New Mexico marches for science

Throughout the state Saturday, activists and others marched as part of the worldwide “March for Science” that coincided with Earth Day. The largest rally in New Mexico took place in Albuquerque, at the Albuquerque Civic Plaza. In Las Cruces on Saturday morning, more than 500 people marched around downtown, then joined a rally with speakers and music. In Santa Fe, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, addressed the crowd, saying that science isn’t a partisan issue and that all “policymakers need scientists so we can make good decisions.”
He also said the federal scientists, working at agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, should “be able to do their work for the American people without worrying about political interference.”

Udall said that climate change is the “moral, political and scientific challenge of our time, and we must face it head on, aggressively.”

Albuquerque’s event featured several people wearing colorful costumes, including one person dressed as a dinosaur and a couple dressed as both the Grim Reaper and a medieval plague doctor. Jackie Coombes, a microbiologist dressed as the plague doctor, said she is worried about the consequences of the federal government cutting funding on vaccines.

State college exchange program sees cuts amid budget troubles

State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.

Partnership focuses on preventing large wildfires, their aftermath

Six years ago this June, an enormous cloud above the Jemez Mountains was visible across northern New Mexico to south of Albuquerque. Punching into the clear, blue sky, it looked like a thundercloud, or even a mushroom cloud. That day, heat from a wildfire was rising so quickly that the winds couldn’t push it away, forming a pyrocumulous cloud. By the time it was extinguished, Las Conchas Fire had burned 156,000 acres. “The first day, I remember I was in Washington D.C., and got the report it was 40 acres in size,” said Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, who is now superintendent of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Legislators to sue Martinez over vetoes

The New Mexico Legislative Council voted to sue Gov. Susana Martinez over some of her controversial budget vetoes and is planning for an extremely rare extraordinary session. “Following the legal briefing given by attorneys to the Legislature, the Legislative Council has made the decision to officially begin the legal process necessary to ensure the state constitution is upheld,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said in a statement. “As legislators we take our oath to support the constitution and the laws of the state seriously. A strong system of checks and balances is crucial to the success of our democracy.”

It’s unclear how individual members voted. Democrats hold a 9-7 advantage on the panel, which is made up of members of both chambers.

APS faces public records suit from mother of student

More than a year after Albuquerque Public Schools denied her public records requests related to an incident involving her autistic son, Laura Gutierrez is taking the state’s biggest public school district to court. Her lawsuit, filed last month in Albuquerque’s state district court, alleges APS wrongly withheld public records responsive to requests she made in late 2015. She is asking for the school district to release the records and pay damages for violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Under IPRA, public agencies can be fined up to $100 per day in damages for not fulfilling public records requests if the person who brings the suit can prove damages. “I have decisions I need to make as a parent, and without these records I can’t move forward,” Gutierrez said in an interview.

Ex-business owners say ABQ minimum wage ordinance is invalid

The ex-owners of an Albuquerque restaurant and bar want a state district court judge to throw out a wage theft lawsuit against them and argue the ordinance that raised the city’s minimum wage is invalid. If a judge were to rule the ordinance was not validly enacted, it would lower the minimum wage to the state’s rate of $7.50 per hour. Currently, the Albuquerque minimum wage is $8.80 per hour. The current owners are not part of the lawsuit. “Santa Fe Dining purchased Kelly’s in August of 2016 and since that time all Kelly employees are paid by the rate required by law, including the Albuquerque ordinance at issue in the lawsuit between the former owner of Kelly’s and some of its employees,” Jim Hargrove, president of Santa Fe Dining, wrote in an email to NM Political Report Tuesday.

Martinez veto of tax package, large parts of budget pave way for special session

The governor signed the Legislature’s state budget plan Friday morning—but with $800 million worth line-item vetoes, making a future special session a reality. The vast majority of the money vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez came from vetoing all funding for New Mexico colleges and universities. She cited the Senate’s lack of hearings for nominations of regents for “several higher education institutions,” calling it “a clear violation of its constitutional duty.”

In a separate statement, Martinez said she had to take out the “entire higher education budget” to balance the budget, but said this would be fixed in the special session. Related: Banning guns for domestic abusers vetoed, conversion therapy ban signed among Martinez actions

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth denounced the veto of the higher education money. “Governor Martinez has chosen to play extreme political games rather than act responsibly,” Wirth said.

Martinez signs, vetoes dozens of bills; the highlights

In a press release Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez announced that she signed 66 bills and vetoed 28 bills. Even with the 94 bill actions, there are still 126 bills she hasn’t taken action on yet—including next year’s state budget and a revenue package passed by the Legislature. Martinez has said she would veto the budget and revenue bill and call legislators into a special session to pass a new budget that doesn’t raise taxes. She has until Friday to take final action on bills passed in the recent legislative session. Update: Martinez took action on more bills Friday.

Two big-name Dems say no to public financing in ABQ mayoral race

Albuquerque mayoral candidates have about a week to file their next campaign finance reports. For most, it will be their first reports filed this election. While many of the candidates speak highly of public financing, only one has qualified for it. New Mexico Democrats, for example, have pushed for more publicly financed races and campaigns since at least 2008, when the party added language to their state platform that says“all political campaigns should be publicly financed.”

The Albuquerque mayoral race is nonpartisan, so none of the candidates will be identified with any specific political party on the ballot. Related: Privately-funded ABQ mayoral candidates ready for first reporting deadline

Mayoral candidates Deanna Archuleta and Brian Colón are both prominent Democrats running for mayor who both opted to use private funds for their campaigns.

State remains silent on lead poisoning data

In December, Reuters published a map on childhood lead poisoning across the nation. The story and accompanying map, “Off the Charts: The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than Flint,” looked at where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the metal in their blood. Severe lead poisoning can lead to seizures, coma and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For children, there is no such thing as a safe exposure to lead, which causes permanent neurological damage and behavioral disorders. Even though lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago, the ongoing Flint, Michigan emergency highlighted that lead poisoning is still a problem in the United States.