Lujan Grisham bill would allow benefits for same sex couples who could not legally wed

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham introduced a bill Friday that would amend the Social Security Act  to include some married, same sex couples that currently do not qualify for survivor’s benefits. Named for an Albuquerque resident, the Anthony Gonzales Equality for Survivors (AGES) Act, the bill would add alternatives for those who were not married for the minimum nine months in order to receive their deceased partner’s benefits. Related story: ABQ widower from same-sex marriage denied social security benefits

While keeping the nine-month requirement, the bill would allow applicants to provide “a sworn affidavit that the widow or widower was in a domestic partnership with such individual throughout the 9-month period ending on the date of the individual’s death.”

The bill’s namesake said Lujan Grisham’s office called and told him the congresswoman introduced the bill. He didn’t, however, know his name was included. “I’m shocked,” Gonzales said when NM Political Report called for comment.

Long list of potential ABQ mayoral candidates as signature deadline approaches

In a mostly empty building in downtown Albuquerque last week, 80-year-old mayoral candidate Ricardo Chaves said on his first day in office he would pull out all of the city’s parking meters. Chaves also takes issue with the city charging a “hidden tax” for airport parking. It makes sense that parking is on his mind considering Chavez has been in the parking industry since 1963. Now,  60 of his family members own private parking lots around the U.S., Chaves said. Chaves added his name to the already long list of mayoral candidates about 15 days before he and other hopefuls must turn in 3,000 petition signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

New Mexico marches for science

Throughout the state Saturday, activists and others marched as part of the worldwide “March for Science” that coincided with Earth Day. The largest rally in New Mexico took place in Albuquerque, at the Albuquerque Civic Plaza. In Las Cruces on Saturday morning, more than 500 people marched around downtown, then joined a rally with speakers and music. In Santa Fe, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, addressed the crowd, saying that science isn’t a partisan issue and that all “policymakers need scientists so we can make good decisions.”
He also said the federal scientists, working at agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, should “be able to do their work for the American people without worrying about political interference.”

Udall said that climate change is the “moral, political and scientific challenge of our time, and we must face it head on, aggressively.”

Albuquerque’s event featured several people wearing colorful costumes, including one person dressed as a dinosaur and a couple dressed as both the Grim Reaper and a medieval plague doctor. Jackie Coombes, a microbiologist dressed as the plague doctor, said she is worried about the consequences of the federal government cutting funding on vaccines.

Legislature files lawsuit against Gov. Martinez

The New Mexico Legislature filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez Friday morning. The suit accuses Martinez of violating the state constitution when she vetoed the entirety of the budgets for the state Legislature and all higher education in New Mexico. Filed by the Legislative Council’s lawyer Tom Hnasko, the lawsuit calls the line-item veto of legislative funding an “attempt to eviscerate the ability of the other branch [of government] to perform its essential functions.”

In his filing, Hnsako asks the court to invalidate Martinez’s line-item vetoes of both the Legislature and higher education. “They’re suing the Governor because they want to raise taxes, and she’s the only one standing in their way,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a statement. “It’s disappointing because it shows a refusal to compromise as this is nothing but an attempt to bully her by short-circuiting the legislative process before a special session.

Feds find grant money misused on medical pot

A state agency that helps compensate victims of crimes was called out by the U.S. Department of Justice for using federal grant money to reimburse victims for medical cannabis purchases. The U.S. Office of the Inspector General released its audit  of the New Mexico’s Crime Victims Reparation Commission this week, and criticized the agency.  Cannabis, the federal agency said, is still illegal on a federal level. “While medical marijuana is legal in the State of New Mexico, federal law does not recognize or protect the possession or use of medical marijuana,” the audit read. “As a result, medical marijuana is an unallowable expenditure and cannot be paid for with federal grant funds.”

The Office of the Inspector General recommended the state commission change its procedures to make sure federal money does not pay for cannabis.

ABQ contractor aims to take on Heinrich for Senate

There’s still more than a year until New Mexicans vote in the primary election and general election for the U.S. Senate, but one local commercial building contractor said he’s already prepared to take on incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich. Mick Rich, owner of Mick Rich Contractors, said his plans for the Senate don’t go past two terms, or 12 years. “I am not moving to D.C.,” Rich told NM Political Report. “I want to make it clear, two terms and I’m done.”

A registered Republican, Rich speaks highly of former Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and said the six-term senator’s career is a “great road map” for serving New Mexico. “He made sure that our labs and bases had a mission,” Rich said.

Where mayoral candidates got campaign cash and how they spent it

Candidates for the Albuquerque mayoral election filed their campaign finance reports over the weekend. The financial reports shed some light on which privately-financed candidates have raised the most money and from whom they’re getting their contributions. Right now, 16 official candidates are running for the city’s top office, but only four have raised significantly large amounts of money. Brian Colón
Former Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman and one-time candidate for lieutenant governor Brian Colón leads the pack in fundraising. Most of his $350,000 haul came in large donations from business owners and executives.

ABQ widower denied social security benefits appeals decision

An Albuquerque man who was denied Social Security benefits from his deceased husband  intends to bring the issue to federal court. Anthony Gonzales* married his long-time partner Mark Johnson in 2013 in a mass public wedding in downtown Albuquerque. It was the first time same sex couples could legally marry in Bernalillo County**. Almost six months later, Johnson died from cancer. When Gonzales initially filed his claim for Johnson’s benefits, the Social Security Administration denied his request on the grounds that he and Johnson were married for less than nine months, the minimum time required to qualify for benefits.

Ex-business owners say ABQ minimum wage ordinance is invalid

The ex-owners of an Albuquerque restaurant and bar want a state district court judge to throw out a wage theft lawsuit against them and argue the ordinance that raised the city’s minimum wage is invalid. If a judge were to rule the ordinance was not validly enacted, it would lower the minimum wage to the state’s rate of $7.50 per hour. Currently, the Albuquerque minimum wage is $8.80 per hour. The current owners are not part of the lawsuit. “Santa Fe Dining purchased Kelly’s in August of 2016 and since that time all Kelly employees are paid by the rate required by law, including the Albuquerque ordinance at issue in the lawsuit between the former owner of Kelly’s and some of its employees,” Jim Hargrove, president of Santa Fe Dining, wrote in an email to NM Political Report Tuesday.

Court rules med pot producer won’t have to shut down for five days

A prominent Albuquerque medical cannabis producer will not have to shut its doors next week during what he says is one of his busiest days of the year. This comes after Santa Fe Judge David Thompson ruled Monday that Ultra Health must pay a $100 fine for bringing a cannabis seedling plant to the New Mexico State Fair last year. But Ultra Health will not have to close down for five days, as the state originally ordered to punish the medical cannabis producer for putting the plant on public display. The ruling comes after a nearly seven-month long legal battle between the company and the New Mexico Department of Health. Ultra Health brought a non flowering cannabis plant to the New Mexico State Fair in September 2016 and was quickly told to remove it by fair officials.