The clock starts on ethics reform

With four weeks to go in this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers have time to pass an independent ethics commission proposal, Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said Thursday. Egolf made his prediction an hour or so after a House Committee cleared a proposal that would ask New Mexicans to amend the state constitution to create an independent ethics commission. The bill has only one more stop – the House Judiciary Committee – before it would head to the floor of the House of Representatives. But the question mark regarding ethics reform has never been the New Mexico House of Representatives. That chamber has passed several versions over the years.

Lobbying fix faces new opposition

The sponsor of legislation that would require lobbyists to disclose more about what they spend each year on state lawmakers and other public officials said he was considering changing the bill after a fifth state lawmaker publicly stated his opposition Friday morning. “Clearly there is heartburn with some of the progressive ideas that I’ve proposed” in SB 168, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said. Steinborn’s reconsideration came after Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, became the fifth lawmaker on the Senate Rules Committee to openly block the legislation. On Wednesday Candelaria had voted against a motion to not pass SB 168 out of the Senate Rules Committee, joining three other Democrats against four Republican Senators who wanted to table the legislation. The bill’s main goal is to fix a transparency loophole the Legislature created last year that allows lobbyists to disclose much less about how they spend money on public officials.

Gov. Susana Martinez refuses to answer media’s questions

New Mexico In Depth attempted to ask Gov. Susana Martinez about her reaction to the uncertainty in Washington surrounding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have made it a priority to repeal major provisions. Any action from Washington would ripple through New Mexico. Early in her term Martinez was one of the few Republican governors across the nation to agree to expand the Medicaid program, which was a major provision of the ACA. Her decision resulted in around 250,000 additional New Mexicans getting health insurance.

Go public with alleged ethical lapses and jail could be your next stop

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has filed her own version of a bill that would create a state ethics commission. And as with similar legislation she filed in 2016, the legislation  contains provisions that would enable officials to punish anyone who talks publicly about a confidential complaint filed with the proposed panel with up to $35,000 in fines and a year behind bars, or both. You can find the language in Section 16 of SB 218 on page 23:
A. Disclosure of any confidential complaint, report, file, record or communication in violation of the State Ethics Commission Act is a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both. B. In addition to a penalty imposed pursuant to Subsection A of this section, a court may impose a civil penalty not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for each violation of Section 12 of the State Ethics Commission Act. The language appears close to if not exactly the same as language in a bill Lopez filed in 2016 that would have created a state ethics commission.

Competing ethics proposals raise questions of secrecy and oversight

Last week marked the start of the 12th installment of a long-running debate among New Mexico state lawmakers. In previous years the discussion could be summed up in two questions: Should the Legislature create an independent ethics commission; and, if so, what form should it take? The perennial answer to the first question was “no ethics commission this year,” rendering moot the second as to the shape and form it would take. This year, unlike in previous sessions, however, state lawmakers will be able to debate both questions at once. With positive votes from the House State Government, Indian & Veterans’ Affairs committee on Jan.

State will weigh cost, benefits of recreational cannabis legalization

With a budget crisis confronting the New Mexico Legislature, some legislators plan to float a controversial idea gaining momentum across the nation: Legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana, or cannabis. Adult recreational use is now allowed in eight states plus the District of Columbia, and more than 25 already authorize it for medicinal purposes. And in 2016, after three years of being bogged down in Senate committees, an effort to legalize recreational use in New Mexico made it to the Senate floor for a vote. Last year’s Senate Joint Resolution 5, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque, asked voters to amend the state’s constitution to allow possession and personal use of cannabis by people 21 years or older. It would also have regulated production and sale of cannabis, and allowed collection of a tax on the sale of the drug.

Will independent ethics oversight catch on in 2017?

New Mexico’s lawmakers over the last decade have balked at creating an independent ethics commission even as a parade of elected and appointed public officials stood accused of corruption and, in some cases, were convicted of crimes. Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico and a perennial supporter of ethics legislation, reached back to 1990s American cinema for an analogy: Groundhog Day, a 1990s comedy classic in which the main character is forced to repeat the same day over and over again. “We are freakin’ Bill Murray,” Harrison said. Harrison hopes 2017 will break the cycle, however, and on the surface the odds in Santa Fe appear favorable. New Mexico’s lawmakers convene for the 2017 60-day legislative session with two supporters of the ethics legislation — Sen. Peter Wirth and Rep. Brian Egolf – in powerful leadership posts.

DAs seek statewide policy on police shootings

District attorneys from around New Mexico are working on a statewide policy for investigating and prosecuting shootings by law enforcement, Andrew Oxford reports in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican. It’s the second action taken by public officials since the Santa Fe New Mexican and New Mexico In Depth published a story that examined the challenges inherent in investigating and prosecuting fatal law enforcement shootings. Last week Attorney General Hector Balderas announced he had created a committee to audit how each law enforcement agency around the state reviews the use of deadly force by its officers. On Monday Balderas announced he was collaborating “with the New Mexico District Attorney’s Association on its effort to standardize what is currently a patchwork of often-unwritten protocols across 13 judicial districts when it comes to police shootings,” Oxford reports. Oxford writes that police in New Mexico have fatally shot 41 people since January 2015, more people per capita than in any other state, according to The New Mexican’s analysis of data maintained by The Washington Post.

Relationships make prosecuting police difficult

Detective Geoff Stone shifted in his chair behind the witness stand and glanced at the defendants’ table where two former Albuquerque Police Department officers sat. Stone knew the men well. He attended the police academy around the same time as one of the men, Keith Sandy, and worked the same late-night shift on the city’s northeast side with the other, Dominique Perez. But with his two former colleagues on trial for murder after gunning down a mentally ill homeless man in March 2014 during an hours-long standoff in the Sandia foothills, special prosecutor Randi McGinn wanted to know whether Stone’s relationship with the officers was a problem when it fell on him to investigate them. “No,” Stone told her after a moment.

Officers’ language strips emotion from shootings

In the world of police officers and the instructors who train them, guns are not guns; instead, they are “systems” or “platforms.”

Likewise, weapons that fire 50,000 volts of electricity or high-velocity beanbag ammunition at people are “tools” that officers “utilize.”

And what does an officer see through two rifle scopes when he has focused them on someone, pulled the trigger and successfully hit his target? “They’ll fire until that problem disappears from the sight picture,” says Ronald McCarthy, the 78-year-old police practices expert who was once a member of America’s first SWAT team in Los Angeles, formed in response to Civil Rights-era protests in the 1960s. McCarthy’s comment, like those of several other officers, supervisors and instructors, came during testimony in the recently concluded murder trial for former Albuquerque police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez in the 2014 shooting of homeless camper James Boyd. This story was a jointly reported by Justin Horwath of the Santa Fe New Mexican and Jeff Proctor of New Mexico In Depth. Related: Relationships make prosecuting police difficultThe stilted, mechanical language is typical of jargon used by police officers across the country in reports and testimony.