New Mexico expands restorative justice pilot project

A state pilot program to implement a new discipline approach called restorative justice will expand from 12 to 24 schools in the coming year, according to program coordinator Emma Green. 

Green appeared on the local public affairs show New Mexico In Focus last week, explaining restorative justice as a philosophical shift away from zero tolerance, exclusionary, traditional punitive model and a shift when possible toward accountability-based consequences. It brings together the person harmed and the person who did the harm to determine how to make it right, she said. 

“I have done over 300 talking circles,” Green said, “And I have never seen more accountability in any human than when somebody understands that they harmed someone else, that maybe they didn’t understand the ripple effect of their action.” 

New Mexico In Depth published a story earlier this month about restorative justice to explore new approaches to school discipline after finding that Indigenous students in New Mexico disproportionately experience harsher punitive discipline than other student groups. Executive Director Trip Jennings joined Green and NMiF Executive Producer Jeff Proctor to discuss that work and how restorative justice is gaining a foothold in New Mexico schools:

House kills effort to increase campaign sunshine and prevent corruption

The New Mexico House of Representatives rejected a package of reforms to the state’s Campaign Reporting Act that would have closed a loophole allowing independent groups to evade reporting their donors. 

Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, would have fixed language in the law that a nonprofit organization exploited in 2020 to get around disclosing who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for political advertising in support of a ballot referendum on converting the Public Regulation Commission from an elected to an appointed body. 

Eleven Democrats joined all Republicans to kill the bill. 

Eleven House Democrats joined all Republicans to defeat Senate Bill 42 on March 15, 2023. Image from the House of Representatives vote tally board. “I’m very disappointed that members of my own party joined all of the Republicans to prevent the public from knowing who is paying for, among other things, political attack ads,” McQueen said after the vote. 

Other reforms in the package included changes to ensure candidates don’t charge interest on personal loans they make to their own campaign accounts, thereby profiting from campaign contributions used to pay off such loans. 

It would have changed reporting dates to provide more timely information about contributors to their campaigns. Currently, the public is in the dark for months about who gives money to campaigns on election day, or in the months preceding the legislative session in non-election years. 

The bill also would have barred  lawmakers from accepting contributions from lobbyists or political committees during the legislative session. 

During the floor debate on the bill, McQueen fielded a wide range of questions, many of them about existing provisions under the Campaign Reporting Act that wouldn’t have been changed under Senate Bill 42. Numerous questions were fielded about provisions related to personal loans made by candidates to their own campaign accounts.

Money in politics transparency nears finish as legislative session winds down

An effort to close a significant loophole in New Mexico’s campaign disclosure laws and  bar campaign contributions from lobbyists and political committees to lawmakers during legislative sessions has a tailwind heading into the final week of the legislative session. 

And at a key committee Monday night before heading to the House floor, lawmakers added new provisions to Senate Bill 42 to give the public more timely information about who is giving to campaigns. Those additions come from a bill sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, that’s unlikely to clear the Legislature, having passed the House but not the Senate with five days left in the legislative session. 

The newly combined bill, sponsored by Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, and McQueen, adds new requirements to prevent tactics used by a nonprofit group in 2020 to avoid disclosing who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a ballot referendum on converting the Public Regulation Commission from an elected to an appointed body. 

The non-profit argued it followed the letter of the law by not disclosing contributors who put in writing that their money should not be used for politics, even though the nonprofit spent that money on the ballot measure. The measure the nonprofit campaigned for passed but the public still doesn’t know who was behind their deluge of advertising. 

Senate bill 42 would change the letter of the law, requiring groups such as the nonprofit that spent on the 2020 campaign that want to avoid disclosing certain donors to deposit those contributions in a separate bank account that isn’t used to pay for political activity.   

The bill also bars lawmakers, the governor and other statewide elected officials from accepting donations from lobbyists or political committees during the legislative session. 

The bill would require candidates who loan their own money to their political campaigns to offer proof they actually made the loan, and they wouldn’t be allowed to charge interest on the loan. Candidates often loan their campaigns money, especially when running for office for the first time, and can later pay the loan back from future campaign contributions. This provision would prevent a scenario in which a candidate made money off interest on a loan they carried on their books over many years. 

New additions to Senate bill 42 from McQueen’s other bill, House Bill 103, would require more timely reporting of campaign contributions so the public has more complete information just before elections and just before the legislative session each year.

Lawmakers seek to close big transparency gap

Senate Bill 42 would add a new requirement for when outside groups can not report their donors. There were bound to be gaps in a 2019 revision to New Mexico’s dense elections transparency law that sought to force independent groups who aren’t required to register as political committees to disclose the money they spend in elections. 

