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.

4-19-17

Politicians turn out for anti-abortion press conference, fundraising

Anti-abortion advocates from across the country held a press conference in Albuquerque Wednesday morning denouncing New Mexico’s flagship university for its fetal tissue donation practices. Among those who spoke at the event were Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican and Washington D.C. attorney Catherine Glenn Foster. Blackburn, who chaired the controversial congressional Select Panel on Infant Rights, said she came to “join my colleague in the House [of Representatives] and those in New Mexico that have worked on the issue of life.”

The Select Panel released a report in January faulting the University of New Mexico for lacking protocols to “ensure the survival of infants who show signs of life following extraction from the uterus.” It also scrutinized UNM’s relationship with Southwest Women’s Options, an abortion provider that has donated fetal tissue to the university for scientific research. Supporters of abortion rights, as well as minority Democrats in the Select Panel, have dismissed the report and the panel’s investigation for using “McCarthy-era tactics” to conduct “an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care.”

Pearce contended that “the laws are clear” and that “we’re simply stating, ‘Do not violate the law.’”

The Select Panel made 15 criminal referrals for its research of abortion providers and educational institutions across the country, including to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. To date, Balderas has not acted on the referral to his office.

State college exchange program sees cuts amid budget troubles

State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.

APS faces public records suit from mother of student

More than a year after Albuquerque Public Schools denied her public records requests related to an incident involving her autistic son, Laura Gutierrez is taking the state’s biggest public school district to court. Her lawsuit, filed last month in Albuquerque’s state district court, alleges APS wrongly withheld public records responsive to requests she made in late 2015. She is asking for the school district to release the records and pay damages for violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Under IPRA, public agencies can be fined up to $100 per day in damages for not fulfilling public records requests if the person who brings the suit can prove damages. “I have decisions I need to make as a parent, and without these records I can’t move forward,” Gutierrez said in an interview.

Supporters rally for LGBTQ-friendly club

One week after a Nob Hill nightclub was subjected to homophobic attacks, a group of supporters rallied Sunday morning to support Albuquerque Social Club. Anthony Montaño, who manages the LGBTQ-friendly club, told NM Political Report the harassment began Saturday, April 1, when the club received four threatening phone calls. The next day, Montaño said the harassment continued and the club’s door staffer “felt threatened enough to call the police.”

That evening, two club staffers saw two cars pull up into the parking lot as they were leaving from work. Each car brandished guns, Montaño said, and fired a total of three shots into the air. The staffers ran inside and called the police.

Banning guns for domestic abusers vetoed, conversion therapy ban signed among Martinez actions

Friday at noon was the deadline for Gov. Susana Martinez to act on bills. Any bills not explicitly signed or vetoed are automatically vetoed without explanation.These are called pocket vetoes. If we learn of any more actions on important bills, we will add them to this story. Previously, we wrote about her actions on the budget and the veto of the tax package. Here are some of the bills Martinez took action on today:
Senate Bill 259 – Vetoed
This bill, sponsored by Sen. Josepth Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, would have required courts to prohibit people charged with domestic abuse and who “present a credible threat” from purchasing or possessing firearms.

In her veto message, Martinez explained that judges “already have the power to prohibit individuals that are subject to a restraining order from possessing a firearm.” She added that she encourages judges to “exercise this power whenever the facts and circumstances before them require it.”

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence denounced Martinez’s veto as “disgraceful” for defending “armed abusers” rather than protecting domestic abuse victims.

“By removing guns from domestic abusers, this law would have helped protect the lives of New Mexican women,” Coalition General Counsel Kelly Roskam said in a statement.

Is Santa Fe’s proposed soda tax a sweet deal for kids?

Next month, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales may face the biggest test of his mayoral career so far as voters decide whether or not to approve a tax increase on sugary beverages that he’s championed. The idea is to tax sugary beverages 2 cents per ounce. That money will pay for 1,000 spots in existing pre-kindergarten education facilities around the city for children of low-income families. Matt Ross, a spokesman with the mayor’s office, said that the city doesn’t need to use the additional revenue to create a public early childhood education program because of existing private and nonprofit preschools in Santa Fe. “The capacity is there, there’s just a lack of affordability,” Ross said in an interview.

Police investigating slur written on gay-friendly club

Graffiti of a slur against the LGBT community on a private gay-friendly club in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill prompted police response and outrage from advocates. The graffiti, which said “F— You Fa–,” was scrawled on the walls of the Albuquerque Social Club Monday. Police were called to look into the incident. Albuquerque Police Department officer Fred Duran told NM Political Report the incident sparked additional officer patrols in the area Monday night. He added that police have not found the culprit who wrote the graffiti, which has since been washed off.

Changes to teacher evaluations spark mixed reaction

Gov. Susana Martinez’s recently announced changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system came from discussions between a panel of New Mexico educators and state Public Education Department officials. This is according to Chris Eide, the national director of state policy, advocacy and partnerships with Teach Plus. The Boston-based nonprofit, which focuses on teacher-driven education reform, launched an initiative in New Mexico last year to look at teacher evaluations and teacher preparation. Over the weekend, Martinez accepted two recommendations from the New Mexico Teach Plus task force. One allows teachers to use up to six absences without affecting the attendance portion of their state teacher evaluations.

Senators question Wilson on past controversies at confirmation hearing

A U.S. Senate panel’s confirmation hearing for former New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson stuck mostly to the nuts and bolts of what her duties as the next secretary of the Air Force may entail. But her previous scandals related to her post-Congress business connections came up more than once during the three hour meeting before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning. The panel did not vote on Wilson’s nomination to the post. The committee’s ranking member Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, posed questions to Wilson about her controversies working as a private contractor for national laboratories and her lobbying for weapons contractor Lockheed Martin. In quizzing Wilson about her private defense contracting work, Reed brought up the conclusions of a federal investigation that found that Sandia National Laboratories wrongly paid Wilson for services that federal law bars compensation for.