Legislator wants to let Metro Court convene grand juries

If former New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sol Watchler was right about grand juries and ham sandwiches, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court might see more cold cuts.  

House Bill 19, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, would allow the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court to convene grand juries, which are currently only held in state and federal district courts. The proposal, Hochman-Vigil said, is “an administrative clean-up measure.”

The Albuquerque lawyer added that some cases involving grand juries currently go back and forth between Metro and state District Courts and her bill would allow for more autonomy, particularly in Metro Court. “This allows for Metro Court to have better control over their own caseload and allows them flexibility to run these cases in the best, most efficient, manner they see possible,” Hochman-Vigil said. Felony cases in Bernalillo County sometimes start in Metro Court, but go to District Court if prosecutors decide to use a grand jury.

After failed indictments on sexual assault charges, father tries to rebuild family, career

In the late afternoon of August 30, 2017, Jessica Lowther was on the phone with her husband, Adam. Recently back from a routine business trip, Adam called to say he was headed home from work and would take their two young children to their taekwondo lessons. During that call, Jessica answered a knock on her front door. A handful of Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officers and at least one investigator from the Children Youth and Families Department stood at her door. A female officer said they needed to do a welfare check on the two Lowther children.

Bill to increase electronic record fees could be changed

A state Senator who introduced a bill to change New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), now seems to be looking to change the language in his bill. Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, told the Santa Fe New Mexican Tuesday his bill to allow public bodies to charge up to $1.00 per page for electronic records was “not nefarious,” but instead was in response to public bodies being “deluged” with requests for free electronic records. But when NM Political Report reached out to Sapien for further comment, a representative from his legislative office said the Senator did not want to talk about the bill. Sisto Abeyta, on behalf of Sapien’s office, returned a call to NM Political Report and hinted Sapien’s bill may change, but he did not have specifics. “We are going to hold off on the record right now because we’re still working through some issues with the bill,” Abeyta said.

Auto franchise bill passes first committee

A bill that would allow some car manufacturers to bypass local auto dealers and sell directly to consumers in New Mexico, passed its first committee Thursday afternoon. The Senate Public Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 243 along party lines, with only Democratic members voting to advance the proposal. The bill would allow companies like electric car manufacturer Tesla to open service centers and sales showrooms in the state. Current law mandates that vehicle manufacturers must sell through local, franchised dealers. The bill narrowly changes the state franchise law, and would only allow companies that do not have a franchise business model to sell in the state.

Tesla owners charged up for car sales legislation

Update: added statement from Tesla

New Mexico has a rich car club culture, ranging from lowrider and vintage cars to modern models too fast and too furious for many people. But on a cool Sunday in Santa Fe, about 30 minutes from the state capitol, another group of car enthusiasts gathered to discuss their automotive passion: Teslas. The Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico met in the parking lot of a rustic New Mexican restaurant, just a few days before a legislative committee was expected to vote on whether to allow the automotive upstart a chance to set up shop in New Mexico. The group of about two dozen sleek cars were a far, yet quiet, cry from the loud engines, custom, aftermarket paint jobs and flashy chrome one might expect from a traditional New Mexico car club. Another difference  that unites New Mexico Tesla owners is that none of these cars were purchased or can be serviced at a traditional auto dealer in the state.

BernCo Commission chooses Sedillo Lopez for vacant state Senate seat

Bernalillo County commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Antoinette Sedillo Lopez Monday morning to fill the vacancy left by former state Senator Cisco McSorley. A long-time professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, Sedillo Lopez ended a year-long campaign for Congress last summer. She was up against a long list of opponents in the 2018 Democratic primary election, but ultimately lost to U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland. Sedillo Lopez will have about 24 hours to prepare for the legislative session, which  

starts at noon on Tuesday. She said she is ready to serve and will drive to Santa Fe early Wednesday morning.

Pencils down, turn in your letters: BernCo to pick Senate replacement

Bernalillo County commissioners now have a list of 19 applicants to choose from to fill long-time legislator Cisco McSorley’s former Senate seat. The list included doctors, lawyers, political and community activists as well as two former congressional candidates from the 2018 election. The Albuquerque Democrat resigned earlier this week after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed him as director of the state’s Probation and Parole Division, under the state’s Department of Corrections. McSorley served in the state Legislature since 1984, first as a representative, then as a senator. Update:The Bernalillo County Commission appointed Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Lawmaker confident about criminal justice reform’s chances of passage

In the New Mexico Legislature, Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas’ name could be synonymous with criminal justice reform. Now, in his 12th year as a lawmaker, Maestas wants to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. In 2016, when the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives and then-Gov. Susana Martinez championed legislation to increase criminal penalties and reinstate the death penalty, Maestas was the leading voice against those efforts. Now, Maestas, a former prosecutor, is headed into the 2019 legislative session armed with what he calls an omnibus package of bills that have historically seen bipartisan support, but fell victim to Martinez’s veto pen. Maestas thinks, with a new governor, this is the year for reform.

Shutdown spurs state rule change on unemployment for federal employees

After a little more than a week in his new job, New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary-designate Bill McCamley made a major, albeit temporary, rule change for federal employees seeking unemployment benefits because of the ongoing federal government shutdown. McCamley announced Wednesday that he is temporarily waiving a federally mandated work requirement to receive state unemployment benefits. “If you file for unemployment, by federal law, you’re supposed to show that you were looking for two jobs a week, and if you get a job and you turn it down, you lose unemployment,” McCamley told NM Political Report on Wednesday evening. “That’s really crappy for an air traffic controller who’s still working and not getting paid.”

Thousands of New Mexicans are either working without pay or have been furloughed. In a YouTube video, McCamley outlined some specifics of the rule change, which could last for 180 days if necessary.

2018 Top Stories #1: Lujan Grisham wins election

Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she would not seek reelection to Congress and instead run for governor well before 2018. Lujan Grisham defeated her Republican opponent Steve Pearce with a healthy ten point lead in November after beating her primary opponent Jeff Apodaca in the Democratic primary election by 60 points. Not surprisingly, much of the state’s political news focused on the gubernatorial race, which often became contentious both in the primary and general election. That contention was ever-present at the Democratic Party of New Mexico’s pre-primary convention, when one of Lujan Grisham’s former congressional staffers interrupted the congresswoman’s stump speech and was subsequently arrested. Despite winning by a large margin at that convention, Lujan Grisham’s opponents refused to drop out and accused her of cheating during her campaign.