Help us create journalism for Albuquerque’s Native American population

Albuquerque is home to one of the largest urban Native populations in the country. And yet you rarely see sustained, quality journalism about this community.That changes next year.Starting in June of 2020, New Mexico In Depth will embark on a reporting project that centers Albuquerque’s Native American population thanks to Report for America, a national program that pairs host newsrooms with ambitious reporters. NMID has been selected as one of RFA’s host newsrooms in 2020-2021. NMID proposed to cover a population that intersects with many of the complex challenges confronting New Mexico. There is much reporting to do – about resilience, about creativity, about a continuing effort to empower younger generations through culture and language retention. And, yes, about the thorny problems that disproportionately affect Native communities.   New Mexico’s underserved populations deserve quality news coverage. This grant pays in part for a new reporter for this worthy project, about half of his or her salary and benefits. NMID must raise the balance.So here’s where you come in. We’re asking you to help us financially.

Do New Mexico tax breaks work? It’s hard to tell in expenditure report

New Mexico lawmakers this week looked at a report that shows how much money escapes government collections due to tax breaks approved over the years. As lawmakers and the governor continue to examine how to reform New Mexico’s tax code, it’s timely. 

Called a tax expenditure budget, the report details more than a hundred tax deductions, credits and exemptions, how long each has been on the books, why they were enacted, and whether they achieve their desired result. (Need a primer on what a tax expenditure budget is? See our special report in 2016). 

While the report is the size of a small book and would take more than an afternoon to read, lawmakers complained it didn’t have enough information, per Dan McKay at the ABQ Journal. 

And they’d have a point. There’s no data for some of the listings, and much of the report has limited usefulness for evaluation purposes. Many items have brief evaluation paragraphs with little information, or in some cases, simply the word “none.” 

More information about how government policy is made and whether it’s meeting intended goals is always better than less. 

Not only is this tax expenditure report incomplete, however, the data it contains isn’t as accessible to the public as it could be. 

For example, if you go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, you’ll find a nifty tool: a searchable database of tax breaks for every state.

New Mexicans gather for climate protests across state

More than a thousand New Mexicans in Albuquerque and Las Cruces protested inaction by the nation’s leaders on climate change Friday, joining in a day of action that swept through cities across the globe. 

In Albuquerque roughly 1,500 climate protesters, young and old and from various backgrounds, began in Robinson Park at Central Avenue and Eighth Street where speakers motivated the crowd to fight for change and to demand no more delays. Protestors in Albuquerque turned out with signs and demands for the nation’s leaders to act on climate change Friday / Bianca Hoops for New Mexico In Depth

A sense of determinism rippled across the crowd as people urged the speakers on, including the city’s mayor, Tim Keller. 

“For the first time in decades our city has to issue ozone warnings again,” Keller said in a raspy voice to a rapt crowd. “We have to tell children not to go to soccer practices because the ozone levels are too high if you have asthma. I am not making this up. It is because of climate change.

NM system for reviewing police shootings remains broken

Elizabeth Palma and her son, Anthony Benavidez, loved trips to the cinema. In early 2017 they enjoyed Disney’s live-action remake of “Cinderella” together. It would be their last movie. Months later, Benavidez, 24, lay fatally wounded by police in a Santa Fe apartment that bore the marks of his isolating schizophrenia: walls painted black, aluminum foil covering a bedroom window, heavy blinds draped over another. City officials paid his family $400,000 to settle a civil lawsuit after the killing.

Santa Fe DA promises special prosecutor for fatal 2017 police shooting

District Attorney Marco Serna says he will appoint a special prosecutor to review “additional information” in a 2017 police shooting that killed a 24-year-old man who was living with schizophrenia in his southeast Santa Fe apartment. The move marks a change for Serna, who accepted the conclusion of a panel of three DAs — from Albuquerque, Clovis and Las Vegas, New Mexico — in early 2018 that the two Santa Fe Police officers who fired should not be criminally prosecuted for the killing. Serna’s decision means one of the most controversial police shootings in recent Santa Fe history will get a second look. In March, when Serna announced that the panel had concluded no charges should be filed against officers Jeramie Bisagna and Luke Wakefield, Serna’s spokesman said the first-term Democratic prosecutor who is now running for Congress would adopt the panel’s findings. By that time the family had agreed to accept a $400,000 settlement with the city of Santa Fe in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Secrecy at NM federal court appears unchanged

A longstanding culture of secrecy in New Mexico’s federal courts appears unchanged after a pair of New Mexico In Depth stories exposed it last fall and one of the state’s leading government transparency advocates called for change. We’re using the word “appears” because neither the court nor the big, publicly funded and mandated law firms that practice there every day have answered NMID’s questions for this story yet. (After our inquiries, the court clerk said the chief judge has agreed to an interview in a couple weeks.) 

But using a court records searching trick we learned last year, NMID did a little spot checking to see how much access the public has in cases where people’s freedom is nearly always on the line. The picture doesn’t look any better than last year. More on that later.

Agreement on NM probation, parole reforms seems stuck in the mud

Lawmakers and prosecutors appear as far apart as ever on reform proposals for New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham admonishing them to find common ground in April. That’s when the first-term Democratic governor vetoed a reform bill — with significant consternation — that would have shifted the systems away from incarceration as a first resort and likely seen significantly fewer people returning to prison and jail. 

The disagreements center largely on who should be locked back up for violating their probation and who should not, and a change that would have required the Parole Board to issue detailed, written findings when it denies someone’s release after 30 years behind bars. If changes favored by legislators become law, potentially thousands of people in New Mexico who are currently locked up would remain under state supervision, but not behind bars. It could burden the justice system, creating the need for new jobs and monitoring mechanisms, but also save the public millions in lock-up costs, legislative analysts say. Lawmakers have pushed the changes because they say a shift toward rehabilitation and providing services to lower-level offenders can help them turn their lives around and stay out of the justice system.