It was a moment of genuine bipartisanship at the House Ways and Means Committee in October, as Democratic and Republican sponsors alike praised a bill called the “Restoring Access to Medication Act of 2019.”
The bill, approved by the panel on a voice vote, would allow consumers to use their tax-free flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts to pay for over-the-counter medications and women’s menstrual products. Assuming it ultimately finds its way into law, the measure would also represent the latest piece of the Affordable Care Act’s financing to be undone. Over-the-counter medication had been eligible for preferred tax status before the ACA. But that treatment was eliminated as part of a long list of new taxes and other provisions to generate revenue. The measures were aimed primarily at higher-income earners to pay the 10-year, roughly $1 trillion cost of the health law.
New Mexico’s professional soccer team received a warm reception from the Legislature Thursday as the team told legislators about the need for their own stadium. The discussion was light on specifics, since it is so early in the process, but signs pointed toward a publicly-owned facility managed by New Mexico United, a similar arrangement in place between the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Isotopes. New Mexico United President and CEO Pete Trevisani was joined by McCullers Sports Group LLC president Mark McCullers and City of Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael to speak to the Economic and Rural Development Committee about the potential for a stadium. Rael was involved in the move to build Isotopes Park after the Albuquerque Dukes, the minor league baseball team that played in Albuquerque for decades, left the city. They cautioned that this was in the very early stages and said they didn’t have any specifics to study, but told legislators about the potential impact that a stadium would have on Albuquerque.
A proposal for New Mexico to house one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities has drawn opposition from nearly every indigenous nation in the state. Nuclear Issues Study Group co-founder and Diné organizer Leona Morgan told state legislators last week the project, if approved, would perpetuate a legacy of nuclear colonialism against New Mexico’s indigenous communities and people of color. Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which has been in the works since 2011, would see high-level waste generated at nuclear power plants across the country transported to New Mexico for storage at the proposed facility along the Lea-Eddy county line between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec representatives say the facility would be a temporary solution to the nation’s growing nuclear waste problem, but currently there is no federal plan to build a permanent repository for the waste.
When New Mexico women are in a crisis and need to terminate a pregnancy, all too often they must drive hundreds of miles to reach a clinic that provides abortion. Clinics that provide abortions are only located in or around the three largest cities in New Mexico. While some obstetric and gynecological doctors as well as some general practitioners will perform an abortion privately, the vast majority of abortions are provided in specific clinics, Dr. Eve Espey, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told NM Political Report.
When women seek an abortion, they are often in a time of crisis, she said. With more than one million women living in New Mexico, such limited resources for abortion services impacts a significant portion of women who are child-bearing age in the state. The problem disproportionately affects low-income women, rural women and women of color, Espey said.
The months leading up to legislative sessions are often marked by state agencies presenting progress reports to lawmakers. Crime in the Albuquerque area has been a frequent subject to come up when talking about spending. But those conversations are usually devoted to the road ahead and not to picking apart past budgets.
But in a letter sent last month, the state’s speaker of the House and a top financial leader in the House asked the Bernalillo County district attorney for an informal audit of millions of dollars appropriated to his office two years ago. In return, the district attorney offered a private meeting with a legislative panel to go over how money is being spent. The written exchanges hint at further budget scrutiny from lawmakers, and also a potential rift between some House and Senate Democrats.
On October 17, New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and House Appropriations Chair and Legislative Finance Co-chair Patricia Lundstrom, both Democrats, co-authored a letter to 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez about an upcoming interim meeting with the Legislative Finance Committee.
Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children.
“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities.
Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member.
“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”
Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session.
PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.
Voters in several municipalities across New Mexico voted Tuesday, marking the first consolidation of elections under a new state law.
Albuquerque voters picked city council candidates, school board members and voted on a long list of municipal bonds. Albuquerque voters also weighed-in on two campaign finance propositions — one was for a voucher program for publicly financed candidates and the other was a proposal to increase funds for publicly financed candidates.
But one of the closely watched races in Albuquerque was in the city’s District 2, where incumbent Isaac Benton ran against five other challengers. Benton failed to clear 50 percent, and will face Zack Quintero in a run-off election next month.
The contention between the two seemed to overshadow the rest of the candidates as a measure finance committee—the city’s version of a political action committee—which supported Benton ran a series of mailers accusing Quintero of misrepresenting his work history. One of those mailers had a picture of Quintero superimposed on the body of a cook, with the words, “ZACK QUINTERO DIDN’T INVENT CHRISTMAS ENCHILADAS.” The mailer was one of a series that accused Quintero of inflating his job responsibilities while working for the City of Santa Fe. The series of mailers also included one with Quintero’s face superimposed on the body of an astronaut.
The unofficial results on Tuesday night showed Quintero with about 20 percent of the vote and Benton with about 42 percent.
A high-profile ballot question in Albuquerque endorsed by three Democratic presidential candidates failed on Tuesday in a high-turnout election. With all precincts reporting, the unofficial results showed “No” winning with 51.25 percent of the vote in unofficial results.
The Democracy Dollars ballot initiative would have shored up the city’s public financing program and allowed city residents to direct vouchers of $25 for qualified candidates.
Related: Two ABQ council races likely headed for a runoff election
Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each lent their support to the proposal, with the latter two doing so on Election Day. And Castro endorsed it on Oct. 29, as early voting was about to end. By Election Day, nearly 44,000 voters had cast ballots on the question, either through early or absentee voting—more than cast ballots on Election Day.
A company previously owned by the now-deceased and disgraced former financier Jeffrey Epstein will relinquish its grazing leases around its New Mexico ranch. The State Land Office announced in September it would cancel the leases. On Friday the office announced a settlement with the company, Cypress Inc.
“I am pleased that the State Land Office is no longer in business with Cypress Inc., and especially proud that we were able to save State resources by resolving this matter outside of the courtroom,” State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said in a statement. “My decision to cancel these leases stands, and my staff and I will move forward with our discussions for future uses of the 1,200 acres of state trust land located near the Zorro Ranch.”
The cancellation of the lease is effective as of October 4 of this year. Epstein died of an apparent suicide, though some say it was a homicide, while in jail awaiting charges of sex trafficking.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. In early August, Elizabeth Petersen was home-schooling her children in the kitchen of their northern Idaho home when she got a call from Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where her 4-year-old son, Paul, was set to have surgery a few weeks later. Since having a stroke around his first birthday, Paul had been under treatment to restore use of the right side of his body. He had recently graduated from a feeding tube and needed surgery to close a hole in his stomach.