Trump invites bids to build wall, cites importance of ‘aesthetics’

President Donald Trump built his campaign on the promise of a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. Just a month after his inauguration, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to begin construction. And last Friday, the department took a step to make sure it will look good. In a little-noticed update, the department now says it wants a wall that will be “nominally 30 feet tall,” and, importantly, that bids will be judged on “aesthetics,” as well. The new language, perhaps coincidental but likely not, appears to be a bureaucratic translation of Trump’s oft-repeated promise to build a “beautiful” wall from 30 to 55 feet high.

Rules frozen by Trump could melt away without a trace

Ridding day care centers of fluorescent lightbulbs with toxic PCBs. Requiring a backup engineer on freight trains to avoid crashes. Restricting drones from flying over people. Federal agencies were preparing these rules and dozens more when Donald Trump was elected. In one of his first acts, the president quietly froze them.

Raise the cigarette tax now to help NM classrooms and health

New Mexico has a unique opportunity today to accomplish two important goals for our state by simply raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. First, we can substantially strengthen our children’s classrooms, which have been hit with cuts worth tens of millions of dollars since 2008. Second, we can make sure that more than 11,000 additional kids never even become smokers, and more than 10,000 current adult smokers will quit, significantly lowering overall health costs. We cannot afford not to do it. My legislation, SB 231, would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack, with an equivalent increase in other tobacco products including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

Lujan Grisham calls for congressional hearing on fed sting against alleged ABQ cop shooter

After a year of “stonewalling” by federal law enforcement officials, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling for congressional hearings to get to the bottom of why a man who allegedly shot an Albuquerque police officer to death in 2015 was still on the streets at the time. The fourth-year congresswoman, an Albuquerque-based Democrat who is running for governor of New Mexico, also vowed to sponsor a bill that would require the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other agencies to make regular reports to Congress on their policies for undercover operations and those operations’ outcomes once they’re closed. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and appears on NM Political Report with permission. Lujan Grisham laid out her plans in an interview with New Mexico In Depth after a town hall meeting in Albuquerque on Feb. 25.

Legislature must follow New Mexico tradition of taking care of families

In New Mexico, we take care of each other. It’s just our way. For generations, my family has made it through tough times by supporting each other. My Grandpa Barboa was a cattle rancher in Albuquerque’s South Valley. He used to tell me stories about the times when they would have a matanza so the community could get through a tough winter or poor summer harvest.

Bills would limit solitary confinement, require reporting in NM

House and Senate lawmakers are pushing identical proposals that would abolish solitary confinement for pregnant women and children and steeply curtail its use on people living with mental illness in New Mexico’s jails and prisons. If passed into law, supporters say either bill would provide a statutory definition for “isolated confinement” in the state and much needed transparency on the scope of the controversial practice of leaving inmates alone in their cells for 22 hours a day or more with little to no contact with others and few opportunities to participate in educational or rehabilitative programs.

“Right now, we do not know on any given day if it’s 100 or 1,000 people in isolated confinement in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, the Democratic sponsor of HB175, said. “Once we have some data, we can have confidence that the Corrections Department and the counties are scaling back the use of solitary confinement.”

This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission

Numerous studies, including one by the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, have shown that isolation in a prison cell can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and create new ones where none existed before. The United Nations and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have argued that solitary confinement is particularly dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing, and condemned its use. New Mexico has a troubled history with solitary confinement.

History of Black History, Part II: ‘In God We Trust’

In America, the words “In God We Trust” form the foundation of governmental and societal order. The irrevocable prominence of these words are within each and every decision made in our capitals, courts, board rooms, financial institutions and educational bodies. These words do hold the authority and form the premise of White First—Black Lives Do Not Matter. “In God We Trust” in lands of global governorship has been allowed to rule known humanity without question for many, many centuries. However, the questions that most people have always failed or been afraid to ask about this phase are, who is God?

Why New Mexico’s Legislature should advance a women’s policy agenda

I’m a political scientist, an advocate, a sister, a wife, a daughter, and a mother. I have a toddler boy and, come next month, I’ll add a little girl to the list of people that call me mama. Like many parents, I believe that raising kind, honest, empathetic, and civic-minded kids is the most important thing I will ever do, and raising kids who believe that everyone—regardless of gender, color or ability—should have respect and opportunity is a very big part of that for me. It is important to me that my kids—both my daughter and my son—know that being called a feminist is something to aspire to and that the 19th Amendment is a hallowed one. Last year’s very contentious presidential campaign put the treatment of women—among other groups of people—in the spotlight.

Trump pick for Air Force boss frustrated auditors with lucrative, murky consulting for nuclear weapons labs

A federal inspector contacted the Energy Department fraud hotline a few years back to flag irregularities in contracts that several nuclear weapons laboratories had signed with a former New Mexico Congresswoman whom President Trump has designated to become the new Air Force Secretary. A far-reaching probe ensued in Washington after the hotline contact, which ended in a demand that the weapons labs give back nearly a half-million dollars to the government. The former Congresswoman, Heather Wilson, has said she did not do anything wrong in trading on her Washington experience to become a “strategic adviser” to the labs. But internal Energy Department documents newly obtained by the Center for Public Integrity make clear that some of the contracting irregularities stemmed from demands specifically made by Wilson in her negotiations with the labs. Wilson’s nomination now represents the last chance for President Trump to get one of his first choices for service secretary installed.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.