NM In Depth wins top honors from NM Press Women, including investigative journalism

New Mexico In Depth won four 1st place awards over the weekend, including top honors for investigative journalism. The New Mexico Press Women’s Association conferred that honor on Puff of Smoke, a story reported and written by Jeff Proctor and published in collaboration with the Santa Fe Reporter. The issue at heart of the story was the investigative grand jury, a system Santa Fe District Attorneys used for years that resulted in numerous officers being cleared of criminal wrongdoing in fatal police shootings. NMID also took top honors in the categories of enterprise reporting, special series and website – as well as two second-place awards and one third-place finish. This weekend’s honors come a week after NMID won two first-place awards for multimedia journalism and general website excellence as well as three third-place awards in the Society of Professional Journalism’s Top of the Rockies regional journalism contest.

NMID wins top honors in regional journalism contest, including 1st place multi-media award

New Mexico In Depth took top honors at a regional journalism contest over the weekend, including a 1st place multi-media journalism award for its examination of New Mexico’s broken bail system. The Society for Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest covers New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.  

We also won a 1st place award for general website excellence and three 3rd place awards for investigative/enterprise reporting and environmental general reporting. 1st Place in Multi-Media Journalism

Teaming up with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting last fall, New Mexico In Depth told the story of one man’s journey through New Mexico’s bail system. Tom Chudzinski, a former architect, spent more than 30 days in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center because he didn’t have enough money to afford bail.

Governor vetoes campaign finance reform

Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Friday vetoed a piece of legislation that would have required greater public disclosure by those who spend big money in New Mexico political races. The governor vetoed Senate Bill 96, a goal long sought by good-government groups and those who wanted greater information on the influence of money in politics. “While I support efforts to make political process more transparent, the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances,” Martinez wrote in her veto message. One of the legislation’s sponsors, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, responded to news of the veto Friday morning. “I am disappointed but not surprised that the Governor would side with the Koch brothers and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and ignore the 90% of Republicans and Democrats in New Mexico who support campaign finance transparency.

UPDATED: Lawmakers race to finesse state ethics commission details as session winds down

— This article has been updated to reflect news developments. With 16 hours left in a 60-day session, the Legislature on Friday moved one step away from doing something it’s tried to do for a decade: Pass a state ethics commission proposal. And it took all day Friday to get it done. Then after multiple meetings, both chambers of the state legislature agreed late in the evening to place a measure on the 2018 ballot letting voters decide whether or not to place in the state constitution an independent ethics commission charged with investigating and prosecuting ethics complaints filed against public officials, state contractors and lobbyists, among others. How it played out on Friday

Members of the House of Representatives disagreed Thursday night with changes the Senate had made to House Joint Resolution 8, which would ask voters to enshrine an independent ethics commission in the state constitution.

In historic first, NM state senate passes ethics commission proposal

The state senate voted 30 to 9 early Thursday afternoon to ask voters next year to enshrine an independent ethics commission in the state constitution.

“This is a really big step for us in New Mexico,” Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces told his colleagues moments before asking his colleagues to support the proposal. “I think it will be healthy for democracy.”

Steinborn, who presented House Joint Resolution 8 to the Senate, was alluding to the decades-long effort to get to this moment: The New Mexico state Senate voting on a proposal that would move the state closer to joining more than 40 states that already have an ethics commission.

The senator might have spoken a bit too early, however.

The Legislature isn’t finished with the proposal yet. The House of Representatives must decide whether to agree or disagree to changes a senate committee made Wednesday to the proposal that the House passed 66-0 earlier this month.

Ethics commission proposal clears perennial hurdle, heads to full Senate

On a 9 to 1 vote early Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Rules Committee, a perennial roadblock to ethics legislation, moved New Mexico closer than it has ever been to joining most U.S. states in creating an independent ethics commission.

But as sometimes happens in a decade-long quest a challenge can materialize just as success appears within sight. And so it was for House Joint Resolution 8.

Already in a race against the clock, HJR8 — which would enshrine an independent ethics commission in the state constitution should voters approve — must clear the full Senate before returning to the House, which gave its stamp of approval to HJR8 last week.

But that was before the Senate Rules Committee decided to remove language laying out how ethics commission members are appointed. Expunged too by the committee were requirements to make public all ethics complaints the commission receives, as well as the responses to them, and that it weigh evidence and rule on complaints in public hearings.

Ethics watchdog says bill before the Senate lacks teeth

State lawmakers would have too much power to decide who sits on an independent ethics commission under a proposal now being considered by the state Senate, a watchdog organization said Tuesday. New Mexico Ethics Watch, which leveled the criticism, disliked that the would-be commission in the proposal would not have sole authority to investigate and prosecute ethics complaints. “While it is important that the state have an Ethics Commission, it is more important that an Ethics Commission be properly constituted and protected from future meddling,” Ethics Watch Executive Director Douglas Carver said in a press release. “The version of the constitutional amendment creating an Ethics Commission that is before the Senate now is significantly flawed.”

New Mexico Ethics Watch, founded last year, is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life in New Mexico. Prior to Ethics Watch, Carver worked for five years as a staff attorney for the New Mexico Legislative Council Service, which included working with the Legislative Ethics Committee.

Senate committee throws late session ethics commission monkey wrench

Late last week a proposal to create an independent ethics commission seemed perched nearer than ever to success in the New Mexico Legislature. The New Mexico House of Representatives had voted unanimously to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque and several Democratic lawmakers. It had received one committee assignment in the state Senate — admittedly the Senate Rules Committee. Chaired by Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, that committee has gained a reputation as the place where ethics legislation goes to die. Still, with just one committee hearing standing in front of a full Senate vote, a few longtime observers began to wonder if 2017 might be the year of the independent ethics commission after more than a decade of failed proposals.

House and Senate trade ethics and transparency measures

With 12 days left in the 60-day session the New Mexico Legislature might or might not be heading toward a repeat of last year. It’s difficult to tell. Last year, in the final days of the 2016 session, the House of Representatives approved by a 50-10 vote, and with great fanfare, an independent ethics commission proposal. It would have asked voters to enshrine the commission in the state constitution. It died in the state Senate.

Closed loopholes, Medicaid cuts and potential higher health insurance costs buried in Gov. supported bill

A piece of legislation moving through the New Mexico Legislature offers a window into how difficult it is to pay for and deliver healthcare during a state budget crisis, particularly at a moment when uncertainty in Washington clouds the future of healthcare in the U.S.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul Bandy of Aztec and supported by GOP Gov. Susana Martinez,  House Bill 316 seeks to reduce state spending on Medicaid by pushing hundreds of people off a little-known state program – the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool, also called the “high risk pool” — and onto the state’s health insurance exchange. The high risk pool currently offers health coverage for the sickest of the sick, more than 2,700 people who suffer from heart disease, cancer, Hepatitis C, neurological disorders and HIV/AIDS. The bill is one of many proposals that would save money as New Mexico attempts to survive a state budget crisis. The legislation, in effect, is a one-two punch to  health insurance companies, closing what Martinez considers a tax loophole by phasing out a tax credit for health insurers. It would trim Medicaid costs in a way that would end up increasing some health insurers’ costs, too.