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.

Alcohol taxes across country are “very, very low”

Lawmakers shouldn’t read too much into the fact that New Mexico has some of the highest alcohol taxes in the country, a national expert told them today. Because “alcohol taxes across the country are very, very low.”And Richard Auxier, Senior Policy Associate, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, gave lawmakers at the Legislature’s Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee hearing a clear answer to questions about whether raising taxes helps improve public health. Yes, he said, research shows that raising taxes reduces consumption and improves health. In the state that leads the country in alcohol deaths, that’s important. But when you get into the weeds of tax policy, everything becomes complicated. Lawmakers should start with understanding their ultimate goal, Auxier said. Is it to eliminate or drastically reduce consumption of alcohol? If so, it might make sense to increase taxes significantly. Or is it to improve public health while not making drinking alcohol so expensive that it becomes out of reach?

Ivey-Soto spectacle reminds us state lawmakers can’t police themselves

The saga that humbled state senator Daniel Ivey-Soto this week is the kind of political theater that hypnotizes the chattering political class. A mixture of sexual harassment allegations and an unsuccessful coup against Sen. President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, with whom he has clashed, led Ivey-Soto to resign Thursday as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee before his colleagues could remove him. It was a very public drama that generated blaring headlines and gossipy conversations. Beyond all the hot takes and salacious titillation, however, it’s important that we not forget the institutional weakness that got us to this point. Skepticism has always swirled around lawmakers’ claim that they can police themselves.

Will carbon capture help clean New Mexico’s power, or delay its transition?

Shiprock, a sacred site to the Diné (Navajo People) is seen in the distance, the view mired in a smoky haze. Credit: Jeremy Wade Shockley / for the Energy News Network

As New Mexico lawmakers were putting the finishing touches on landmark legislation to help workers and communities transition from the closure of the state’s largest coal plant, the city of Farmington had other plans. 

“We have reached a milestone that few people thought remotely possible,” City Manager Rob Mayes told the local newspaper in February 2019. An agreement was announced between the city and a New York holding firm called Acme Equities to keep the aging San Juan Generating Station operating past its scheduled 2022 retirement date. The state’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, had planned to retire the massive coal-fired power plant, eliminating hundreds of jobs and millions in local tax revenue that the 2019 Energy Transition Act intended to address. After working behind the scenes for months, though, local officials instead threw their support behind an obscure real estate hedge fund promising to keep the plant and its associated mine open by installing the largest carbon capture system on a power plant to date — by far. The $1.4 billion plan baffled energy-economics experts.