NM lawmakers go big on renewables, handle oil, gas with kid gloves

It was a mixed session for people who care about climate change and its effects. The state secured some large-scale wins, but failed to advance measures that would diversify the electrical grid and support individual households in reducing their own carbon footprint. And while measures to hold oil and gas companies accountable for violations of the Oil and Gas Act passed, there was little appetite among lawmakers for drawing more royalty money from an industry responsible for a billion dollar surplus this year. The flagship win for Democrats was the Energy Transition Act, SB 489, which commits the state to 100 percent carbon-free power by 2050. That bill schedules a payment plan for closing the San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that supplies Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

Bringing sunshine to human rights settlements nears finish

A bill that would make information about state agency settlements involving sexual harassment and other discrimination claims more accessible to the public is a step away from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk after clearing an important committee

The House Judiciary unanimously passed SB 317 after a short discussion Wednesday. The legislation would require posting to the state Sunshine Portal amounts of taxpayer dollars paid out in individual settlements related to human rights, including sexual harassment and discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation and race, and the state agencies that are involved. Currently, it is difficult to find out about such complaints across the many agencies in state government or to know when information about individual settlements become public. The bill does not require names be published on the Sunshine Portal, so as “to not discourage anyone from filing claims,” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, co-sponsor of the bill, “but we do want to know when those claims are being paid out.” Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsor of the bill, said that the bill speeds up when the information is made public.

New Mexico lawmakers cautious on early childhood funding, even though cash rich

Lawmakers want to pump hundreds of millions more into public education this year, but advocates and some lawmakers say too little is going to early childhood programs that serve children under the age of five, and continue to argue the state needs to tap New Mexico’s permanent land grant fund. Over the past decade, how much to increase the state’s investment in such early childhood programs has aroused deep passions among advocates and lawmakers. Nothing has changed in 2019. According to a legislative analysis, the Legislature is proposing to spend $125 million more for early childhood programs for the year that starts July 1, but most of that is made up of a $90 million increase to K5 Plus, a program for children aged 5 and over. The Legislative Finance Committee describes New Mexico’s early childhood care and education as running from before a baby is born to when he or she reaches 8 years of age.

Multicultural education framework advances

Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners. A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.

Several significant criminal justice bills still alive as session nears end

Democratic legislative leaders predicted criminal justice reform would be among the top priorities for the 60-day session that began in January. It appears they were right. Several substantial shifts in how New Mexico approaches crime and punishment remain alive as the session speeds toward its conclusion on Saturday. Some of them have been years in the making. A Senate bill to “ban the box,” prohibiting private sector employers from inquiring about people’s past criminal records in the early stages of an employment process, has passed the upper chamber and appears headed for a vote in the House.

NM lacks criminal justice data on race, ethnicity

From traffic stops to incarceration rates to drug arrests, New Mexico trails other states and the federal system in collecting key criminal justice data, particularly on race and ethnicity, a New Mexico In Depth analysis has found. And despite a push from state lawmakers this 60-day legislative session to improve the state’s data collection efforts to inform better, “evidence-based” criminal justice policies, searching for potential racial disparities in policing, prisons and other areas doesn’t appear much of a priority. “It’s puzzling,” said Steve Allen, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “If we’re going to have some sort of data-sharing process in place and data gathering, I would think race has to be central to that. It’s just gonna take a little bit of ingenuity and a little bit of prioritization from people in power.”

There are no state rules or laws that require law enforcement agencies to track the race or ethnicity of people their officers contact, stop in vehicles or arrest, according to the top two officials at the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, the state’s clearinghouse for criminal justice information.

NM doles out billion dollars in capital outlay, funding decisions remain secret

As New Mexico’s 2019 legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers are poised to allocate almost a billion dollars to infrastructure projects around the state. The Senate Finance committee approved $933 million yesterday for capital projects statewide. For comparison, just a year ago capital outlay money totaled $364.5 million. The state is so flush with cash, that each chamber is moving an additional “junior” appropriation bill of about $30 million, HB 548 and SB 536, for $60 million total that individual members will parcel out. The bill, SB 280, holds $385 million going to statewide projects designated by state agencies.

ACLU: NM has flawed data about solitary confinement

Cover of ACLU-NM report about discrepancy in NM solitary confinement statistics. The American Civil Liberties Union New Mexico appears to have uncovered a significant statistical deficiency in New Mexico criminal justice data. In September 2018, the state Corrections Department reported 4 percent of inmates in its prisons were being held in solitary confinement — defined as spending 22 hours or more a day alone for 15 or more consecutive days. A research team working with the ACLU found that the rate was actually 9 percent. Steve Allen, policy director for the ACLU of New Mexico, chalks the disparity up to a lack of uniform policies, practices and data collection.

With days to go, ethics commission legislation stalls

A few weeks ago, Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, mentioned the option of passing a memorial creating a task force to study an independent ethics commission through 2019. Just in case, he said. Nibert wanted to see legislation that dictates what powers such a commission would have and how it would operate. But it was clear, even weeks ago, that agreement on a subject the Legislature has debated for 13 years might be difficult despite 75 percent of New Mexicans voting to enshrine the idea in the state constitution this November. But Nibert waited before asking a legislative agency to draft the memorial.

Lobbyists weigh in on disclosure, ban on spending proposals

House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs committee discussing HB 131. As the House of Representatives geared up for a late night on the floor last Monday, a group of lobbyists were asked to provide dinner for legislators: green chile cheeseburgers from Lota Burger. A few days later, on Thursday, Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Albuquerque, thanked a group of “lobbyists, about 40” who paid for what’s now an annual tradition — a catered lunch for House members from her extended family’s restaurant, Powdrell’s barbeque. The mood on the floor was jovial. To some, the displays did not quite square with the lawmakers’ vote the previous Sunday to ban lobbyist spending on lawmakers during a legislative session.