Plaintiffs in historic suit cite new court filing to back up their money demands

Plaintiffs in a historic educational lawsuit on Friday pointed to a new court filing from Judge Sarah Singleton to say that state officials should reverse how they’re funding public education: Instead of seeing how much they have to spend first, they should identify educational needs and then figure out how much they cost. Singleton’s eight-page order, issued Thursday, comes as the lawsuit’s plaintiffs and allies are in a tug of war with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature over how much new money to earmark for the state’s public schools. A coalition of plaintiffs, teachers, parents, students, district superintendents, bilingual experts and nonprofit organizations want the governor and state lawmakers to dedicate $1 billion in new funding, double what the governor and the Legislature are proposing.   

Singleton’s order is short compared to her ruling last year, which found New Mexico guilty of shirking its constitutional duty to adequately educate at-risk students, but it packs a wallop. The judge wrote of New Mexico’s school children caught in an “inadequate system” who will “be irreparably harmed if better programs are not instituted,” And that the state’s duty is to “not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitutional resources.”Those shortcomings should be addressed “as soon as practicable,” Singleton wrote.

Is it ‘Groundhog Day’ for ethics reform in NM?

This commentary is part of New Mexico In Depth’s weekly newsletter. Trip Jennings, NMID executive director

2019 is beginning to feel a lot like the 1990s Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”Twelve years ago, at about the same time in the legislative session as we are now, I reported that ethics reform efforts were on life support. I’m not ready to make the same call in 2019. But with four weeks to go in this year’s session, agreement on a bill to flesh out the powers, funding and operations for a seven-member independent ethics commission added to the state Constitution by 75 percent of voters in November isn’t looking quite as inevitable as it once did. As of today, there are competing ethics commission bills.

Ethics commission legislation in race against time

With a month to go in the legislative session, history may be  about to repeat itself. But voters probably won’t be too happy about it. State lawmakers have four weeks to agree on a bill to flesh out the powers, funding and operations for a seven-member independent ethics commission voters added to the state constitution in November. As of Thursday, there are competing bills and both are in a race against time in a legislative body that’s as prone to kill good government ideas as approve them, based on the New Mexico Legislature’s track record over the past decade. The week started with the introduction of a state ethics commission  bill (HB4) sponsored by Rep. Damon Ely, D-Albuquerque.

Advocates critique budget, education process

As a powerful House committee nears completion of a draft state budget this week, leaders of a movement to transform New Mexico education through multicultural, bilingual education reforms say crucial funding to achieve their vision could go missing from the soon-to-emerge spending plan. And they say it’s already gone missing from a House omnibus education bill. They worry too that legislative leaders aren’t taking seriously the need to strengthen three state laws focused on multicultural, bilingual education that are at the core of a historic court ruling by a state judge last year. In her scorching July 2018 ruling, Judge Sarah Singleton found the state guilty of depriving large swaths of public school children of their constitutional right to a sufficient education. “I don’t think there is direct opposition that I see,“ Rep. Tomas Salazar, D-Las Vegas, said of funding and multicultural, bilingual education ideas during a late-morning press conference put on by Transform Education NM, a coalition of teachers, parents, students, district superintendents, bilingual experts and nonprofit organizations.

Ethics legislation drops, but tricky path ahead for popular idea

NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings

A bill to create an independent ethics commission was introduced Monday, nearly halfway through the 2019 legislative session. That’s later than expected given the overwhelming public support in November for the idea. The legislation, HB 4, introduced by Albuquerque Democrat House Rep. Damon Ely,  would flesh out how much power the seven-member independent ethics commission will have, its funding and how transparent it is. But it won’t be alone for long. Whispers are that there will be competing ethics measures.

Top Democrat in U.S. House to speak to NM Legislature

Congressman James E. Clyburn

Congressman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina will speak to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature on Friday as part of African American Day at the Roundhouse. Clyburn, House Majority Whip, is the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Clyburn started his career as a public school teacher and is a veteran of the civil rights movement, helping to organize marches and demonstrations as a student leader at South Carolina State College, according to his congressional website. He met his wife, Emily, in jail following a student demonstration.Clyburn, whose speech will cap Friday’s celebration of African Americans in New Mexico, will speak to members of the state House and Senate around noon.

Lujan Grisham says her administration will look into Hepatitis C prison problems

At a news conference Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham responded to a New Mexico In Depth story that showed while the state has the largest known share of prisoners diagnosed with hepatitis C in the nation, few are being treated. That’s despite new, nearly fail-safe treatment medications coming onto the market at increasingly low prices.  

New Mexico faces difficult choices, Lujan Grisham said, partly because so much is out of its control. Incarcerated individuals who contract the disease on the outside might only become aware of their plight after a screening in prison, Lujan Grisham said. Beginning in 2009, New Mexico began offering all prisoners screening for hepatitis C, which is not a universal practice.

Breaking down the numbers: Diversity in the House

Democratic Speaker of the House Brian Egolf kicked off the 54th legislative session last week by acknowledging the diversity he saw arrayed before him in the Legislature’s lower chamber. “We start with the most diverse House of Representatives our state has ever seen,” the Santa Fe Democrat told a chamber teeming with fellow lawmakers, their families, friends and legislative staff. “We are showing the rest of the country  what it means when people of diverse backgrounds, diverse faiths, and of diverse ideas come together to work for the betterment of our people in this state.”

It’s difficult to assess if Egolf’s statement is historically accurate. The Legislative Council Services library doesn’t have historical data about how the Legislature has changed over the years, regarding ethnic and racial diversity. But they do have data about women.

Legislature fleshes out details of ethics commission in 2019

Three-quarters of voters in November supported enshrining an independent ethics commission in the state Constitution, making New Mexico one of more than 40 states with similar oversight bodies. Just getting an ethics commission took more than a decade and contentious year-in, year-out legislative debates. But the most the difficult year may be 2019. State lawmakers over the next 60 days will make big decisions about the seven-member commission: how much power it has, how much funding it gets, and, perhaps thorniest of all, how open and transparent its work will be. These questions will revive old battle lines from the past nearly 15 years when a bipartisan collection of supporters in the Legislature annually squared off against an equally bipartisan coalition of opponents.