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A new report brings into focus the insidious nature of alcohol industry lobbying at the New Mexico statehouse. “Still Under the Influence: A Look at the Alcohol Industry and Its Influence on New Mexico Elected Officials,” by Common Cause New Mexico, underlines the entrenched power of the industry. Sadly, 20 years after the good government group issued a similar report about alcohol, New Mexico leads the country with the highest alcohol-related death rate.
James Mountain, Cabinet Secretary Designate of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, speaks during American Indian Day at the State Capitol on Feb. 3, 2023. Image by Bella Davis. The Indian Affairs Department wants about $350,000 to continue to address a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people in New Mexico, Secretary-Designate James Mountain told the Legislative Finance Committee on Tuesday. The money, if approved by state lawmakers, would pay for four full-time employees and build the beginnings of a bureau, Mountain told the legislators on the committee, which plays a critical role in writing the state budget.
Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez, has accepted a job with the University of Colorado and according to a Colorado newspaper will relinquish his legislative seat in the spring of 2024. One of the most powerful Indigenous lawmakers in the New Mexico Legislature, Shendo has served as a state lawmaker in Santa Fe since winning election in 2012 and chairs the important Senate Tax, Business & Transportation Committee. The Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, Colo., quoted Shendo as saying:
“I cannot wait to get started in this new role at CU Boulder to strengthen our relationships with the tribes of Colorado and those historically connected to Colorado and to build a strong, supportive Native American community on campus for our students, faculty and staff,” Shendo said in a news release. He will join the campus full time on March 1, after relinquishing his state legislature seat. In a short interview with New Mexico In Depth this afternoon, Shendo said he was not prepared to say he would not run for re-election in the New Mexico Legislature.
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:
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In any given year, thousands of people are incarcerated in dozens of detention facilities run by tribal nations or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Often left out of research on climate and carceral facilities, the tribal prisoner population is one of the most invisible and vulnerable in the country.
Now, climate change threatens to make matters worse.
According to a Grist analysis, more than half of all tribal facilities could see at least 50 days per year in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if emissions continue to grow at their current pace. Ten facilities could experience more than 150 days of this kind of heat. Yet many tribal detention centers do not have the infrastructure, or funding, to endure such extreme temperatures for that long. This kind of heat exposure is especially dangerous for those with preexisting conditions like high blood pressure, which Indigenous people are more likely to have than white people.
This story was produced by Grist in partnership with the nonprofit newsroom Type Investigations and was co-published with ICT.
Sitting at his booth at the Bosque Farms Growers Market, George Torres greeted customers all morning one Saturday last year. Many he knew by name and asked about their harvest, the weather, the water. All around him, vendors sold vegetables, milk, eggs, cookies, cut flowers, and seedlings. One farmer dropped off a bundle of radishes, saying, “That’s all I have yet.”
As the July day temperature climbed, another asked Torres to “Turn off the furnace.” He asked how things were going, and she made a dismissive “Pfffttt.” None of the beets or spinach germinated. It was too hot.
Torres’ wife, Loretta, was the gardener, not George.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday struck down the first alcohol tax increase in 30 years meant to address a public health crisis that claims thousands of New Mexican lives a year.Lujan Grisham’s veto came as a surprise to state lawmakers. During weeks of negotiations with the governor’s office and each other during the legislative session, lawmakers had shaped a $1.1 billion tax package only to learn that she had liberally crossed through line after line in the 119-page bill.The decision to eliminate the alcohol tax, in particular, contradicted the rhetoric coming out of the governor’s office this week leading up to the vetoes.
Lujan Grisham sounded the alarm about the potential for the tax package to undermine the state’s long-term financial health. The proposed tax cuts represented future dollars the state would not collect, which some pointed to as a risk given the state’s volatile revenue stream. New Mexico is overly dependent on the boom and bust cycles of the oil and gas industry.However, the nominal increase to the state alcohol excise tax — less than 1 cent on a 12 ounce beer and about one and a half cents per servings of wine and liquor — would have generated roughly $10 million a year.
The tax bill would have directed those dollars as well as about $25 million in money that currently goes to the state’s general fund to a new Alcohol Harms Alleviation fund for treatment.
Unclear is why the governor didn’t eliminate the harm alleviation fund in the tax bill, while keeping the tax increase, given her concerns over shoring up the state’s revenues.
Among those stunned by the governor’s decision Friday was Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the proposal to increase the state alcohol tax.“I would expect an increase in alcohol excise tax would be welcome in light of the harm to the communities and cost to the state due to alcohol,” Sedillo Lopez said Friday afternoon.Maddy Hayden, the governor’s spokeswoman, declined to say why Lujan Grisham had vetoed the alcohol excise tax increase when it would have put dollars into New Mexico’s coffers.She did say, however, “The governor spoke at length to the media (Friday) about the continued need for dedicated resources to address alcohol misuse. As you know, she recommended creating an office at the Department of Health dedicated to alcohol misuse and the budget as signed includes $2 million for that purpose.”Hayden was referring to a Friday afternoon press conference Lujan Grisham held in Santa Fe.In 2021, alcohol killed 2,274 New Mexicans in 2021, at a rate no other state comes close to touching.
Dozens of people turned out April 1 to discuss, sometimes passionately, even angrily, the high rates of harsh discipline of Native students meted out by the Gallup-McKinley Public Schools district. Sponsored by news organizations New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica, in collaboration with the McKinley Community Health Alliance, the turnout of about 70 people, mostly Navajo, at the University of New Mexico’s Gallup campus, showcased community interest generated by a story New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica published in December. The news outlets found that Native American students are expelled from New Mexico’s public schools far more frequently than other student groups, in large part due to practices at the Gallup-McKinley County Schools district. Seventy people turned out for a discussion of school discipline on April 1, 2023 in Gallup, NM. Credit: Tara Armijo-Prewitt
Gallup-McKinley, which enrolls more Native students than any other public school district in the country, has expelled children at least 10 times as often as the rest of the state in recent years.
We wrote this story in plain language. Plain language means it is easier to read for some people. This is a guide to school discipline in New Mexico and Gallup-McKinley County Schools. You can print and share a short copy of this guide.
This guide is part of a project by ProPublica and New Mexico In Depth.
We are reporters. We are not lawyers or advocates.