Extreme heat will take an unequal toll on tribal jails

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.

Farmers weigh tough choices as uncertain water future looms

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.

Lujan Grisham axes tax increase on booze

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.

Gallup school discipline event generates large turnout, passionate conversations

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.

Have a Student in New Mexico Schools? Here Is What to Know About How School Discipline Works.

Credit: Laila Milevski/ProPublica

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.

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.

House committee cuts proposed alcohol tax increases

A nearly $1 billion tax package cleared the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on Monday with 1-cent to 2-cent tax per drink increases on beer, wine and liquor instead of much larger rate hikes sought by advocates.Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, said following the committee’s nine-to-five vote to approve the bill that supporters hope to amend a 15-cent per alcoholic drink increase into the legislation as it moves through the Legislature over the final two weeks of the legislative session.“We need lots of people to support that,” said Ferrary, one of the sponsors of House Bill 230, which would have imposed a flat 25-cent tax on alcoholic drinks and would have pushed the cost of most beer, wine and liquor up by 18 to 21 cents.Supporters of raising the state alcohol excise tax have pointed to research that shows higher alcohol prices curb cirrhosis deaths, drunk driving, violence and crime, and even sexually transmitted disease. New Mexicans die of alcohol-related causes at nearly three times the national average and alcohol is involved in more deaths than fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamines combined.Even with the 1-cent to 2-cent tax increases on alcoholic drinks, industry lobbyists turned out Monday to oppose the alcohol excise tax provision in the omnibus bill. Jimmy Bates of Premium Beverage Distributing Co. a wholesaler for Anheuser Busch, said the provision would raise the cost of liquor by a smaller rate than beer. 

“You have the lowest ABV (alcohol by volume) alcohol product taking a 37 percent increase and the highest in hard liquor taking a nine percent increase,” Bates said. “You’re going to drive consumers away from four to five percent ABV beverage into a 40-percent one.”

Currently, state law taxes most beer at 4 cents per drink versus 7 cents for liquor. In 2017, when a similar bill appeared before the Legislature, Bates told state lawmakers he would oppose any tax increase, however small.

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.

Couy Griffin is New Mexico’s fly in the ointment

Looking westward and north to Arizona and Colorado, New Mexico should count itself lucky three days after Election Day. Vote counting continues in those states. Here in New Mexico, no major disruptions marred Election Day and the vast majority of contests, including the governor’s race, slipped into history Tuesday night without any drama. Even the state’s marquee federal race, the 2nd Congressional District featuring Democrat Gabe Vasquez and Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell, with its potential national implications, ended quietly with Vasquez winning by 1,300 votes and Herrell conceding defeat. Otero County Sheriff David Black instructs former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin to leave the room during Thursday’s county commission meeting.