SOS rules against Republican petition aiming to overturn gun background check law

The New Mexico Secretary of State rejected the effort by House Republicans to overturn a new law requiring background checks for nearly all gun purchases in New Mexico. The Republican House leader said they are prepared to take legal action over the decision. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced today that the petition submitted by Republicans doesn’t meet the state’s constitutional requirements to overturn a law. In a letter to House Minority Jim Townsend, who submitted the petition along with House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, Toulouse Oliver wrote that because Senate Bill 8, which was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this month, relates to the public peace, health and safety, “it is not a law subject to referendum.”

While the state constitution allows for petitions to vote on overturning recently passed laws, it does not allow for the petitions to target laws related to the preservation of public peace, health or safety. In her letter, Toulouse Oliver quoted a press release from Lujan Grisham that says the law “improves public safety by expanding required background checks on firearm purchases to include private gun sales, closing loopholes for certain sales like those made online or at gun shows.”

Toulouse Oliver also outlined technical problems with the petition, from failing to suggest a popular name for the law they wish to overturn and failing to submit a petition in the form outlined by state law.

Lawmakers point state to new educational future

It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. 

“This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse. 

State lawmakers pumped an additional $500 million into the public schools budget and created a new early education department. Teachers and school administrators received a salary increase. And money for early childhood programs got a boost. 

But bills that emphasized multicultural, bilingual education and strengthened the community school model – ideas that some lawmakers and education advocates consider transformational – seemed destined to die, stuck in legislative committees. 

Then in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, two of them were pulled from certain death and placed on the Senate floor Saturday morning. 

The Multicultural Education Framework, a centerpiece of the Transform Education NM coalition of Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit plaintiffs and community advocates, was defeated, going down on  on a 14-22 vote, with seven Democrats voting against the bill. 

In contrast, a bill that strengthens the community school model, cleared the Senate after contentious debate on a bipartisan vote of 24-15 and and is headed to Lujan Grisham’s desk. A priority of the governor, the community school model provides social supports for struggling students and makes schools a community hub. 

Sen. Mimi Stewart, a retired teacher who chairs the Legislative Education Study Committee, put up a spirited defense of the legislation. 

The community schools idea had been long studied by the LESC, she said.

Needs improvement: Legislative session ends with mixed results for NM kids

It’s a Wednesday morning at Kids Campus at Santa Fe Community College, and Sacha, an 11-month-old girl, has just taken a few wobbly steps. Staff members hold their breath, and one person exclaims, “Look at her!”

“Many of our kids start in the baby room and work their way through [the pre-K program]” and eventually all the way to college, said Michelle Rosen-Hatcher, a director at Kids Campus, one of a handful of infant care centers in Santa Fe. “We love that we can provide that continuity of care for our kids.”

Unfortunately, New Mexico children haven’t received the same support from state lawmakers, who have effectively marched backwards in recent years. A 2019 report by the Santa Fe Baby Fund shows that there is only enough high-quality center-based care for 7 percent of babies born in Santa Fe. The shortage reflects one of New Mexico’s most entrenched problems. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the state ranks dead last in the country in overall child well-being.

2019 a big year for environmental legislation

After eight years of ignoring most environmental issues, the New Mexico Legislature got busy on water, energy and climate change this year. According to the nonprofit Conservation Voters New Mexico, legislators took up more than 100 bills this session related to the environment. Some didn’t pass, including Sen. Mimi Stewart’s solar tax credit bill (Senate Bill 518). That bill would have allowed New Mexicans a personal income tax credit of 10 percent of the cost of installing a solar thermal system or solar photovoltaic systems on homes, businesses or farms. Other bills that might get a second (or third, or fourth…) chance in later years include the Healthy Soil Act (House Bill 204/Senate Bill 218), the Environmental Review Act (House Bill 206), the Strategic Water Reserve (House Bill 281/Senate Bill 277), the Wildlife Protection and Public Safety Act (House Bill 366) and a number of bills related to water planning. For some of the bills passed into law, the devil will be in the details of implementation.

US government uses several clandestine shelters to detain immigrant children

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.The federal government is relying on secret shelters to hold unaccompanied minors, in possible violation of the long-standing rules for the care of immigrant children, a Reveal investigation has found. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the government agency that cares for unaccompanied minors, has never has made the shelters’ existence public or even disclosed them to the minors’ own attorneys in a landmark class-action case. It remains unclear how many total sites are under operation, but there are at least five in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia, holding at least 16 boys and girls for the refugee agency, some as young as 9 years old. Minors being held at the clandestine facilities initially were placed at known shelters around the country but later were transferred to these off-the-books facilities that specialize in providing for youth with mental health and behavioral challenges.