Oil and gas is responsible for state’s renaissance in business and communities

A new era is on the horizon for New Mexico. The future for this industry in the state has never been brighter. Of course, this is not only true for New Mexico’s political transition, it’s true for the energy renaissance taking place across America and right here in the Land of Enchantment. Earlier this year, the Energy Information Agency reported that the US became the largest producer of crude oil in the world. This spectacular accomplishment reflects the idea that we should have greater control of our energy future, making our country more secure, and allowing communities and economies to flourish.

It’s Time to Deliver for New Mexico’s Working Families in the 2019 Legislative Session

Elections have consequences — or at least they should. The resounding victory of Democrats in the 2018 election with an expanded majority in the state House, and Democrats holding every statewide office should result in passage of a real working families’ agenda. It is time for state leaders to deliver a real working families’ agenda in the 2019 legislative session that should include:

Raising the minimum wage — The top priority for policymakers this session must be to raise the minimum wage from the current poverty wage of $7.25 per hour to a a living wage of $15 per hour. Raising New Mexico’s minimum wage gradually over the next few years to $15 would lift pay for 370,000 workers, strengthening families, communities, and our state’s economy. Unfortunately, an increase to $15 per hour — even gradually — seems politically difficult even with the Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature and a Democratic governor.

Governor-elect Lujan Grisham will return everyday New Mexican voices to the center of our state government

With Michelle Lujan Grisham at the helm, New Mexicans can be assured that their voice will be heard, creating a metamorphosis of how our state operates and who our government serves. We at CVNM have been working hard to ensure the incoming administration reflects New Mexicans’ shared conservation values since we gave Governor Susana Martinez an “F” in our Conservation Scorecard four years ago. She made it clear on her first day that she stood with her well-connected corporate donors, not with everyday New Mexicans. When a tone is set like that at the top, our people suffer the most. Our vision is for New Mexicans to thrive in equitable, resilient communities where our conservation and cultural values guide our decision-makers and public policies.

Legislature should enact voters’ mandate for strong ethics commission

The “devil is in the details,” the old adage goes, and nowhere is this more evident than in drafting legislation. After 75 percent of New Mexico’s voters supported the passage of a constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission last fall, the 2019 Legislature is now mandated to craft those “devilish details” and pass enabling legislation that will set up and empower this commission to begin its work. The 2017 House Joint Resolution that initiated the ballot measure only drew a broad outline of the commission’s appointment process, statutory jurisdiction and powers, and now it’s time to provide the ways and the means for the commission’s functions and funding. This presents an exciting opportunity for New Mexico. Since June of 2018, staff from Common Cause, New Mexico First, the League of Women Voters, NM Ethics Watch, legislators and their staff have been meeting to work through many of these details and to build a blueprint for enabling legislation.

To improve our schools, spend more in the classroom

One of this session’s top priorities will be increasing New Mexico’s education funding in the wake of the recent Yazzie court decision that found that New Mexico is failing to spend enough money on programs that improve outcomes for at-risk students. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, as well as many new and returning legislators, have been strong advocates for increasing spending in the classroom, especially on proven programs like high-quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, in recent years, too much of New Mexico’s education budget has been spent on things that don’t make a difference for students. Between 1993 and 2015 (the most recent year for which national data is available), New Mexico rose from 44th in the nation to 35th in the nation for total annual spending per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet our graduation rates and math and reading scores continue to lag behind states that spend less per student.

Conditions for New Mexico’s children are ripe for change

The challenge is clearer than ever: A judge has ruled that New Mexico – once again ranked last for child well-being – fails to provide its children with a sufficient education, and must do better. Fortunately, after years of austerity, lawmakers expect to have more than a billion new dollars to allocate this year, along with a new governor who brings a fresh mandate and agenda. A policy window is opening, and substantial change is possible. During this special moment, lawmakers should prioritize early childhood. The science is clear – the first years of life set the brain’s foundation for future success in profound ways, and reliable access to care and education supports family economic and educational attainment.

On heels of town hall, New Mexico First seeks to stabilize what’s working in higher ed

New Mexicans know that obtaining a credential or a degree after high school increases a person’s earning potential across a lifetime. However, rising education costs and poorly defined pathways can make college seem out of reach, especially for low-income students. By 2020, an estimated 63 percent of New Mexico jobs will require at least some college, yet the state falls short in supplying a skilled workforce to fill those positions. At New Mexico First’s 2018 town hall, “Strengthening Higher Education and Tomorrow’s Workforce,” participants recommended financial support for students so they encumber as little debt as possible while completing well-defined higher education pathways, from certificates to professional degrees. To that end, we are working on two urgent pieces of legislation that will prevent the shuttering of two important projects: the College Affordability Fund and the SUN PATH program for students aspiring to healthcare careers.

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.

New direction, and infusion of money, seen for criminal justice system

Lawmakers are hopeful that 2019 brings an opportunity to significantly overhaul major parts of the New Mexico criminal justice system, after what one key state senator called a “lost decade” that saw myriad ideas but scant action. Bills are expected to address chronically high crime rates across the state, with a focus on speedier justice in cases involving violence and more lifeboats for people whose lesser crimes have saddled them with the stigma of a criminal record. There’s talk of a massive “omnibus” bill that would feature changes to New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, reparations for crime victims, the way law enforcement uses eyewitness testimony to seek convictions and several other laws. Then there are the reforms that, in years past, have found support from both political parties but ultimately met the veto pen of Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor who for eight years stuck to her belief that New Mexico needed tougher penalties for lawbreakers, but largely stiff-armed proposals to address systemic injustices. Those shifts — likely to be proposed in individual bills — would include limiting the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails, creating a pathway for some offenders to have their criminal records wiped clean after a period of time and prohibiting private-sector employers from inquiring about job applicants’ past convictions in most instances.

Ambitious renewable goals on deck as new political era dawns in New Mexico

New Mexico was in the first wave of states to require gradually increasing amounts of renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal to power its electrical grid. Signed into law in 2004, the state’s Renewable Energy Act required private utilities to ensure that 20 percent of the electricity they provide to consumers comes from those sources by 2020. Since then, what was once a novel idea has gone mainstream. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have similar laws. More than half have higher goals than 20 percent.