Prosecutors with the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, a group of legislators, legislative support staff and one journalist are set to testify in the case against former New Mexico State Senator Phil Griego next week. According to a document filed by an attorney for the Legislative Council Service (LCS) earlier this week, 14 legislators and administrative staff who were called to testify are represented by Thomas Hnasko, counsel for LCS. Hnasko told NM Political Report that’s hard to say who if anyone he represents will decline to answer questions based on a speech and debate clause from state law that protects legislators from consequences on actions they make as legislators. He added that he doesn’t foresee many problems with lawmakers answering questions in court.
Several employees and positions at the University of New Mexico are under review for potential elimination in an effort to consolidate positions between the university’s main campus and the Health Sciences Center. At least 21 employees between main campus and HSC received letters earlier this month with “UNM and HSC Consolidation/Alignment” as the subject. The reviews come three months after a controversial change to the governance of HSC. Earlier this year, UNM’s Board of Regents voted to bring the HSC under more direct control of the regents. UNM Regent President Rob Doughty, who with Regent Marron Lee authored the changes, at the time said the governance changes wouldn’t affect employees.
The governor’s office contends a taxpayer-funded account used to host dignitaries and throw parties isn’t subject to open records laws to the same extent other public funds are. Sometimes the subject of controversy, the account catapulted into public view last winter when one of the parties its money was used for ended with police responding to noise complaints from a possibly intoxicated Martinez. Each year, the state Legislature grants $70,000 in taxpayer money to the governor for a contingency fund, which per state law she can use for “purposes connected with obligations of the office.”
The fund is unusual in that, unlike most state government accounts filled with public money, the state Legislature exempts it from required annual audits. But after NM Political Report filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the governor’s office this spring for six years worth of expense documents associated with the contingency fund, the office only provided broad summaries of the expenses. Missing were documentation like the checks, purchase orders, reimbursements and purchase requests associated with the fund that we asked for.
Some key players in the Libertarian Party weighed in on why former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has remained relatively low in recent election polls. In a recent MSNBC interview, Johnson pointed to polls that included Green Party nominee Jill Stein as one reason he hasn’t been able to break the much needed 15 percent to get into the general election presidential debates this fall alongside presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Austin Petersen, who sought the Libertarian Party nomination but then backed Johnson, told NM Political Report that Johnson’s low numbers should be taken seriously, given there is less than five months until the general election. “It’s definitely time to worry because the national election is in November and that’s going to sneak up on us,” Petersen said. One of Johnson’s mistakes, Petersen said, was trying to appeal to Bernie Sanders’ supporters instead of Republicans who don’t agree with their party’s nominee.
The head of a local nurses union said she plans to raise concerns about staffing issues at the University of New Mexico Hospital to the accreditation agency that rates medical institutions. In a letter written Monday to hospital officials, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees District 1199 President Lorie MacIver accuses top brass at UNMH of “failure to at least engage in a real and serious discussion hospital-wide about staffing.”
This reasoning, MacIver writes, is enough “to inform you that we will be writing to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requesting that they review UNMH’s ‘commitment to creating a positive nursing practice environment’ to ensure the commitment is real.’”
She adds writing to ANCC is also an attempt to make sure “we don’t experience what happened when UNM’s Department of Dermatology lost its accreditation due to failures of the Health Sciences Center,” which oversees the hospital. As NM Political Report first reported in April, UNM’s Department of Dermatology lost its accreditation after what a university spokesman described as “loss of faculty over the past year in a highly competitive national environment.”
MacIver argued that retention issues in the hospital’s nursing staff could lead to the same problems at the hospital. “We’re hoping to open a dialogue with the hospital to say, ‘You’ve got serious issues,’” MacIver said in an interview. “Maybe it will take the credentialing people to say, ‘We need you to address the issues we have.’”
UNMH is currently seeking Magnet Recognition Program status, which is the most prestigious form of recognition that ANCC offers.
Secretary of State Candidate Nora Espinoza recently appeared in two promotional videos for a group closely associated with the Church of Scientology that is critical of prescription drug companies. Months later, Espinoza received a large campaign contribution from a pharmaceutical company that clashed with the controversial religious group in the past. This February, the Church of Scientology released a video featuring Espinoza praising the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR)—an organization founded by the Church of Scientology—for helping her pass legislation in 2015 prohibiting schools and school officials from coercing students into taking medication. In the video, Espinoza discussed how CCHR helped her pass HB 53, which Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law. “We drafted it, we worked together with it, to make sure that it was an excellent legislation,” Espinoza said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now investigating allegations of fraud in emergency food aid processing at the New Mexico Human Services Department. According to notes from a June 16 conference call in a federal lawsuit, HSD lawyers told a federal judge that “the USDA has officially opened an investigation of HSD and will be sending an investigator to Santa Fe.”
The court meeting came one day after all of New Mexico’s congressional delegation signed a letter asking for an investigation into allegations of a practice at HSD of adding fake assets to the applications of emergency Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) benefits. According to court testimony of nine HSD employees, the department instructed workers to add fake assets to deny applicants emergency benefits, which must be fulfilled within seven days instead of the 30 days of standard SNAP applications. Employees said HSD did this to clear a backlog of late emergency applications for SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps. The allegations came in part of an ongoing lawsuit from the Center on Law and Poverty that faults HSD for not following federal law in its processing of SNAP and Medicaid applications.