The changes were quickly put to the test the next year, during the 2020 election cycle, when a new independent expenditure group found a loophole so big it evaded reporting who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent on political advertising. 

Under the current law, if a group crosses a spending threshold for political advertising, it must report all of its donors who’ve given more than $5,000 – with one exception. If a donor puts in writing that their donation can’t be used for politics, the group isn’t required to disclose in its campaign finance reports who that donor is or how much they contributed. 

That provision was exploited by a nonprofit formed in May of 2020, called the Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers. 

To get around reporting its donors, the group claimed that because it had it in writing from its donors that their funds couldn’t be spent on politics, it didn’t have to report the amount given or by whom.  

Never mind that the group went ahead and spent the money on political advertising anyway, despite the written instructions. They followed the letter of the law even if they flouted its spirit. The group initially argued it didn’t have to report its spending, as well, because advertising in support of a ballot measure to transform the state’s Public Regulation Commission from an elected to an appointed body was educational, not political.

Lawmakers want more timely reporting of campaign cash

In the final week of the 2022 general election, almost $350 thousand dollars went to candidates that wasn’t reported until this month when the election was long over. 

That’s because smaller cash contributions in the final days of a New Mexico general election aren’t reported under New Mexico law until two months later when “no one cares because we’re off to other things,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, who with Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring a bill that would speed up the reporting cycle.  

Under their bill, the campaign reporting period would end on election day, for both the primary and general elections, and a report would be due a week later. 

“Lawmakers should file their reports when the public is paying attention,” McQueen told members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee Friday morning.  

The legislation cleared the committee on a 7 to 2 vote. It now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.House bill 103 makes several other changes, as well, that would lead to more timely disclosure of money collected by certain public officials. It speeds up the timeline for reporting money contributed during legislative sessions. 

Currently, certain elected officials are prohibited from soliciting donations from Jan. 1 through the end of the legislative session when they’re making or changing laws.

Push for lawmaker pay coming to Santa Fe

It’s been more than 30 years since the last time New Mexicans voted against paying state lawmakers a salary, first in 1990 and again in 1992. 

Now, some lawmakers think the mood has shifted and it’s time to ask voters again. The need has grown, they say, while the Legislature remains hobbled by volunteer lawmakers who lack paid staff and in many cases must juggle outside work in order to live. 

They’re betting that voters have come around. A poll conducted last year by New Mexico-based Research & Polling, Inc., found not only that 64% of likely New Mexico voters support the idea, but that almost 40% already believe lawmakers make a salary. 

They don’t. However, one can understand why voters might think that. From the outside, the life of a legislator looks like full-time work. 

The state’s short legislative sessions each year — 30 days in even years, 60 days in odd years — require almost round-the-clock work from lawmakers, especially in the final weeks.

Thousands of schools fail to count homeless students

For months, Beth Petersen paid acquaintances to take her son to school — money she sorely needed. They’d lost their apartment, her son bouncing between relatives and friends while she hotel-hopped. As hard as she tried to keep the 13-year-old at his school, they finally had to switch districts. Under federal law, Petersen’s son had a right to free transportation — and to remain in the school he attended at the time he lost permanent housing. But no one told Petersen that.

Schools must help homeless students. Here’s what you should know.

This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, The Seattle Times, Street Sense Media and WAMU/DCist. See New Mexico In Depth’s story here. When is a student considered homeless? The definition of homelessness among K-12 students is laid out in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that details the help public schools must give unstably housed children. That includes students living in the following conditions:

motels, hotels or campgrounds when they have no other options.emergency or transitional shelters.cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.the homes of friends or extended relatives, due to need rather than choice.

Alcohol taxes across country are “very, very low”

Lawmakers shouldn’t read too much into the fact that New Mexico has some of the highest alcohol taxes in the country, a national expert told them today. Because “alcohol taxes across the country are very, very low.”And Richard Auxier, Senior Policy Associate, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, gave lawmakers at the Legislature’s Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee hearing a clear answer to questions about whether raising taxes helps improve public health. Yes, he said, research shows that raising taxes reduces consumption and improves health. In the state that leads the country in alcohol deaths, that’s important. But when you get into the weeds of tax policy, everything becomes complicated. Lawmakers should start with understanding their ultimate goal, Auxier said. Is it to eliminate or drastically reduce consumption of alcohol? If so, it might make sense to increase taxes significantly. Or is it to improve public health while not making drinking alcohol so expensive that it becomes out of reach?