New harassment allegations against lawmaker prompt call for state ethics commission to handle future complaints

Representatives of eight organizations called for a powerful state senator to resign Monday or for his legislative colleagues to remove him from office if he didn’t leave, in an open letter containing new allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.The accusations against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto come a month after a lobbyist for Progress Now New Mexico, Marianna Anaya, accused the Albuquerque Democrat of sexually harassing her. Seven of the eight people accusing Ivey-Soto on Monday in the open letter were not named but gave the organizations’ permission to share their experiences, the letter states. 

After receiving Anaya’s complaint in February, legislative leaders opened an investigation into Ivey-Soto, adhering to a system where complaints against state lawmakers are kept confidential in a procedure overseen by other lawmakers. Ivey-Soto told New Mexico In Depth on Monday that he “will participate” in that investigation, but declined to respond to the specific allegations listed in Monday’s three-page letter, sent to state Senate leadership and media organizations. He also declined to respond to the allegations leveled against him last month by Anaya.One of the complainants in Monday’s open letter, Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, isn’t satisfied with the current process in which lawmakers police themselves, saying it doesn’t build an atmosphere of trust. “Right now, when victims file a complaint they are turning it over to friends and colleagues of the lawmaker,” she said. “It’s a conflict of interest.” 

“It’s time for that space to be safe and professional for everyone,” Ferguson added, saying that anyone at the statehouse who abuses the power of their office should be held accountable.

A win for New Mexico’s vulnerable population

New Mexico lawmakers made consequential changes for the state’s most vulnerable people during the short 30-day legislative session this year, made possible by a tidal wave of cash. Top of the list of consequential bills is the big boost in teacher pay. Lawmakers bumped salary minimums for Level 1, 2, and 3 teachers to $50,000, $60,000, and $70,000, respectively, a major goal of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators who publicly declared their intention to make New Mexico’s teachers the best paid in the region. Compared to states like Texas, Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado, they’re about middling right now. 

The hope is the increases will sweeten the allure of teaching. Vacancies among the state’s teaching ranks are high and growing.

New Mexico State Senate makes decisive left turn

New Mexicans woke up on Wednesday not knowing who their next president would be. We’ll stay tuned to that nailbiter of a race, which appears will be decided in a few key states. New Mexico isn’t one of them. It handily voted for Biden, but that was never in serious doubt. While Americans don’t know who will be president, one thing closer to home became clear after Tuesday night: New Mexico’s state senate will shift to the left, potentially opening a path in the Legislature for long stymied Democratic initiatives. Democrats increased their majority in that chamber by one seat in an election that saw New Mexicans turn out in record numbers — 915,376 cast ballots, shattering the previous total of 833,000 set in 2008. More significant, though, is a shift within the makeup of the parties, with a slate of more progressive Democrats replacing longtime incumbents in both parties. As uncertainty looms over womens’ right to make their own choices regarding abortion, joining the Senate will be Democrats who have pledged to repeal a long-dormant ban on abortion in state law.

Zia Pueblo sees COVID-19 outbreak

Editor’s note: Less then 24 hours after this report, the New Mexico governor’s office confirmed an outbreak on Zia Pueblo, with 31 positive cases, plus an outbreak on San Felipe Pueblo, with 52 cases. And Zuni Pueblo Governor Val Panteah confirmed 15 cases and one death on Zuni. Eleven members of Zia Pueblo in Sandoval County have tested positive for COVID-19, New Mexico In Depth has learned. 

“As of today April 5th, the Pueblo of Zia has confirmed 11 Zia Tribal Members, potentially 20, infected by COVID-19(Coronavirus),” Acting Governor Floyd Toribio wrote Sunday in a memo to tribal members. 

The pueblo, about 40 miles north of Albuquerque, has fewer than 1,000 members, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making Zia one of the smallest pueblos in New Mexico. 

“If this statement does not make you realize how real and close to home this truly is, then we don’t know what will. We are a small, close-knit community with strong family connections,” Toribio said in the memo. 

The nature of the fast-spreading virus put tribal and state officials on alert Monday in a state that is home to 19 Pueblos, three Apache tribes, and a portion of the Navajo Nation. 

“We are endangered communities and one person lost to the virus takes a toll on the entire community,” said J. Michael Chavarria, Governor of Santa Clara Pueblo and Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, in an email. Many households in New Mexico’s tribal communities include multiple generations, with five or more family members living under the same roof, tribal officials said.

Do New Mexico tax breaks work? It’s hard to tell in expenditure report

New Mexico lawmakers this week looked at a report that shows how much money escapes government collections due to tax breaks approved over the years. As lawmakers and the governor continue to examine how to reform New Mexico’s tax code, it’s timely. 

Called a tax expenditure budget, the report details more than a hundred tax deductions, credits and exemptions, how long each has been on the books, why they were enacted, and whether they achieve their desired result. (Need a primer on what a tax expenditure budget is? See our special report in 2016). 

While the report is the size of a small book and would take more than an afternoon to read, lawmakers complained it didn’t have enough information, per Dan McKay at the ABQ Journal. 

And they’d have a point. There’s no data for some of the listings, and much of the report has limited usefulness for evaluation purposes. Many items have brief evaluation paragraphs with little information, or in some cases, simply the word “none.” 

More information about how government policy is made and whether it’s meeting intended goals is always better than less. 

Not only is this tax expenditure report incomplete, however, the data it contains isn’t as accessible to the public as it could be. 

For example, if you go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, you’ll find a nifty tool: a searchable database of tax breaks for every state.

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.