The executive director of the New Mexico Parole Board has moved to another state job, as fresh controversy surrounds the board’s handling of parole hearings for the state’s “30-year lifer” inmates and lawmakers consider a bill that would check the board’s power. Sherry Stephens’ last day as executive director was Friday, Parole Board Operations Manager Megan Moreno told New Mexico In Depth and SFR. Stephens gave two weeks’ notice on Feb. 27 and is now working at the state department of Aging and Long Term Services. Moreno said Stephens was not fired from her position at the state agency, which oversees the conditions of release for thousands of parolees around the state each year and decides whether people charged with certain capital crimes go free.
There won’t be any local road repairs, senior center vehicles or shade structures at schools coming from New Mexico lawmakers this year. There’s simply not enough money to sell more than about $63 million in severance tax bonds this year because of the decline in oil and gas revenue nationwide. That’s according to the sponsor of the annual capital outlay bill, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa. “It would be a frivolous attempt for us to try to distribute that among 112 members,” Cisneros said. “If anything, right now we’re looking at using it for statewide needs.”
And the amount available won’t go far on statewide requests, which total $359 million.
With business and union lobbyists backing it, a bill aimed at reforming the Legislature’s allocation of infrastructure money passed the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. After a 4-2 vote, Senate Bill 262 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Two Republicans, Sens. Cliff Pirtle, of Roswell, and Mark Moores, of Albuquerque, opposed the measure. The bill creates a public works interim committee comprised of 18 lawmakers to recommend projects to be funded in the follow legislative session.
At the midpoint of New Mexico’s legislative session, bills that would legalize hemp research are moving at a clip through both chambers. But the governor’s not saying whether she’ll sign bills that would establish rules for cultivating the plant and a research fund at a state university, and remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Senate bill 6 has one more hearing in a House committee before it heads to the House floor for a final vote. The bill establishes a research and development fund at New Mexico State University and removes cannabis plants cultivated for industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill’s sponsor, Cisco McSorley, D Albuquerque, touts the economic benefits of researching hemp in the state.
While legislators debate how to fund early childhood education programs, some think more efficiency and better services can be achieved by consolidating early childhood programs. Senate Bill 106 would create a cabinet-level Early Childhood Services Department with oversight of existing programs like home visiting and pre-kindergarten that are currently scattered through various state agencies. “We have a public education department, we have a higher education department, but we don’t have that focus on that early childhood educational component,” said Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. In addition to better coordination of services, Morales said consolidation of programs would maximize taxpayer dollers. “I think that we have dollars that go unspent. We have, unfortunately, programs that aren’t run as efficiently as I would like to see,” Senator Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said about his bill to establish
According to a Legislative Finance Committee Early Childhood report, both state and federal funding for early childhood services totals more than $230 million.
Mining, developers and film interests reported wining and dining New Mexico lawmakers last week. Lobbyists and their employers have reported spending nearly $203,000 through Monday. They must report any spending of $500 to the Secretary of State within 48 hours. Last week’s biggest event was a $15,845 dinner at the Hilton sponsored by the New Mexico Mining Association. The IATSE Local 480, a union for film employees, spent $6,378 on a reception at the Pink Adobe.
Payday lenders and their professional associations donated more than $118,000 to candidates and PACs in 2015 and 2016. Most of that money – $92,150 – went to Republican interests, with $41,700 to Republican House candidates. That follows the trend of House Republicans outraising and outspending their Democratic counterparts in the 2016 election cycle, particularly when it came to business interests. Despite such campaign cash dominance, Republicans lost control of the House. But the total is less than the $140,000 the industry spent in the 2014 election cycle, when statewide offices such as governor and attorney general were at stake.
Reported lobbying efforts to influence New Mexico legislators neared $178,000 this week. A new big spender took over, as the National Rifle Association spent more than $44,000 on an internet campaign aimed at stopping two gun background check bills. That effort created by Starboard Strategic is aimed at generating public opposition to House Bill 50 and Senate Bill 48. Lobbyists and their employers are required to report any spending of $500 or more within 48 hours during the legislative session. That typically encompasses dinners, breakfasts, receptions and gifts doled out to lawmakers, as well as interest group spending such as the NRA’s.
New Mexico In Depth attempted to ask Gov. Susana Martinez about her reaction to the uncertainty in Washington surrounding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have made it a priority to repeal major provisions. Any action from Washington would ripple through New Mexico. Early in her term Martinez was one of the few Republican governors across the nation to agree to expand the Medicaid program, which was a major provision of the ACA. Her decision resulted in around 250,000 additional New Mexicans getting health insurance.
Plenty of wining and dining of lawmakers occurred in the past week, as lobbyist spending during the session neared $107,000. The University of New Mexico threw a reception at the La Fonda at a cost of $11,146. Comcast spent $10,341 feting legislators to dinner at Restaurant Martin. But not all 112 lawmakers were invited to every event as the Legislature neared the end of the third week of the session. The Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee lunched at the Inn at Loretto courtesy of New Mexico Gas Co.