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.

Bills would limit solitary confinement, require reporting in NM

House and Senate lawmakers are pushing identical proposals that would abolish solitary confinement for pregnant women and children and steeply curtail its use on people living with mental illness in New Mexico’s jails and prisons. If passed into law, supporters say either bill would provide a statutory definition for “isolated confinement” in the state and much needed transparency on the scope of the controversial practice of leaving inmates alone in their cells for 22 hours a day or more with little to no contact with others and few opportunities to participate in educational or rehabilitative programs.

“Right now, we do not know on any given day if it’s 100 or 1,000 people in isolated confinement in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, the Democratic sponsor of HB175, said. “Once we have some data, we can have confidence that the Corrections Department and the counties are scaling back the use of solitary confinement.”

Numerous studies, including one by the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, have shown that isolation in a prison cell can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and create new ones where none existed before. The United Nations and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have argued that solitary confinement is particularly dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing, and condemned its use. New Mexico has a troubled history with solitary confinement.

A year in solitary: ‘I didn’t want to lose it’

FARMINGTON—Joshua Saiz paces outside his mobile home, anxiously puffing on a cigarette and, alternately, flashing a grin at his young daughter. The gravel crunches under his shoes as he takes six short steps up, makes a tight turn, then six steps back. Always six steps up, six steps back. The 40-year-old former oil field laborer can’t bring to mind why he’s so consistent. But his wife, Nakrista Saiz, has the answer: “I’ve asked him, too.

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.

Lobbyist give burgers and fries, but it’s not reported

Before the House began to debate a budget on Feb. 22, there were burgers and fries. And there was a thank you from Rep. Patty Lundstrom, the Democratic House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman from Gallup, to the seven lobbyists who bought the food. “Let’s thank them, because we’re getting some real food tonight, Mr. Speaker,” Lundstrom said after citing Vanessa Alarid, Mark Duran, Mark Fleisher, Charlie Marquez, John Thompson, Jason Thompson and Jason Weaks. But spending for that meal doesn’t show up in the latest reports by the lobbyists, because the cost wasn’t $500 or more.

Lawmakers won’t get cut of infrastructure funding pie in 2017

There won’t be any local road repairs, senior center vehicles or shade structures at schools coming from New Mexico lawmakers this year. There’s simply not enough money to sell more than about $63 million in severance tax bonds this year because of the decline in oil and gas revenue nationwide. That’s according to the sponsor of the annual capital outlay bill, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa. “It would be a frivolous attempt for us to try to distribute that among 112 members,” Cisneros said. “If anything, right now we’re looking at using it for statewide needs.”

And the amount available won’t go far on statewide requests, which total $359 million.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations. Photos show sagging floors, torn carpet, broken appliances and other issues.

Gov. remains mum on hemp bills

At the midpoint of New Mexico’s legislative session, bills that would legalize hemp research are moving at a clip through both chambers. But the governor’s not saying whether she’ll sign bills that would establish rules for cultivating the plant and a research fund at a state university, and remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Senate bill 6 has one more hearing in a House committee before it heads to the House floor for a final vote. The bill establishes a research and development fund at New Mexico State University and removes cannabis plants cultivated for industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill’s sponsor, Cisco McSorley, D Albuquerque, touts the economic benefits of researching hemp in the state.

Legislator seeks to consolidate early childhood education programs

While legislators debate how to fund early childhood education programs, some think more efficiency and better services can be achieved by consolidating early childhood programs. Senate Bill 106 would create a cabinet-level Early Childhood Services Department with oversight of existing programs like home visiting and pre-kindergarten that are currently scattered through various state agencies. “We have a public education department, we have a higher education department, but we don’t have that focus on that early childhood educational component,” said Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. In addition to better coordination of services, Morales said consolidation of programs would maximize taxpayer dollers. “I think that we have dollars that go unspent. We have, unfortunately, programs that aren’t run as efficiently as I would like to see,” Senator Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said about his bill to establish

 

According to a Legislative Finance Committee Early Childhood report, both state and federal funding for early childhood services totals more than $230 million.