An ignored epidemic in New Mexico’s prisons

The treatment was simple — three pills a day, best taken on a full stomach — and it cured Gabriel Serna of hepatitis C in eight weeks. He just had to wait eight years to get it. In theory, revolutionary medications have made the blood-borne, sometimes-fatal infection curable, so people with the disease need not endure the inexorable and irreversible damage it causes to their livers. Unless they are in one of New Mexico’s prisons, like Serna was for much of his wait. That’s because although the state’s inmates have the highest prevalence of hepatitis C of any group in New Mexico — more than four in 10 are infected — the prisons are hardly treating any of them: Out of some 3,000 prisoners diagnosed with the disease, just 46 received treatment for hepatitis C during the 2018 fiscal year.

New Mexico faces moral test on educating diverse students

When Wilhelmina Yazzie thinks back to elementary school, she remembers feeling shame in not speaking “proper English.”

These days, Yazzie feels pride in speaking Navajo and wants the same for her children when they grow up. “That would be one of the great accomplishments, if we get (Native language classes) in all the schools,” Yazzie said a few weeks ago to talk about a historic ruling in a lawsuit that bears her name. However, the school district her children attend – Gallup McKinley – gets just $25,000 in Indian Education Act funding to serve about 9,000 Native American students. “That is pennies. There’s hardly anything we can do with that to meet the cultural and linguistic needs that are required under this law,” said Superintendent Mike Hyatt.

Big push is on for early education funding from school permanent fund

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing $60 million more this year for early childhood education — part of a five-year plan to make access to preschool in New Mexico available to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Legislation has been introduced that expands the prekindergarten program in public schools and adds preschool classrooms to the school building fund. With a $1.1 billion surplus to ease financial pressures, both the governor and Legislature are proposing a huge boost in dollars meant for public schools. Given all that, does it still make sense to pursue the long-fought goal to tap the $17.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education in New Mexico? The governor, for one, says yes.

Lobbyist loophole fix heads to gov. as lobbyists spend nearly $90K

A bill requiring full disclosure of lobbyist expenditures is heading to the governor’s desk after being fast-tracked through the Legislature as part of the “rocket docket,” a set of bills prioritized after gaining legislative approval in previous sessions only to be vetoed by former governor Susana Martinez. Meanwhile, lobbyists or their employers have already reported spending almost $90,000 during the session. SB 191 fixes a mistake made by legislators in 2016 when they inadvertently got rid of a requirement that lobbyists and their employers report a total of smaller lobbying expenses. Transparency advocates characterized it as a step backward in an ongoing effort to create more transparent government. If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the bill, which she has indicated she will, all expenditures will have to be reported in the future, including the total of individual expenses under $100.

Lawmakers aim to make voter registration automatic, more convenient

A group of legislators want to ensure more New Mexicans can vote by making registration easier. They’re proposing automatic voter registration when a person gets a driver’s license and they also want to allow registration right at the polls. Eligible voters already can register or update their registration when applying for or renewing a driver’s license or identification at the Motor Vehicle Division. House Bill 84 would make that process automatic, with an opt-out option for those who don’t want to register. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Democratic representatives from Albuquerque and Corrales — Daymon Ely, Debra Sariñana, Patricia Roybal Caballero and Joy Garratt.

Mission control: Governor announces education leadership team

New Mexico’s moonshot for education finally has someone permanent at Mission Control. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday named Karen Trujillo as her secretary of education, along with a diverse leadership team that has as its mission transforming the state’s beleaguered public school system to educate children better — and finally erase the achievement gap for at-risk students. The New Mexico State University education researcher and newly elected Doña Ana County commissioner has two credentials whose lack dogged Martinez appointee Hanna Skandera — she’s a native New Mexican and spent years at the front of a classroom. And she and her husband, Ben Trujillo, sent their three children to public schools. She also struck a different tone than former governor Susana Martinez’s education secretaries.

Senate Rules quick to pass lobbyist loophole fix

The Senate Rules committee made quick work this morning passing a bill to reverse a measure in 2016 that reduced the amount of spending lobbyists are required to report. This year’s bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, is included on the so-called “rocket docket,” a list of bills assigned to just one committee with the goal of fast-tracking them for signature by New Mexico’s new Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham. This video created by New Mexico In Depth in 2017 features Ivey-Soto explaining the problem created by the 2016 changes to lobbyist disclosure requirements.The rocket docket bills all previously passed the Legislature only to be vetoed by former Republican governor Susana Martinez. In her speech to a joint session of the Legislature on opening day, Lujan Grisham singled out Ivey-Soto’s bill, saying she favored signing the lobbyist disclosure measure. In front of the Senate Rules committee today, Ivey-Soto gave a familiar rundown of what happened in 2016, explaining that a bill he sponsored that year “inadvertently” dropped requirements that lobbyists report spending under $100.

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.

Lobbyists dole out quarter million in lead up to session

Santa Fe is known for food. Really good food. In fact, the culinary scene is known to foodies across the country – maybe the globe – thanks to periodic travel and food pieces over the decades in a variety of publications, including the New York Times. So it is no surprise that lobbyists would exploit Santa Fe’s culinary abundance as a way to build or maintain relationships with New Mexico’s policy makers. Forty one lobbyists, according to filings at the Secretary of State’s office, spent $35,000 since early October, about half of it at restaurants and hotels, on small groups of legislators, or in a few cases, legislative committees.

New Mexico is getting out there with new outdoor recreation position

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s state of the state address mentioned a new job title in her administration: an outdoor recreation coordinator. “The outdoor recreation coordinator will work to promote and support outdoor recreation across the state,” Nora Meyers Sackett, deputy press secretary for Grisham, wrote in an email.  “Much in the same way that the film office works to facilitate film business in New Mexico, the outdoor recreation position will work with communities, outdoor recreation businesses, the hospitality industry, and our marketing and tourism sectors to further grow the industry and attract visitors to New Mexico to experience our great outdoors.”

The new position would mark another step toward New Mexico joining a growing movement to bolster the outdoor industry as an economic force. The previous administration’s #NewMexicoTrue campaign could be seen as an early foray here, and in May, Las Cruces hosted the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference, with a keynote speech from U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Nathan Small, both Democrats from Las Cruces, sponsored memorials requesting the tourism and economic departments study the effects of creating a state office of outdoor recreation in 2017 and 2018. The move would match one made by Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.