Bill forcing Parole Board to explain decisions on ‘30-year lifers’ heads to governor

A set of reforms to the state’s probation and parole systems is headed to the governor’s desk, with subtle changes to how the Parole Board considers requests for freedom by people sentenced to 30-years-to life in prison. House Bill 564 passed the Senate Tuesday after tweaks from that chamber’s Judiciary Committee, then cleared the House on a concurrence vote Wednesday. Current state law forces inmates sentenced to 30-years-to life in prison to show why they should be set free. The bill appears to shift the onus between the inmate and the state. In its original form the bill would have shifted that burden entirely to the state, mandating  those inmates be paroled unless the board “makes a finding that the inmate is unable or unwilling to fulfill the obligations of a law-abiding citizen.”

The bill heading to the governor now says before paroling an inmate, the board would have to interview the inmate and “consider all pertinent information concerning the inmate.”

Another change to current law would eliminate the requirement that the board consider the “circumstances of the offense.” The revised bill requires the board to detail a finding that release is in the “best interest of society and the inmate,” conclude that the inmate is “willing to fulfill the obligations of a law-abiding citizen” and provide in writing specific support for its decision to grant or deny parole to the inmate.

House Judiciary ethics changes set up potential for legislative showdown

With less than 48 hours left in the 60-day session, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday evening set up the potential for a legislative showdown over a new, independent ethics commission as time runs out on the 2019 session. It happened when House Judiciary members dramatically altered the Senate’s vision for the new commission, sending it to the full House for a vote. It was another strange turn in the long trip for ethics commission legislation during this year’s session as state lawmakers seek to honor New Mexicans’ wishes. Seventy five percent of voters in the November election approved amending the state constitution by adding an independent ethics commission with subpoena power following a series of scandals.  

That the fate of a new commission might be decided in a game of legislative chicken in the final 36 hours of this year’s session isn’t a surprise.

Another session with no fix for patchwork of police shooting reviews

Despite another year in which New Mexico led the nation for fatal police shootings by population, how best to ensure public trust when those cases are reviewed for possible wrongdoing remains a vexing question. And with less than 48 hours left in this year’s 60-day legislative session, another year likely will pass without a fix from lawmakers. At a time when New Mexico is swimming in cash, neither lawmakers nor the state’s 14 district attorneys have appeared to push for the additional money it would take to create a uniform, statewide review system. “This session, there really hasn’t been anything that would address this,” Rick Tedrow, Eleventh Judicial district attorney and immediate past president of the New Mexico District Attorneys Association, told New Mexico In Depth. “In terms of funding for extra prosecutors to focus on these cases, it really should be the DAs asking for that.

Penalties for oil and gas violations revived in Senate Judiciary, pass Senate

Crude oil storage tanks in San Juan County

The Senate passed a House bill last night on a 32:6 vote dealing with wastewater from oil and gas production, after the Judiciary committee amended it to grant the Oil Conservation Division authority to issue fines and fees. Now, if the House agrees with the amendments and the governor signs it, the OCD will, for the first time since 2009, be able to issue fines for violations of New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Act. The Senate amendments pick up an effort made by sponsors of SB 186, which was sent to Senate Finance and has yet to see a hearing. Initially, HB 546, titled the “Fluid Oil and Gas Waste Act,” sought to address questions around managing the estimated 1 billion barrels of water that emerge with oil through production. Companies had cited concerns over jurisdiction, liability and potential to retain proceeds among the reasons just 8 percent of water that comes out of oil and gas activities was being reused, Jennifer Bradfute, an attorney with Marathon Oil, told House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources committee members when that bill was first heard.

Bringing sunshine to human rights settlements nears finish

A bill that would make information about state agency settlements involving sexual harassment and other discrimination claims more accessible to the public is a step away from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk after clearing an important committee

The House Judiciary unanimously passed SB 317 after a short discussion Wednesday. The legislation would require posting to the state Sunshine Portal amounts of taxpayer dollars paid out in individual settlements related to human rights, including sexual harassment and discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation and race, and the state agencies that are involved. Currently, it is difficult to find out about such complaints across the many agencies in state government or to know when information about individual settlements become public. The bill does not require names be published on the Sunshine Portal, so as “to not discourage anyone from filing claims,” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, co-sponsor of the bill, “but we do want to know when those claims are being paid out.” Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsor of the bill, said that the bill speeds up when the information is made public.

Senators reject lobbying reform

A near empty Senate Rules committee hears sponsors of a lobbying reform measure present their bill on Monday, March 13. One could say whether a bill makes it out of a legislative committee has everything to do with the lawmakers sitting on the committee. But Senate somersaults this week pretty much lay to rest the notion that the vote of a committee always matters. If lawmakers really want to pass something, they will. The example this week: ethics commission legislation.

Governor’s concerns doom law enforcement, ICE bill

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is worried a bill that would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration law might cost New Mexico money. The governor’s skepticism effectively dooms SB 196, which would bar local law enforcement agencies and New Mexico State Police from using state or local resources to enforce federal immigration law. It also would stop them from detaining immigrants when a person’s immigration status is their sole focus. It wouldn’t stop law enforcement from pursuing crimes by undocumented immigrants, including when authorities have a warrant or a person is suspected of a crime, however.  

The measure has been stuck in Senate Judiciary Committee since late January.

New Mexico lawmakers cautious on early childhood funding, even though cash rich

Lawmakers want to pump hundreds of millions more into public education this year, but advocates and some lawmakers say too little is going to early childhood programs that serve children under the age of five, and continue to argue the state needs to tap New Mexico’s permanent land grant fund. Over the past decade, how much to increase the state’s investment in such early childhood programs has aroused deep passions among advocates and lawmakers. Nothing has changed in 2019. According to a legislative analysis, the Legislature is proposing to spend $125 million more for early childhood programs for the year that starts July 1, but most of that is made up of a $90 million increase to K5 Plus, a program for children aged 5 and over. The Legislative Finance Committee describes New Mexico’s early childhood care and education as running from before a baby is born to when he or she reaches 8 years of age.

Multicultural education framework advances

Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners. A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.

Renewable power plan aka ‘Energy Transition Act’ heads to governor

Solar panels at PNM’s Santa Fe Solar Center. It went online in 2015 and produces 9.5 megawatts, enough energy to power 3,850 average homes. New Mexico’s lawmakers have approved the Energy Transition Act, SB 489, committing the state to transitioning to 80 percent renewable power by 2040. The act also helps Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) with the costs of closing the San Juan Generating Station. It  directs $30 million toward the clean-up of the coal-fired power plant and the mine that supplies it and $40 million toward economic diversification efforts in that corner of the state and support for affected power plant employees and miners.