Absence of watchdog groups means lawmakers must proceed with caution

With news that the 2021 legislative session would be held virtually – with the public and lobbyists prohibited from being in the capitol building – it’s likely that legislative agendas are being adjusted. For interested citizens, lobbyists and state agencies charged with reporting to or suggesting reforms to the Legislature, the most important question may be how to participate in the upcoming session – in floor sessions, committee meetings, and with all important personal visits with individual legislators – in order to protect the public interest. Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, New Mexico Ethics Watch

Because we have a citizen legislature, with short sessions and limited full-time and seasonal staff available to legislators, lawmakers often rely upon lobbyists to educate them about legislation, particularly complex legislation.  That element will also be missing. So, what do we wish for in the upcoming session and how do we accomplish it? The newly formed State Ethics Commission filled a void in state government.  Within the legislation enabling the commission (2019’s SB 668), not only is the commission required to submit an annual report to the Legislature and governor that includes recommendations regarding state ethics laws, the Legislature was specifically charged with making recommendations during this upcoming session on any changes to the Campaign Reporting Act, the Voter Action Act and the Lobbyist Regulation Act, “necessary for the efficient administration and enforcement of the provisions” of these acts.

Focus on Judicial Public Financing, Redistricting, Open Primaries This Session

This past year, Common Cause New Mexico—along with many other groups— spent the majority of our time ensuring that this historic pandemic did not deter New Mexico citizens from exercising their most important right: the right to vote.  For months, we worked with community partners to instruct voters on registration and absentee voting, worked with county clerks and Native American groups to ensure ballot access, ran a hotline, and fielded hundreds of election protection volunteers for the general and primary elections.  We are delighted with our state’s record (68%) turnout and our hats are off to all of the poll workers, election officials, community advocates, and especially, the numbers of engaged voters who made this happen. We hope that many of the policies that helped make voting easier this year will continue into the future. And now, onto the 2021 Legislative Session. Our first legislative priority is the expansion of public financing to district court judges. Currently, this voluntary system covers only the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.  Expanding our currently successful state program is the best way to ensure that our judges are protected from potential conflicts of interest.

Urban or rural, New Mexicans are united in push for progress

I’m a 12th generation Nuevo Mexicana (give or take a few generations). My family can trace their presence in this region from time immemorial to well before the time this land was Mexico, a U.S. territory and eventually the 47th state. I’m as New Mexican as they get. My blood type is red or green. I will argue the virtue of the New Mexico blue sky with anyone, any day.

NM lawmakers tackle civil rights protections and police accountability

After a year in which police use of lethal force against Black people awakened large swaths of the American public to a discussion about systemic racism, lawmakers in New Mexico are looking to reform policing and better protect civil liberties. 

The Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked mass marches across the country, including in New Mexico, to protest the unequal and dangerous treatment Black people encounter in interactions with police. 

New Mexico is no stranger to calls for greater scrutiny of law enforcement. 

The U.S. Department of Justice forced the state’s largest law enforcement agency into a consent decree after concluding in 2014 the Albuquerque Police Department exhibited a troubling pattern of excessive force, including one of the highest rates in fatal shootings by its police officers. The killings haven’t been limited to APD, either. Between Floyd’s death this Memorial Day and the end of November, there were 11 fatal police-involved shootings across New Mexico, according to local news reports and a database of deadly police shootings maintained by the Washington Post. 

Since 2015, when the Post began compiling data, New Mexico has recorded 115 law-enforcement shootings, New Mexico trails only Alaska for the highest rate of fatal police shootings in that time – 55 per one million residents. Soon after Floyd’s death, the state Legislature passed House Bill 5 that created a temporary New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to investigate and recommend ways to hold public officials to greater account, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing the legislation June 26. Nearly four months later, on Oct.

