With governor and her staff, transparency is a campaign slogan, not reality

Reading New Mexico In Depth’s 2018 Special Legislative Edition, you might notice a glaring hole in our reporting: There is no comment or perspective from Gov. Susana Martinez or her spokespeople. It wasn’t for lack of trying by New Mexico In Depth. This column ran Sunday in our 2018 special legislative edition, in newspapers around the state, including in Santa Fe and Las Cruces. On Tuesday, New Mexico In Depth did not receive an advance copy of the governor’s speech to the Legislature, as other news outlets did. In years past we have received the text version prior to the speech, along with other media outlets.

2018 legislative session: A look at critical issues before state lawmakers



New Mexico’s 2018 legislative session begins Tuesday. For the 4th year running we’ve created a special edition devoted to key issues legislators are sure to in one way or the other. The edition runs today in nine newspapers around the state, and we’ve published it online as well. See it in magazine form above, or read each article in print online.

Will lawmakers make 2018 the Year of the Child?

New Mexico’s children have arguably taken the brunt as the state has struggled through tough budgets the past couple of years, with cuts to public schools, state colleges and programs such as home visiting and expanded school years.

But with oil and gas revenues re-bounding, could 2018 be the year of the child at the Roundhouse?

Lobbyist transparency takes a nosedive

In our society, money buys things. That includes at places like the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, where the textbook ideal is an informed citizenry empowered to ask elected officials educated questions about how decisions are made but where the reality often is more muddy.

What money buys in Santa Fe is a pressing question these days in New Mexico, where in the past three years, a former secretary of state has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and a former state senator has been convicted of bribery.

Budget boost: New Mexico could burn through unexpected money quickly

Cautiously optimistic.

That might best describe two senior lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget committees on the eve of the 2018 legislative session.

After two years of dismal tax revenues, New Mexico is suddenly enjoying a surplus of cash. Estimates are between $200 million and $300 million in new money will greet state lawmakers when they convene Tuesday in Santa Fe.

Tax reform unlikely to happen in 2018

A few years ago, a tax nerd at the Roundhouse could catch murmurings of “deductions,” “exemptions,” and “credits” — the tell-tale sign of tax talk — while strolling past law-makers in the hallways or overhearing side conversations during committee hearings. Tax reform as a goal has progressed since then. In the past two years, the movement has interested a larger number of public officials, including Gov. Susana Martinez. Last year, competing concepts jockeyed for primacy. A bipartisan bill wasn’t in the cards.

NM’s skeletal criminal justice system needs a cash infusion

New Mexico’s judges are the lowest paid in the country. Its chronically underfunded public defenders struggle to represent clients in one of the nation’s poorest states. And prosecutors say they need more money to blunt increases in crime. This situation awaits New Mexico state lawmakers when they convene Tuesday for the 2018 session in Santa Fe. But, for the first time in years, thanks to a projected $200 million to $300 million more in revenue than anticipated, the Legislature could spread serious money around New Mexico’s skeletal criminal justice system after recent budget cuts and years of austerity.

Move to legalize cannabis continues

One school of thought is that cannabis, or marijuana, is relatively benign and ought to be legalized, regulated and taxed to spur economic growth and end the harm caused by criminalization. An opposing viewpoint is that it’s a dangerous drug that needs to re-main unavailable legally, with criminal punishment of those who break the law. Proponents of legalization in the New Mexico Legislature for several years have tried unsuccessfully to win a majority of state legislators over in a bid to legalize, regulate and tax the production and sale of cannabis to adults 21 years or older. Expect 2018 to be no different as Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, will again introduce a resolution during the four-week legislative session to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide, a move that would not require support from the governor. Prospects for success

Working in favor of Ortiz y Pino and other legislators bringing similar bills is a shift in public opinion over the past decade, with a majority in New Mexico and nationally believing recreational cannabis should be legal.

Federal judge slaps NM attorney in bail reform lawsuit

A federal judge has taken the unusual step of ordering a politically ambitious New Mexico attorney to pay back the state for filing a “frivolous” lawsuit aimed at undoing efforts to reform the state’s commercial bail system. The attorney, Blair Dunn, a Libertarian who earlier this week announced a run for state attorney general, must pay “reasonable costs and attorneys fees” to the office he seeks to occupy by year’s end, under the ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell. Junell, a George W. Bush appointee from the Western District of Texas, presided over the suit because the Attorney General’s Office represented the judges Dunn was suing, from the New Mexico Supreme Court, the Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Dunn sued last year on behalf of a group of state lawmakers, the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and a woman who was released from jail last year. Junell dismissed the case with prejudice in December, meaning it cannot be refiled.

Woman who alleged informant exploited romantic relationship receives reduced sentence

Jennifer Padilla likely won’t spend a single day locked up in federal prison. Under an agreement accepted Wednesday by U.S. District Judge William P. “Chip” Johnson, the 39-year-old mother of five received 24 months behind bars instead of the 10 to 13 years prosecutors originally wanted. Arrested in August 2016 on methamphetamine trafficking and conspiracy charges, Padilla is one of scores of people who were dubbed among Albuquerque’s “worst of the worst” after their arrests in a controversial 2016 undercover sting by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Padilla’s reduced sentence followed allegations she made in court motions that an ATF informant exploited their romantic relationship to lure her into a crime she would not otherwise have committed. NMID independently verified many of Padilla’s claims and laid them out in a story co-published with the Santa Fe Reporter on Aug.