Questions remain on federal anti-sex trafficking legislation as Senate vote nears

Correction: In referencing a Ms. article from 2011, this story originally said that Chris Garcia was one of the operators of an allegedly illegal website, Southwest Companions. Garcia was charged by police of being an operator of the site, which they alleged was a house of prostitution, but a state district court judge threw out all the charges. The reference has been removed. It’s rare lately for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to find consensus, though some phrases like “infrastructure” and “small businesses” still inspire legislators to declare their willingness to work together. “Sex trafficking” is another one of those.

The disability community’s long-awaited #MeToo moment

Ripple effects of the #MeToo movement addressing sexual assault and harassment continue to cascade, from Hollywood to academia, sports to politics. For people like Pamela Stafford who are closest to those at particular risk of assault and harassment, such public conversations feel painfully overdue. “I don’t think there’s been as much of a ripple effect as we would like to see,” she said during an interview last week. Growing up alongside a disabled sibling pushed Stafford toward a career in advocacy. And today at The Arc of New Mexico, a non-profit offering services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she prepares to take on a new role.

Beyond ‘Women’s issues’: Finding our footing in divided discourse

It’s been three years since I began work for NM Political Report focused on politics and what are often referred to as “women’s issues.” It’s phrasing I reflexively shy away from, as there are few issues not relevant to women. Areas like reproductive health and access relate to everyone, regardless of background and gender identity—they’re relevant to every family, no matter their composition or belief systems.

Yet many public policies have disproportionate effects on women and families with children. Protections for pregnant workers, for example, were among the proposals I followed in 2015 and were among the many which failed to garner enough support from lawmakers. I also covered public policy and discourse related to abortion, which bears heavy baggage in simple utterance of the word. Then, the local atmosphere surrounding abortion felt both disconcertingly polarized and exhausted.

Photos: Urban sprawl and Santolina

Editor’s Note:

These photos were taken during the reporting of the story on Santolina that ran in New Mexico Political Report on Monday. Look for a video talking about the Santolina Master Plan from those in support of the plan and those in opposition of the plan on Tuesday.

Water, ‘systems thinking’ and Santolina’s tangled history

[box]© New Mexico Political Report, 2015. Contact for info on republishing.[/box]Deliberations are on hold until May over a proposal to transform a huge swath of desert southwest of Albuquerque into a booming planned community named Santolina. As the process lumbers forward, it’s helpful to contemplate a concept raised by one of the representatives for the controversial development. Jim Strozier, president of Consensus Planning, said last week during a special meeting of the Bernalillo County Commission that Santolina is the result of meticulous “systems thinking.” He was referring in part to his firm’s planning process, which he described as the merging of a range of considerations into a unified and ambitious vision: steady, multi-use development for the next 50 years on nearly 14,000 acres of what is today stark desert sloped against the Rio Grande Valley. Strozier said he and his team, hired by Santolina landowners, have looked at how “to prepare for and respond positively” to inevitable changes in population growth in the Albuquerque metro area.

Session recap: Martinez characterizes Dem leadership as “gross failure”

Gov. Susana Martinez’s rhetoric was unsparing during a press conference following the conclusion of a Legislative session that saw few of her top priorities reach her desk. She employed the word “killed” seven times in her opening statement, referring to the implosion of the statewide capital outlay proposal during the session’s final 48 hours. The failure of that funding measure constituted a “failure of leadership” on the part of Democrats, she said, particularly those in the Senate. “Look at their track-record throughout this session,” she told a throng of reporters. “Their leadership displayed rampant partisanship, some of the worst that I’ve seen, and constant gridlock, delays and feet-dragging.

Capital outlay projects dead on arrival

Proposals for statewide capital outlay were left languishing Saturday as a bitterly divided battle over funding methods consumed the state House of Representatives’ last day of the 2015 session. A narrow 36 to 32 vote minutes before the House adjourned sine die meant approval of late-hour committee changes to a capital outlay plan favored by the Senate, but that chamber ran out of time to concur with the House adjustments. The Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee made the controversial amendments Friday, adjusting road improvement funding mechanisms to honor preferences of the governor’s office. The committee changes would fund road improvements through $45 million in severance tax bonds rather than drawing down reserves from the state’s general fund. Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, described the measure as state government “borrowing short to build long-term assets,” adding it constituted “a sound practice from a business perspective.” Democrats vehemently objected to the changes, which they said would result in the denial of tens of millions of dollars from high- and critical-priority projects identified over the last year by local governments.

Legislature votes to extend solar tax credits

Successful bipartisan support for a bill to keep state tax credits for solar power installation in place until 2024 could bode well for final ratification by the governor. Sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, SB 391 would prevent tax breaks enacted in 2006 from expiring in five years. The Solar Market Development Tax Credit now pays up to 10 percent of the cost for purchasing and installing solar photovoltaic or solar thermal systems. Stewart’s proposal will gradually phase that down to 5 percent. 

According to the bill’s fiscal impact report, a growing number of New Mexicans claim solar tax credits mostly for new photovoltaic systems. The report also notes that in 2014, more than 1,000 residential-scale solar power systems added six megawatts to the power grid. A vocal minority of Republicans, some of whom work in the petroleum industry, opposed the measure. Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, argued Friday night that sun-generated energy would actually be cheaper without subsidies.

Campos (mostly) denies presidential ambitions

Senator Pete Campos, a Democrat from Las Vegas, proudly refers to himself as a moderate. He’s also well aware that his votes on some of the state’s most divisive policy measures have fed gossip about possible quid pro quo deals with the governor’s office. Campos, who is also president of Luna County Community College, said he noticed—and hoped to quash—pointed questions circulating on social media after he and four other Democrats helped tipped the scales in favor of the nomination of Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. Eyebrows were also raised when he was the only Democrat to vote in favor of attorney Matt Chandler during a particularly contentious hearing over his nomination to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. “I was just waiting for someone to ask me,” Campos told the New Mexico Political Report on Monday.

Budget clears Senate, back to House for final approval

With crude prices plummeting Monday to a six-year low, state senators approved a $6.2 billion state budget with fingers crossed that the cost of oil will at least stay steady enough to preserve funding plans until the next fiscal year. Sen. John Arthur Smith, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said steep drops in oil and natural gas prices meant a $35 million reduction in total revenue available for appropriations. “We’re moving ahead precariously,” said the Democrat from Deming, adding that “we’re hoping that this next year will be a better year, but we’re very concerned.”

The Senate’s budget for the most part closely tracks the House version. The Senate version has an added $12.9 million to result in a small 1.3 percent increase across all state government programs.

That $12.9 million was divvied up for additional investments for the public schools’ K-3 Plus interventions and increases for the Developmental Disability waiver and Family, Infant and Toddler Programs. It also includes a salary boost for nurses and allied professions and a restoration of funds cut in previous years for public broadcasting and higher education athletic programs.

The Senate also added $2.5 million in non-recurring spending to the state’s fund for the Local Economic Development Act. The cabinet-level Economic Development Department had requested $50 million for the program, which allows local governments to create public-private partnerships for economic development projects.