New Mexico House Rep. urges federal statute to protect state cannabis laws

With New Mexico’s 30-day 2018 legislative session moving quickly along, it’s unlikely legislation related to cannabis will get much traction. Mainly because the short session is crammed full of budget related items. Nonetheless, one state representative – Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park – has introduced a House Memorial that makes a statement about recent federal actions related to cannabis. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “reinstated a policy of imprisoning medicinal cannabis users,” McCamley’s House Memorial 5 states. The memorial calls for the legislature to make a formal request of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to create legislation that protects New Mexico medicinal cannabis users from federal prosecution. “We in the legislature should advocate as strongly as possible that our federal representatives uphold our laws to protect our medicinal patients and move in to the 21st century,” McCamley said.

Education committees hear budget proposals, including potential teacher pay raise

There is only a $400,000 difference between what the governor’s office and the Legislature’s budget arm are requesting for the main category of public school funding (that’s the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG funding, for you education wonks), but there are some interesting departures in the details. 

If you are a teacher, you are going to be really interested in those differences. Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and analysts from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Public Education Department came before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Education committees on Friday to detail their budget proposals for fiscal 2019. For teachers just starting out or who just reached a new teacher level, there could be a $2,000 salary bump in your future if the LFC gets its way, plus a 1.5 percent cost of living salary increase. If the PED plan prevails in negotiations, all teachers will receive a 2 percent across the board salary increase, with other school personnel receiving a 1 percent cost of living increase. Then, exemplary teachers would be up for a one-time $5,000 bonus and exemplary high school math or science teachers would be eligible for up to $10,000.

NM legislators should protect working families

It’s been a rough few years for New Mexico’s working families. A stagnant economy has meant high unemployment, low wages and cuts to key programs that help families survive. But it appears the state’s economy and revenue picture
have begun to recover. With the current revenue outlook it is time the Legislature made New Mexico’s children and families whole. Those least able to absorb tax increases or cuts to basic services like health care should be protect-ed and prioritized in the 2018 tax and budget decisions being made.

Are Legislative Leaders Willing to Forego Tax Reform and $100 million in revenue?

The Rio Grande Foundation is undoubtedly among the strongest supporters of limited government in New Mexico. As a general rule we don’t support increasing government revenues as an end in itself. Our philosophy (based on reams of data and international comparison) is that resources would be better spent by individuals, not government bureaucrats and politicians. That said, the New Mexico Legislature, by not embracing tax reform during the 2018 session, seems to be willing to forego a chance to both secure upwards of $100 million for the state AND achieve an important public policy reform for New Mexico. Rather than embracing long-overdue reform of the gross receipts tax (GRT), New Mexico’s Democratic legislative leaders have clearly signaled that they are willing to let petty partisan differences with Governor Martinez stand in the way.

Prosperity is not possible without investment

We all want a prosperous state, but prosperity requires investments. You can’t grow a garden without good soil, sunlight, water, and some hard work. Same with a state—you can’t have prosperity without resources, infrastructure, and a skilled workforce. But instead of following an investment strategy to prosperity, New Mexico has tried to cut its way to prosperity. You could call this the “don’t build it and let’s hope they will come anyway” strategy.

Independent, Transparent Redistricting Process among Common Cause Priorities for 2018 Session

The 2020 census may seem far away to most citizens, but partisans around the country are sharpening their pencils in preparation for the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years, based on a new census. In New Mexico, a special session will be held in 2021 and legislators will draw new legislative and congressional districts. What they come up with could give Democrats, Republicans or incumbents an edge for the next 10 years and determine funding priorities and state and federal law. Common Cause believes that this process should be done by an independent, nonpartisan commission, as it is in six other states. We will be prioritizing a constitutional amendment to authorize such a system and establish more neutral, transparent criteria, including public hearings.

Strengthen public access to government information

When I walked into the state capitol for the opening session of the New Mexico Legislature a year ago I didn’t need to stop and get a press pass. A month earlier, when the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government hired me as its new executive director, I told newsroom col-leagues I’d just won the job lottery. After working as a journalist on and off for decades, I boxed up reporter notebooks and the press passes I’d hoarded since my first assignment in 1977 and headed to the Roundhouse to defend New Mexicans’ right to know and to advocate for stronger Sunshine laws. For the first time in my professional career, I felt like I’d been dealt a winning hand. In fact, the deck was stacked in the public’s favor in 1978 when state legislators recognized each of us is entitled to almost all the “information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees.”

New Mexico’s information jack-pot 40 years later is still essential.

Talking early education with southern NM lawmakers

At its most idealistic, New Mexico’s citizen legislature system draws people with expertise and passion for their fields who serve so that they can make a difference for the state and for their constituents. That’s why I’m excited to talk with state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, about early childhood education in New Mexico. It’s the kick-off of New Mexico in Depth’s Coffee Chats series in 2018 that will explore important issues with informal talks at venues across the state. The event will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Beck’s Coffee House in Las Cruces. And we’ll be broadcasting the talk live on our Facebook page.

NMID’s best 2017 stories: Criminal Justice, Child Welfare, Good Government

New Mexico in Depth highlighted the work of our fellows earlier this week, but there was a lot more going on in 2017. Here are just a few highlights. Criminal Justice:

Feds’ sting ensnared many ABQ blacks, not ‘worst of the worst’. After a 2016 drug sting, agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced they had arrested over 100 of the ‘worst of the worst’ offenders in ABQ. Our story about one of those defendants, Yusef Casanova, explored that claim and found the sting captured a disproportionate number of black people and the ‘worst of the worst’ label is problematic.