Native lawmakers carve out space for tribal voices at the statehouse

For Native Americans at the Roundhouse, the annual American Indian Day, celebrated on Friday, is a day to commemorate the struggle Native politicians have endured to find their voice in a predominately non-Native Legislature. Tribal leaders who moved to establish formal governing institutions or processes for their communities in the United States initially established relationships and forged agreements with the federal government.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that Native leaders began to turn their attention more fully to developing stronger voices within state houses. The Reagan administration during that decade made dramatic cuts to social welfare programs, including funding that provided health care and other services to tribes. Reagan’s policy toward American Indians was in line with his general philosophy of moving resources and decision-making authority to states rather than centralized federal control. “This whole state’s rights agenda really forced a relationship where there was no Indian policy, there was no delineation of any shared responsibilities between the state and the tribes,” Regis Pecos, co-director of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, said.

Then and Now: Years after childhood immigration, she dreams of stability

“My name is Cinthia Yaneli Muñoz Fierro,” the young woman announces, introducing herself in the Mexican custom with all her given and family names. “I was supposed to be born, as far as my parents’ plan, in El Paso,” she says. “That would have given me dual citizenship. But because my mom didn’t make it across in time, I was born in Juárez, Chihuahua. And right now, I am technically just an illegal immigrant; I don’t have U.S. citizenship whatsoever.”

Cinthia doesn’t remember crossing la frontera at age 3, but that twist of fate thrust her into a legal bind from which she hasn’t yet managed to extricate herself.

Ski passes, newspaper ads and meals: A look inside lobbyist spending during the session

What do ski passes, meals and newspaper ads all have in common? Lobbyists or their employers have purchased them in recent weeks as part of their ongoing efforts to build relationships with or bring lawmakers around to their perspectives on issues. According to mandatory reports filed since January 17th, lobbyists or their employers have spent more than $75,111 so far this session, slightly more than $68,000 spent by this time last year. About half the expenses were in the form of meals at restaurants in and around the Roundhouse, mostly larger events to which all legislators were invited. Lobbyist Natasha Ning told New Mexico In Depth (NMID) she was lobbying to establish a new scholarship at New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI), called the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship.

New Mexico Corrections Department holds hundreds of inmates past release dates

Joleen Valencia had resisted the temptation to count her days to freedom. She had learned inside a New Mexico prison that tracking time only added to the anxiety of serving a two-year drug-trafficking sentence that started in the spring of 2015, especially after her mother died and granddaughter had been born. She wanted nothing more than to return to her family’s home amid mesas on a reservation north of Albuquerque, and to stay clean after recovering from a heroin addiction. But rather than agonize, she kept busy. She worked daily dishwashing shifts, some lasting as long as 12 hours, to earn 10 cents an hour and eventually enough “good time” for what authorities said would be her new parole date: July 13, 2016.

Breaking down lawmakers’ bills on kids and families

New Mexico ranks 49th in child well-being. Wonder what the state’s lawmakers are doing about it? We looked at 2,586 legislative ideas on kids and families so you don’t have to. Here’s what we learned:

Lawmakers proposed more than double the number of bills, memorials and resolutions during the Richardson administration than during the Martinez administration. The database shows lawmakers proposed 1,749 legislative initiatives under Democrat Gov. Bill Richardson and 837 initiatives under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Analysis: Legislative efforts to boost child well-being often mired in partisanship

The big idea — a plan to close the achievement gap between low- and upper-income students — jumped off the pages of a magazine. It was 2003, and then-Rep. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and former schoolteacher, read an article by the late leader of the American Federation of Teachers union, Sandra Feldman. She proposed adding five weeks to the school year for low-income kindergarten students and called it “Kindergarten-Plus.”

Stewart ran a bill to create the program in New Mexico. Her version of Feldman’s idea had many things going for it — not least that Stewart herself had already spent eight years in the House building political capital. Democrats had full control of the Roundhouse and a governor from their party.

More funding would help, but other issues also impede early ed in rural New Mexico

With the 2018 legislative session fully underway, lawmakers are once again debating funding levels for early education. A tug a war continues to play out between those who say New Mexico ought to tap its Land Grant Permanent Fund, one of the largest such funds in the nation, to dramatically expand the reach of early ed programs and those who advocate a slower, incremental approach to increasing funding levels. As the debate rages on, current services aren’t evenly distributed around the state. New state dollars often go to places where they’re already going, helping to expand the number of children served in places where facilities to educate young children already exist. It leaves a lot of rural New Mexico’s children out in the cold when it comes to New Mexico PreK.

Sexual misconduct allegations simmer at the Roundhouse

SANTA FE— Lobbyist Vanessa Alarid described feeling like “a deer in the headlights” upon seeing Thomas Garcia at the Roundhouse on Wednesday. It was their first run-in since last month when Alarid accused Garcia, a former Democratic representative, of sexual misconduct. Alarid might be seeing more of Garcia. He might be seeing more of her, too. Garcia told New Mexico In Depth he is considering running for Rep. Tomás Salazar’s (D-Las Vegas) seat in District 70.

Domestic Violence court offers alternatives, hope for future

Jaime was just 19 years old when a fight with his girlfriend escalated from what he describes as “a lot of back and forth petty stuff” to a conflict that saw him facing misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Around the same time, he’d survived an attempted homicide and was coping with the news that his daughter was on her way. Rather than pursue a conviction, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court offered him a pre-prosecution alternative: the Domestic Violence Early Intervention Program. As part of that program, he participated in group and individual counseling sessions and parenting classes for six months. It’s the same amount of time his daughter has been alive.