NMID wins top honors in regional journalism contest, including 1st place multi-media award

New Mexico In Depth took top honors at a regional journalism contest over the weekend, including a 1st place multi-media journalism award for its examination of New Mexico’s broken bail system. The Society for Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest covers New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.  

We also won a 1st place award for general website excellence and three 3rd place awards for investigative/enterprise reporting and environmental general reporting. 1st Place in Multi-Media Journalism

Teaming up with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting last fall, New Mexico In Depth told the story of one man’s journey through New Mexico’s bail system. Tom Chudzinski, a former architect, spent more than 30 days in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center because he didn’t have enough money to afford bail.

Fundraising gives insight into New Mexico 2018 gubernatorial race

New Mexico’s 2018 election season is off to a fast start when it comes to campaign cash. Candidates reported raising $1.8 million in reports filed Monday, with nearly half that raised by Democratic gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The reports shed light on possible upcoming 2018 races. They also show funds raised for school board elections that concluded in February. You can search the data at New Mexico In Depth’s Openness Project.

2017 #nmleg laws and the governor’s vetoes in 4 easy charts

New Mexico lawmakers passed 277 bills in this year’s 2017 session, but Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed more than half of them. Democrats, particularly Senate Democrats, were the most frequent veto victims.

Overall, Martinez vetoed 60 percent of the 172 bills sponsored solely by Democrats. She signed nearly 72 percent of the 60 bills sponsored solely by Republicans. And she approved nearly 58 percent of the 45 bills with bipartisan sponsorship. Here’s a look at the raw numbers by sponsorship:

House Republicans saw 78 percent of the 32 bills they passed become law, the highest success rate.

Governor vetoes campaign finance reform

Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Friday vetoed a piece of legislation that would have required greater public disclosure by those who spend big money in New Mexico political races. The governor vetoed Senate Bill 96, a goal long sought by good-government groups and those who wanted greater information on the influence of money in politics. “While I support efforts to make political process more transparent, the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances,” Martinez wrote in her veto message. One of the legislation’s sponsors, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, responded to news of the veto Friday morning. “I am disappointed but not surprised that the Governor would side with the Koch brothers and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and ignore the 90% of Republicans and Democrats in New Mexico who support campaign finance transparency.

Martinez vetoes solitary reform, ‘ban the box’ bills

Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday vetoed two criminal justice reform bills that passed the Legislature with bipartisan support. The first, House Bill 175, would have banned the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico’s jails and prisons for pregnant women and children. The measure also would have restricted the controversial practice of leaving people in a cell for 22 hours a day or more with no meaningful human interaction for people living with mental illness. Martinez, a two-term Republican governor who previously spent 25 years as a prosecutor, also vetoed a bill that would have restricted private employers from inquiring about job applicants’ criminal histories. In her veto message on the solitary confinement bill, Martinez cited the safety of corrections officers and a need to lock certain children sentenced to adult prisons away alone as her reasons for killing the measure.

Martinez vetoes bill to close lobbyist loophole

Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Thursday vetoed legislation that would have required lobbyists to return to disclosing more information publicly about money they spend on public officials. The Legislature passed a law that weakened those rules last year but sought to correct what some lawmakers called an inadvertent mistake during this year’s 60-day session, which ended last month. Martinez’s veto means lobbyists won’t need to report expenses on lawmakers and other public officials under $100, as they did prior to the current law taking effect. Martinez explained her reasoning in a one-page veto message. “Various interpretations and ambiguity of the bill became clear” after discussion with the bill sponsor, Martinez wrote in her veto message, although she didn’t detail that ambiguity.

Competitor: ABQ ‘rigged’ new body cam agreement for Taser

A Georgia-based police body camera manufacturer is alleging Albuquerque officials used an “inappropriate and illegal” process to reach a tentative agreement with Taser International Inc. for cameras and online video storage at the state’s largest law enforcement agency. Ted Davis, president and CEO of Utility Associates, Inc., filed a formal protest this week saying Taser’s initial bid of $4.7 million should have been disqualified last year because it did not meet the city’s requirements spelled out in a request for proposals. Chief among Davis’ allegations is that Taser low-balled its initial bid by not including specific prices for cameras and other required equipment — a claim reviewed by a New Mexico In Depth using public records related to the RFP. “That should’ve been it,” Davis said in a telephone interview with NMID from his office in Decatur, Ga. “It should’ve been over at that point.”

Utility Associates would have won the contract because it scored second highest behind Taser among the city’s seven-member selection committee.

Cannabis advocates undeterred in face of federal threat

During his campaign for president, Donald Trump said he would leave marijuana laws in the hands of the states, but his appointment of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general has created uncertainty about the future of the legalization movement. At a speech on March 15, Sessions made his views clear. “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” he said. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

But Emily Kaltenbach, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico, said it’s too late to backtrack on the issue. It’s a states’ rights issue, and some governors have already pushed back at the anti-marijuana rhetoric, she said.

What financial disclosure forms don’t require reveal as much as what they do

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell is a race horse owner, as she points out on her Twitter biography and her financial disclosure document. As a Republican lawmaker from Roswell, Ezzell often proposes and advocates for legislation that impacts the racing industry. At least seven of the 13 members of the House Education Committee are current or former educators, and one is a former school board member. At every meeting they take action on legislation that could impact their current or former livelihoods. Then there’s House Speaker Brian Egolf, the Santa Fe Democrat criticized by Republicans for failing to disclose his client – a medical cannabis provider – before the Department of Health.

Lobbyists report spending nearly $292K during session

Lobbyists reported spending nearly $292,000 during the 2017 legislative session, with more to be reported in May. Many of the final reports focused not on buying meals for lawmakers, but on campaigns to lobby them. Two groups, New Mexicans for Comprehensive Energy Solutions and Americans for Comprehensive Energy Solutions, spent spent nearly $16,900 on digital and newspaper advertising to encourage the Legislature to extend renewable energy tax credits. The bills the group supported didn’t make it out of committee. The American Federation of Teachers reported spending $10,000 for a consultant in “issue education for budget and revenue.”

The American Cancer Society Action Network lobbyist reported spending $9,591 on Facebook ads and phone calls urging support of a tax increase on tobacco products, an effort that failed.