Keller administration to review pending DWI vehicle seizure lawsuits against the city

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.

Harassment pervades the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Sue Parton first began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1976, as a teacher at the Albuquerque Indian School, one of the few remaining BIA boarding schools at that time. Parton, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, had been around the agency most of her life; her father was a lifelong employee. But she gained a new perspective in 2008, as she got more involved with the Federation of Indian Service Employees, the union that represents employees of the four Interior Department agencies that serve Native Americans. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. “One of the things that shocked me was the intimidation factor,” says Parton, now president of the union.

Top lawmakers call for investigation of DEA-led unit in Mexico

Powerful Democrats in both the House and Senate called Tuesday for an investigation into Drug Enforcement Administration-led operations in Mexico that played a role in triggering violent drug cartel attacks. These attacks left dozens, possibly hundreds, of people dead or missing, including many who had nothing to do with the drug trade. The call was issued in a letter signed by ranking members of the committees that oversee America’s foreign law enforcement operations and draws heavily on two stories last year by ProPublica and National Geographic that documented the attacks and the DEA’s role. One story reconstructed a 2011 massacre by the Zetas cartel in the Mexican state of Coahuila. It revealed that the wave of killings was unleashed after sensitive information obtained during a DEA operation wound up in the hands of cartel leaders, who ordered a wave of retaliation against suspected traitors.

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.

Impact of proposed SNAP cuts would be huge in New Mexico

Proposed, sweeping and dramatic changes to a decades-old federal food aid program could have major negative impacts on many impoverished New Mexicans who rely on the program. Donald Trump’s administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, in his most recent budget recommendation. The proposal included providing food boxes to those who qualify for the program while slashing the amount of money the federal government spends by 30 percent over ten years. All of this would likely result in fewer people receiving fewer benefits through the program. While the state splits the administrative costs of the program with the federal government, the federal government provides funding for the SNAP benefits New Mexicans receive.

How political pessimism helps doom tougher gun laws

It’s predictable after every new mass-shooting horror: The political right’s reflexive call for “thoughts and prayers,” which is then mocked by people who favor more gun restrictions for lacking any accompanying ideas for preventing future killings. But there’s an equally predictable refrain on the center-left and in the media, too: “Once again, nothing will be done.”

Barely had the death toll of 17 been announced last week after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida than The Washington Post declared, “The gun debate is going nowhere quickly after Parkland.” CNN offered: “Amid continued string of mass shootings, gun control going nowhere in Congress.” After 59 concert-goers were mowed down in October, former Democratic congressman Steve Israel put to rest any hope for reform in a New York Times op-ed column titled “Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting.”

This fatalism is borne of hard-won experience. Congress has failed repeatedly to pass any gun-control measures after past calamities, even the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.Yet this world-weary defeatism is self-fulfilling in its own way, and helps explain why Washington hasn’t taken action to address the killing. For one thing, such pessimism demoralizes, and dismisses, those who are motivated to fight against gun violence, such as the network of angry moms that sprung up after the Sandy Hook massacre and the organization led by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, which have managed to achieve a series of state-level successes even as reform stalls at the national level. For another thing, it lets off the hook those who are opposed to stronger gun laws.

Lawmakers send omnibus crime bill to governor’s desk

New Mexico legislators rolled five different crime bills into one, then sent the measure to the governor Wednesday in what they called a bipartisan move to make communities and prisons safer. State senators approved the plan, House Bill 19, on a vote of 32-2. The measure already had cleared the House of Representatives on a 66-1 vote. Now the bill moves to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Martinez herself pushed a number of crime bills during the 30-day legislative session, including an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the death penalty.

Can cannabis treat opioid addiction? Lawmakers say state should allow it

New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction. “It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.” Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.

State moves to update oil and gas permits, while on the federal level, BLM cuts public protest period

The New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) Air Quality Bureau will host a hearing on Monday about proposed changes to construction permits for oil and gas facilities. The process kicked off in the summer of 2016, and the public comment period closed at the end of January. According to the department, the general construction permit codifies air protection rules for industry to “streamline the application process and to provide consistency in the oversight process.”

The issue is the latest in a line of moves that environmental groups say reverse protections for people and natural resources. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs with the Environmental Defense Fund, said that if finalized, the changes would make New Mexico’s new oil and gas construction permits among the weakest in the United States. “This is especially egregious when you consider the methane hotspot in the San Juan Basin and the importance of that issue in New Mexico,” Goldstein said.

Notes from the field: Candidate filing day

SANTA FE—It was a political nerd’s dream. Dozens of people aiming for state office filed through the elevator doors into the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday to navigate the three-stage process of declaring their candidacy. The day offered  a rare early opportunity for candidates and their staff to interact with one another—which included a lot of smiles and polite handshakes, even across party lines. The process was straightforward—there were three stations to verify and confirm paperwork and petition signatures—and took about 20 minutes for most candidates. Here are my notes from the field:
9:05 a.m.
I’m running late, because I’m from New Mexico.