Lobbyist transparency bill headed to House floor

Legislation to require more public transparency about lobbying that goes on during legislative sessions passed its second committee yesterday, House Judiciary. HB 131 would require lobbyists to report to the Secretary of State all the bills they lobbied on, and their position on the bills if they took one, within 14 days of the end of the session. It’s “a transparency bill, obviously. We think it’s short, sweet and to the point,” said Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, an Albuquerque Democrat. Her co-sponsor, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said the bill would bring “all those players out into the sunlight and have all that be disclosed to the citizens of the state.”

A concern first raised last week during its first committee hearing continued to be a focus yesterday.

Important House committee passes ethics legislation

A House bill creating an independent ethics commission with subpoena power passed an important House committee Wednesday, sending the measure before the full House of Representatives for a vote possibly as early as later this week.  

Members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee approved the measure unanimously after a short discussion and lowering funding for the proposed ethics commission to half a million dollars, from $1 million. Committee chairwoman Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup, explained the Legislature could add money to the commission midyear when state officials learn how much a full year of its operations would cost.Lundstrom’s explanation was heartening to committee member Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, who had expressed a desire that the commission be fully funded. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. New Mexico state lawmakers are trying to flesh out the powers, funding and operations for the seven-member independent ethics commission after 75 percent of voters added the commission to the state constitution in November.

Early childhood department has governor’s backing

A child plays with beads in a New Mexico PreK classroom. A proposal for an Early Childhood Education and Care Department would bring together all children’s program for children ages 0 to 5 into the department, including New Mexico PreK administered both the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. (Xchelzin Pena/New Mexico In Depth)

It was a powerhouse show of support last week for a plan to create an Early Childhood Education and Care Department. “Any other Cabinet secretaries here?,” Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, asked during public comment Feb. 13 on Senate Bill 22, which would create a department focused on providing education and services for children from birth to age 5.

Is it ‘Groundhog Day’ for ethics reform in NM?

This commentary is part of New Mexico In Depth’s weekly newsletter. Trip Jennings, NMID executive director

2019 is beginning to feel a lot like the 1990s Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.”Twelve years ago, at about the same time in the legislative session as we are now, I reported that ethics reform efforts were on life support. I’m not ready to make the same call in 2019. But with four weeks to go in this year’s session, agreement on a bill to flesh out the powers, funding and operations for a seven-member independent ethics commission added to the state Constitution by 75 percent of voters in November isn’t looking quite as inevitable as it once did. As of today, there are competing ethics commission bills.

New teachers would need training in teaching ESL students under bill

If the bills that deal with education in this legislative session were snowflakes, we’d have a blizzard in the Roundhouse. There are more than 100 bills dealing with K-12 education alone. Higher education, early education and other extracurriculars double that number. But there’s a whole subset of bills that aim to tailor New Mexico’s education system to its diverse student body, especially Hispanic, Native American and English learner students. The bills would ensure students have access to bilingual and multicultural education, teachers who look like them and social services so that disadvantaged students thrive when they are sitting at their desks.

Oil Conservation Division could issue fines again under legislation

For the last decade, New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division has been like a traffic cop that can’t write speeding tickets. That’s the metaphor advocates give for a bill that would reinstate the division’s right to issue fines for bad actors, which, amid booming oil business in the southeastern parts of the state and an increase in spills documented by the department, have hovered near zero. The state’s highest court in 2009 ruled the division couldn’t issue fines because the Oil and Gas Act didn’t grant it that authority. “If you look at the way the penalties were collected, it basically fell off a cliff, and the last administration didn’t show any interest in actually enforcing our oil and gas regulations, so I think it’s time that we stepped up and got back to doing that,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe. McQueen and Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, are cosponsoring SB 186, legislation that would empower the Oil Conservation Division to once again issue fines.

Effort continues to make “super secret” capital outlay list public

The House made quick work last week passing a measure that would lift a veil of secrecy on how individual lawmakers allocate capital infrastructure money under their control. Currently, New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows legislators to divvy up among themselves a big chunk of infrastructure money to direct to projects as they see fit. And it allows them to keep secret which projects they choose to fund, although the information is readily available in an existing database. Sen. Sander Rue discusses capital outlay transparency with the Senate Rules committee in 2018, during which rural legislators explained their reservations about the measure. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, called it the “super-secret private list which is the one that actually appropriates the money” last year during a Senate Rules Committee debate on the issue.

Top Democrat in U.S. House to speak to NM Legislature

Congressman James E. Clyburn

Congressman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina will speak to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature on Friday as part of African American Day at the Roundhouse. Clyburn, House Majority Whip, is the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Clyburn started his career as a public school teacher and is a veteran of the civil rights movement, helping to organize marches and demonstrations as a student leader at South Carolina State College, according to his congressional website. He met his wife, Emily, in jail following a student demonstration.Clyburn, whose speech will cap Friday’s celebration of African Americans in New Mexico, will speak to members of the state House and Senate around noon.

Lujan Grisham says her administration will look into Hepatitis C prison problems

At a news conference Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham responded to a New Mexico In Depth story that showed while the state has the largest known share of prisoners diagnosed with hepatitis C in the nation, few are being treated. That’s despite new, nearly fail-safe treatment medications coming onto the market at increasingly low prices.  

New Mexico faces difficult choices, Lujan Grisham said, partly because so much is out of its control. Incarcerated individuals who contract the disease on the outside might only become aware of their plight after a screening in prison, Lujan Grisham said. Beginning in 2009, New Mexico began offering all prisoners screening for hepatitis C, which is not a universal practice.

Lawmakers seek safe passage on highways for wildlife, drivers

Drive a rural highway, particularly in the colder months and at dusk or after dark, and the primary road game often comes down to dodging deer. Each year, drivers lose that fight, and vehicles collide with animals at least 1,600 times, according to New Mexico Department of Transportation. The department estimates that tally of officially reported accidents underrepresents the problem by half. “You stand a chance of hitting a large game animal virtually anywhere in the state,” says Mark Watson, terrestrial habitat specialist with the Department of Game and Fish. The Transportation Department’s 2016 report found 738 instances of serious injury or fatality from 2002 to 2016 as a result of these accidents.