New app helps document environmental damage on public lands

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Recreational visitors to public lands have a new tool to document any damage they see and upload their report to a database. Brian Sybert is executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. He said the new mobile app, TerraTRUTH, is needed because public lands are at risk now that the Trump administration has begun easing protective regulations to allow expanded oil and gas drilling. He said hikers or other outdoor users can help track damages they see by downloading the app. “And then once that’s downloaded onto your phone, you can get out onto the ground in national monuments, national conservation lands and document, through use of the app, things that might be negative impacts on the ground,” Sybert said.

Congress should not trade one injustice for another

President Trump created a crisis over DACA by rescinding the directive that protected from deportation thousands of undocumented immigrants brought here as children. Now he is holding them hostage, demanding that Congress give him $25 billion for border security, including his “beautiful” wall, in exchange for not rounding up Dreamers and sending them into exile. That’s a deal that Congress should not only reject, but condemn in the strongest possible terms for the sinister choice that it is. You don’t fix one injustice by creating another. Many people seem to think that the wall, although expensive and offensive, is harmless. “If this is what it takes to protect Dreamers,” they say, “just give Trump his wall.”

The truth is the wall is not benign.

Racist rhetoric will not be tolerated in NM

On January 30th, during Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, New Mexicans –along with the entire country– mourned with the parents of the two teenage girls from Long Island who were brutally murdered in the fall of 2016. It was a tough thing to watch, considering the underlying purpose for their presence at the capitol that night. It was no coincidence they were called to stand during President Trump’s part of the speech on immigration. That was the perfect opportunity for Trump and his white supremacist administration to reinforce their racist ideal that because the culprits were undocumented youth and had ties to the infamous MS 13 gang, all Dreamers must be equally as dangerous. Only a little more than a week later, New Mexicans once again had to face that xenophobic, racist rhetoric when the Albuquerque Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, published a political cartoon by Sean Delonas—well known for his brutally racist “political” drawings.

Outlook sobering for early education measure in Senate Finance Committee

Early childhood education proponents are proclaiming a big win now that the House of Representatives has approved a measure to pull more funds from the state’s $17.5 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for prekindergarten programs.

But House Joint Resolution 1, as the measure is known, will soon have to navigate its way through the choppy waters of the Senate Finance Committee before it goes to the full Senate for debate and a vote. And the head of that committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, made it clear Wednesday the odds aren’t good. “Based on history, it’s probably a long shot it will get through,” said Smith, a conservative Democrat who has long opposed any efforts to draw money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. He is not alone. A poll of seven of the 11 members of that committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, suggests it won’t be an easy sail.

Time to act

New Mexico, like most states, struggles to create an education system that can compete nationally and internationally and prepare our children to succeed in a global economy. My thirty years as an educator have taught me, just as importantly, the best of our schools can transform our children with positive experiences that lead to emotional well-being and resiliency. No child should be denied access to these best schools. We need every school to be a great school, and by learning from the best educational systems, we can make that happen. The National Conference of State Legislatures, as an outgrowth of a dynamic forum with education experts and state policymakers about the poor showing of the United States on the Programme for International Student Assessment, launched a study on the world’s top education systems. While U.S. students were scoring about the same on the test administered to 15-year-olds in 72 countries, students in other countries were improving, leaving the United States behind.

Funding early childhood education is a moral issue

Each year, the New Mexico Legislature debates the issues that influence whether children receive the tools they need to make better lives for themselves, that decide our state’s economic future, and that create the moral fabric of our lives here together in our beautiful state. Bills are not simply jumbles of text on paper that restrict or liberate us, each bill (and the support or opposition it draws) stakes out a moral position that reveals priorities. There’s no better example of this moral question about our laws than the yearly push for more smart investments in early childhood care and education using the $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. All of our discussions about the future economic prosperity of our children (and our state more generally) are bound up in how we treat their early learning. It’s an indisputable fact that the earlier children begin learning, the better learners they become as they age.

Legislative debate over spaceport secrecy begins this week

A bill that would let state officials keep all information about Spaceport America’s customers secret is scheduled for its first hearing Tuesday, but it faces a difficult road to approval this session. This year’s legislation, Senate Bill 98, is expansive. In addition to shielding companies’ technology and flight schedules from public disclosure, it would allow officials to hide rent payments and even the identities of private or government customers — unless a customer informs the spaceport that it can release some of that information. The need for such secrecy exists, some say, because the commercial space industry, which is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, is hyper-competitive. This story originally appeared at NMPolitics.net. 

Gov. Susana Martinez’s office has ignored multiple requests from NMPolitics.net to comment on the legislation, but her chief of staff was quoted by the Albuquerque Journal as saying Martinez supports it.

Tools to make capital outlay more efficient

Capital outlay funding is a controversial and difficult process. The demand for state money far exceeds the funds available; for the 2018 legislative session, state and local governments have requested over $2 billion for capital outlay funded by general obligation and severance tax bonds. The Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), the General Services Department and legislators are responsible for prioritizing these requests and allocating funds, but frequently find themselves missing the tools necessary to do so. Future generations and those new to politics may not understand the power that their legislators have when allocating capital outlay. While all New Mexicans suffer when capital outlay funds are spent on short-term projects that do not address long-term community needs, future generations are some of the most affected.

We’re not that far apart

The American people have to be scratching their heads in wonder, watching us here in Washington, completely dumbfounded as to why on Earth we can’t get to yes on a deal to fund the government, extend health care to millions of American children, invest in our military and protect the fine young men and women we know as Dreamers. The American people are right, because the truth is that we aren’t that far apart. Republicans and Democrats are close to agreement on numbers for the budget caps. We agree that the Children’s Health Insurance Program must be extended. And we even have a bipartisan deal on the table to shield Dreamers from across this country from the deportation machine that President Trump unleashed in September when he announced that he would cancel the DACA program.

PNM’s Energy Redevelopment Bond Act deserves consideration

To characterize PNM’s request for legislators to identify alternative vehicles to mitigate costs inherent to their industry, which are ultimately born by the consumer, as an attempt to circumvent Public Regulatory Commission (PRC) authority is not only disingenuous but also indicative of the opposition’s selective research. A bi-partisan effort spearheaded by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Steven Neville, Aztec, is underway as they have pre-filed the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act (SB 47). SB 47 is designed to provide the PRC a financial option for utility companies to trigger as a possible solution when addressing corporate debt. SB 47 is a “may” bill not a “shall” bill and in no way circumvents the regulatory jurisdiction of PRC regarding utility operations. In fact, SB 47 simply allows the PNM to submit an application to the PRC in which they would consider PNM’s intention to issue bonds.