state's Department of Human Services more than $34,000 during the summer of 2019, including nearly $2,500 for two days where inspectors found no children at the site. The audit also called into question over $28,000 claimed by Nashville's Greater Harvest Church in the past two years. Other operators under scrutiny for their claims are South Parkway East and Riverdale Kiddie learning centers in Memphis.

A spokesman for the state's Department of Human Services said the agency did not review the audits and could not provide comment.

Suit challenges Texas bond restrictions

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott overstepped his constitutional authority when he issued an order prohibiting bond for some criminal suspects during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Abbott's March 29 order, which prohibits bond for anyone arrested on charges related to physical violence or with past convictions for violent offenses, came as state officials worked to mitigate the spread of the virus in jails.

The lawsuit says the order unlawfully tries to remove discretion from judges about who can get bond. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and others filed the lawsuit in state district court in Travis County on behalf of Harris County misdemeanor magistrate judges, criminal defense organizations and the NAACP Texas.

The lawsuit says that since social distancing is nearly impossible in jails, stakeholders have been working to reduce jail populations "in ways consistent with both state law and the safety of the community."

The Texas attorney general's office didn't immediately comment.

There have been more than 9,300 Texas cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 177 deaths.

A Section on 04/09/2020

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