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.

Proposed Office of Alcohol Prevention steps up ambition, but is short on vision

The New Mexico Department of Health has asked the legislature for $5 million to build an Office of Alcohol Prevention, which would expand the staff focused on reducing excess drinking from a single epidemiologist to a team of 13. If created, the office would represent a significant increase in resources and personnel focused on the state’s epidemic of alcohol-related deaths, by an agency long cowed into inaction against the challenge. But some experts who reviewed an internal description of the proposed office, which New Mexico In Depth obtained by public records request, said the plan was not bold enough to meet the crisis. Tim Naimi, who directs the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, said that to reverse the state’s climbing death rate would require sustained strategies that influence drinking by everyone in the state, not just those who have already developed serious problems with alcohol. But he said the activities highlighted in the plan were redundant with existing practices and lacked focus and resolve.

Native leaders say tribal education trust fund would be game changer

Education programs run by Native American tribes in New Mexico rely in part on money from the state, but accessing those dollars makes it difficult to complete all of the work they envision.Tribal leaders and advocates have long lobbied for a change. This year they want to make it happen.Each year, tribes can apply for grants, and if their applications are approved, they must spend the money first and then submit documentation to the state for reimbursement. 

On paper, it sounds straightforward. But in reality, sometimes tribes can’t spend down all the money by an artificial deadline. In fiscal year 2020-2021, 22 tribes received grants under the Indian Education Act but only two requested reimbursement for the full amount they were awarded. 

It’s a cycle that repeats year after year, hampering their ability to realize the vision of educating their own children. 

With state lawmakers heading into the 2023 legislative session with a multi-billion dollar surplus, Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, said he will introduce legislation to create a $50 million tribal education trust fund that would provide tribes automatic funding every year. 

Tribes would use annual interest earned on trust fund money for language revitalization efforts, resources such as wi-fi, and career readiness programs, among other priorities. It would give tribes greater autonomy, Lente said.

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.

Gallup School Superintendent Says Our Story About Expulsions in His District Is Incorrect. Here’s Why He’s Wrong.

This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories from ProPublica like this one as soon as they are published. And sign up here for New Mexico In Depth stories. Gabriella Trujillo, special to ProPublica

Over the four academic years ending in spring 2020, Gallup-McKinley County Schools reported to New Mexico officials that it had expelled students at least 211 times, far more often than school districts in the rest of the state. Yet on Jan.

Native students are expelled in New Mexico far more than any other group. This school district is ground zero for the disparity.

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with New Mexico In Depth. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published. And sign up here for journalism from New Mexico In Depth. One chilly March afternoon, dozens of Navajo children spilled out of their middle school to play in the snow before heading home. Students in jackets and parkas can be seen on grainy security camera footage chasing and pushing one another to the ground.

How We Found the School District Responsible for Much of New Mexico’s Outsized Discipline of Native Students

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with New Mexico In Depth. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published. And sign up here for journalism from New Mexico In Depth. New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica used data from the New Mexico Public Education Department to analyze student discipline rates across the state. The news outlets found that one district, Gallup-McKinley County Schools, played an outsized role in the disproportionate discipline of Native American students in the state. That district enrolls more Native students than any other public school district in the United States and a quarter of Native students in the state. Through public records requests, the news organizations obtained a spreadsheet of all disciplinary incidents reported by school districts to the state Public Education Department.

Deaths due to drinking rose sharply in 2021

More than 2,200 New Mexicans died of alcohol-related causes in 2021, according to new estimates from the Department of Health, capping a decade in which such fatalities nearly doubled and setting a new high-water mark in a state already beset by the worst drinking crisis in the nation. The updated data arrive as lawmakers draft legislation to reduce alcohol’s harms for the upcoming session. 

Laura Tomedi, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico College of Population Health, drew on the data at a late-November hearing of the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee. Tomedi, who from 2013 to 2018 led the health department’s substance abuse epidemiology section and served as its alcohol epidemiologist, told lawmakers the state’s death rate had been “going up and up and up” for years. But she described the latest trends — a 17% uptick in 2020 and another 13% jump in 2021 — as a “concerning, sharp increase.”

This spike in deaths coincided with the pandemic, she said, when “​early indications are showing that alcohol use increased quite a bit.”

The mortality data, which are the most comprehensive estimates of alcohol’s full impact on New Mexicans’ health, account for all causes of death brought on by drinking including injuries in motor-vehicle crashes and violence in which the victim was intoxicated, and illnesses such as liver disease and cancer. Illness deaths due to chronic drinking made up a growing share of alcohol-attributable deaths, accounting for 62% in 2021, compared to 38% resulting from acute intoxication such as injuries and poisonings.

Indian Affairs Committee wants $3 million for Attorney General work on missing and murdered Indigenous people cases

The Attorney General’s Office has made advances this year in addressing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP), but it needs dedicated funding from the Legislature to keep it up, Mark Probasco, deputy director of the office’s Special Prosecutions Division, told the Indian Affairs Committee on Thursday. 

The legislative committee didn’t argue, passing a motion to recommend inclusion of $3 million in the state budget for the office to continue its work on a nationwide issue that’s gained increased attention in New Mexico in recent years. 

A state task force published a response plan in May with a number of recommendations, although what legislative action might come next is unclear. 

There are at least 192 Indigenous people missing throughout New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, according to a list the FBI last updated in October. State officials and lawmakers say that’s likely an undercount. 

Senate Bill 12, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in February, created a specialist position in the AG’s Office and allocated $1 million to a grant program aimed at establishing a network to support efforts by tribal nations to identify and find Indigenous people who are missing. 

An additional $1 million for at least one full-time specialist didn’t make it into the final version of the bill. As a result, the AG’s Office has been drawing resources from other areas, Probasco told the committee. 

“It’s one thing for the state to say that it is committed towards this important work,” Probasco said. “We do the best with the resources that we do have, but the reality is that in order for us to maximize the law that has been passed and to make sure that we give these families the best chance at moving forward, it has to be better funded.” 

Since February, the office has assisted in prosecutions, helped compile the FBI list, built partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and collaborated with the New Mexico Press Association to offer training on how to humanely cover MMIP cases, Probasco said. 

Probasco pointed to the murder of Cecelia B. Finona (Diné). After being reported missing in 2019, the 59-year-old Farmington resident was found dead in 2021. 

Jerry Jay was prosecuted with help from the AG’s Office and pled guilty in September to first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder.