Lobbying influence game largely in the dark

A reporter sits at her desk looking at a spreadsheet. The rows and columns show the spending lobbyists reported to the Secretary of State’s Office for the first five months of 2019, which includes the 60-day legislative session.  She wants to tell a story about what that spending bought. But there’s only so much to glean, because so much isn’t reported. That was me the other day.

Police Watchdog raises concerns over State Police ‘Surge’ in ABQ

A member of Albuquerque’s official police watchdog group is questioning the tactics and results of the recent “Metro Surge Operation,” in which 50 New Mexico State Police officers flooded the city ostensibly to help fight violent crime. “This is the perfect atmosphere, the perfect storm for civil rights violations, and it completely undermines the serious energy people have invested in police reform in Albuquerque,” Chelsea Van Deventer of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board told New Mexico In Depth earlier this week. Homicides and non-fatal shootings have gone up in Albuquerque in recent months, including the high-profile murder of a University of New Mexico baseball player outside a Nob Hill bar last month. In response, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Mayor Tim Keller, both Democrats, agreed on the “surge,” with Keller’s office saying publicly the operation would focus on “targeting violent crime in Albuquerque.”

The results, according to a KOAT-TV story, have not matched the stated goal. The station reported 452 arrests by State Police during the operation; 300 people were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor crimes.

After initial bump, CYFD proposes tighter eligibility for child care help

When NM In Depth reported on a settlement earlier this month in a lawsuit against the Children Youth and Families Department over its policies on child care assistance, a big money question was left hanging. CYFD agreed to temporarily bump initial eligibility for child care subsidies to families earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level, from 150%, but the department would need supplementary funding if it was going to keep it at that level. Part of the settlement with OLÉ and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty also said the department needed to come up with new eligibility rules within 90 days, and give the public a chance to weigh in. This week the department posted those proposed changes — taking eligibility to apply for assistance to just 160% of the federal poverty level. Those who already have the benefit would continue to keep it until they reach 200% of FPL.

Judge sees progress in state efforts on Medicaid, SNAP

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuit over the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales

He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules.

NM Corrections Dept. gets interim secretary; search for permanent boss continues

A cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Corrections remains one of the few holes in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s leadership team as she approaches the end of her fourth month in office. Alisha Tafoya Lucero was named interim Corrections secretary on April 9. The first-term Democrat thought she’d filled the post in late January when she named Julie Jones, former boss of the Florida prison system. But Jones backed out in late February, citing “unexpected personal issues in my life that prevent me from being able to move to New Mexico.”

Jones would have succeeded David Jablonski, who served as Corrections secretary from November 2016 through Dec. 31, 2018, former Gov. Susana Martinez’ last day in office.

NMID’s Trip Jennings receives NM First award for excellence

NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings

New Mexico In Depth Executive Director Trip Jennings has received the Spirit of Journalistic Excellence award from the nonpartisan, statewide public-policy organization New Mexico First, an organization known for convening town halls around the state to build consensus on pressing public issues. “New Mexico First is proud to recognize lawmakers, journalists and community leaders who put the people of New Mexico first and work to find good solutions to the challenges we face,” said former state senator Cynthia Nava, selection committee chair, in a news release. “This award shines the spotlight on hard-working role models who put good policy or fair coverage above partisan politics.”

“I’m humbled by the award,” Jennings said, “which is both an honor and a reminder of the necessity of journalism that is both vigorous and thoughtful, and that grounds public debates in people’s lives and the communities they live in rather than the fickle winds of partisan politics.”

Trip started his career in Georgia at his hometown newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle. Since then he’s worked at newspapers in California, Florida and Connecticut. Trip moved to New Mexico in 2005 and has worked for the Albuquerque Journal, The New Mexico Independent and the Santa Fe New Mexican covering everything from political corruption and how political decisions are made to the challenges confronted by those without political power when they seek change.

Gov vetoes probation, parole reforms — with some reluctance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has vetoed a set of reforms to the state’s probation and parole systems that would have, among other changes, reduced the number of “technical violations” that could land someone back behind bars and required the Parole Board to detail denials for those sentenced to 30-years-to-life who are seeking release. The move comes after state Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico’s 14 district attorneys pushed back against the bill in a letter to the governor as this year’s 60-day legislative session came to a close last month. The prosecutors argued that House Bill 564, if signed into law, “poses a significant public safety risk.”

Lujan Grisham’s veto message is time-stamped Thursday at 11:12 p.m.

“It’s something we’re not necessarily happy about,” Lujan Grisham’s spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, told New Mexico In Depth Friday morning. Changes sought through the bill “will be aggressively and expeditiously addressed in the interim with the DAs and the attorney general. The governor has that full expectation.”

In her veto message, Lujan Grisham sided with HB564’s sponsors — Republican Sen. Sander Rue and Democratic representatives Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Gail Chasey — in pointing out that the prosecutors waited until after the session to complain about the bill.

The hygienist will see you now at Lynn Middle School

There was something poetic about Lynn Community Middle School’s dental clinic opening on Wednesday. That day the school hosted its monthly food pantry for neighborhood families. And it was the same day Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law House Bill 589, which sets up an initiative to take the community school model statewide. Every Wednesday, students at Lynn Middle School will be able to get preventive dental care right down the hall from their classrooms. The clinic is staffed by dental hygiene students from Doña Ana Community College. Those are just the kinds of things community schools are meant to do — bring social services to students so they can concentrate on learning, and become a resource for the surrounding community.

Spokesman: NM Gov will sign solitary confinement reform, ‘ban the box’ bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will sign a bill reforming the way solitary confinement is used in the state’s jails and prisons and another that restricts when private employers can ask job seekers about their past criminal records, her spokesman told New Mexico In Depth on Tuesday. The first-term, Democratic governor is still reviewing — in a few cases, with some consternation — a handful of other criminal justice reforms lawmakers passed during the recently concluded 60-day legislative session, said Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s communications director. Solitary confinement has been a heated issue in New Mexico for years, bringing multi-million-dollar lawsuit settlements and allegations of human rights abuses against inmates in the state. Four Democrats sponsored House Bill 364, defining solitary confinement as holding someone in a cell alone for 22 or more hours a day “without daily, meaningful and sustained human interaction.” Lujan Grisham’s signature will limit the instances in which state and county jailers use solitary on juveniles, people living with mental illness and pregnant women. The new law also will bring some transparency to the use of solitary.