Lawmakers Must Stabilize Revenue Streams and Send More Help to Struggling Families

James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children

We can build the kind of New Mexico we all want – one where jobs pay a family-sustaining wage and children receive a world-class education – but only when everyone does their part. That means having a stable and equitable tax system – one that asks the most from those who have the most and raises the money we need to make the investments in education, health care, infrastructure, and more that help drive our economy. It also means ensuring that our state government has the resources necessary to support families hurting the most during times of crisis. Thanks to crashing oil prices and overproduction here at home, it is clear that New Mexico does not have the kind of revenue stability that would help us sustain those investments in our people over the long-term. We cannot subject our educational system to the oil-price roller coaster and expect positive outcomes.

For the state’s dormant criminal abortion law, conditions are primed for a repeal

Lawmakers and reproductive health advocates believe the time is ripe to remove a criminal abortion law from New Mexico state statute. First step: the reintroduction of a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would repeal a 1969 law that, while unenforceable due to the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects the right to an abortion, remains one of the most punitive of its kind in the country. 

This story first appeared in New Mexico In Depth’s 2021 Legislative Special Edition. Sponsors of the abortion legislation as well as healthcare advocates say the makeup of the state Legislature, public opinion on abortion access and shifting support at the federal level indicate that the moment is right for repealing the law that severely restricts and criminalizes abortion in New Mexico. But that momentum doesn’t mean it will be easy. Opponents are already preparing for a fight.The effort to repeal the 50-year-old state law has gained urgency in New Mexico since the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court shifted to the right in recent years, creating fear that a majority of justices would overturn Roe v. Wade.

New Mexico lawmakers pursue big agenda while navigating checkpoints

New Mexico’s legislative session begins today against an odd backdrop of optimism,  uncertainty, and vigilance, all at once. 

Planning for a largely online session has long been in the works, with the public barred from the Roundhouse until the COVID-19 pandemic is brought to heel. Now, the Legislature finds itself launching a session grappling with the twin challenges of a deadly pandemic and the spectre of violence, and no one knows exactly how it will turn out.  

The Roundhouse has been abruptly fenced off in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection in the nation’s capitol and subsequent warnings by the FBI that armed protests may occur across the country in the lead up to the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden Wednesday. Only approved lawmakers, staff or others with specific credentials, like media, will be able to enter, through checkpoints. In Santa Fe, national guard and state police are out in force to handle armed protests and possible violence. 

Here’s a sneak peek at our special print edition, which will be published in newspapers around the state this weekend.

Lawmaker, advocates pursue greater sunshine from lobbyists

Lobbying at the Roundhouse is a little bit different from other states. Put a crop of unpaid “citizen legislators” and well-paid professional lobbyists in a building together, and a certain culture develops in which lobbyists become key sources of information for lawmakers. “When I have colleagues that come in here from other states, or from the national level, they’re amazed at the degree of access that folks have here, and it’s more of an informal kind of a situation than it is at a lot of other venues,” said Dan Weaks, a professional lobbyist. In contrast to unpaid, understaffed legislators, lobbyists—many of whom have significant monetary resources at their disposal—can play an outsized role in the policymaking process, said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who has witnessed employers hire as many as 10 lobbyists for a single issue. 

“They had a lobbyist posted at every elevator.”

Another senator didn’t mince words. The system we have “empowers lobbyists over the people’s elected representatives, and that’s a pretty dysfunctional system, in my view,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque.

Lawmakers will again push for capital outlay transparency

Legislators will make another push this year to make public how individual lawmakers divvy up capital outlay money. 

New Mexico In Depth discovered back in 2015 that those decisions were exempt from the Inspection of Public Records Act, after submitting a request for a list detailing how lawmakers individually allocated infrastructure money that year. We wrote about what we’d found, and several lawmakers promptly introduced bills in 2016 to make information available to the public about how individual legislators steward capital outlay dollars. Here’s a recap of the issue:

Each year, the state Legislature passes a capital outlay budget that sends millions of dollars out to New Mexico communities to pay for infrastructure projects. To figure out how to spend that money, lawmakers divide the money three ways. The governor controls a third, state agencies control a third, and lawmakers control a third. 

How do lawmakers decide how to spend their portion?