Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

New Mexico House passes budget, tax package

The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.

Emergency funding bill for New Mexico courts heads to governor

After weeks of wrangling over emergency funds for New Mexico courts, the Legislature is sending the governor a bill that would provide $1.6 million to cover expenses for the next few months. The House of Representatives on Tuesday concurred with the Senate’s version of House Bill 261, which, if signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, will pay for jury trials and other costs for courts around the state for the rest of the budget year, which ends on June 30. The House initially passed a bill appropriating only $800,000, which would cover the cost of jury trials. However, the Senate doubled that amount to cover the judicial branch’s entire shortfall. House Republican Leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, asked House members to accept the Senate’s changes.

Bill to ban traps on New Mexico public lands stalls

A bill to ban most trapping of animals on public lands in New Mexico probably is going nowhere this year because it’s caught in a clash between ranchers and advocates for animals. The bill stalled Tuesday in a Senate committee, prompting the sponsor to say he does not expect to reach a compromise in the last four weeks of this 60-day session. That means the practice of trapping in public forests is likely to continue for at least another year. “I believe it’s going to take much more time than a couple of days,” Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, said after the Senate Conservation Committee asked that he rewrite parts of Senate Bill 286. The bill would outlaw setting traps to capture or kill animals on public land.

State Sen. wants parents to have access to investigations into school police

Laura Gutierrez has been trying to get public records from Albuquerque Public Schools for more than a year. In 2014 a school law enforcement officer allegedly used force against her autistic son. APS opened an investigation and soon cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Gutierrez wants to see all the documents from this investigation. In the fall and winter of 2015, Gutierrez filed four public records requests with APS for the district’s internal investigation of the officer, an employee of the school district.

Compromise sought on payday loan rates

A former state senator who is helping lead the fight against high-interest payday and other small loans said Monday that a bill to cap rates at 36 percent is dead. “The governor would veto it anyway,” former Sen. Steve Fischmann, co-chairman of the New Mexico Fair Lending Coalition said, referring to House Bill 26, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. But Fischmann, a Mesilla Park Democrat, said supporters of the bill are in negotiations with certain parts of the industry that are backing another bill aimed at regulating businesses that offer small loans at high interest rates. “I think we are getting close to a deal,” Fischmann said. That bill, HB 347, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, would in effect set maximum interest rates of 175 percent.

Democrats push tax, budget plans to House floor

An effort that had broad support to bring in more money to New Mexico government by taxing all internet sales has mushroomed into a measure to raise additional money from hospitals, trucking companies, nonprofit organizations and car buyers. Democrats say the amendments to House Bill 202, originally an effort to raise $30 million by expanding the gross receipts tax to out-of-state internet transactions, are necessary to restore cash reserves and put the state on better financial footing to avoid further cuts to school districts and another credit downgrade. With the changes, the bill is now expected to bring in $265 million in ongoing revenue. Some $1 million a year would come from the legislative retirement fund. A sponsor of the tax bill, Rep. Carl Trujillo D-Santa Fe, said lawmakers have cut spending, both during the 2016 session and again in an October special session.

Wrangling continues on raising New Mexico minimum wage

A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday. Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed. But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates. And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.

Dems: Popular vote should determine presidential winner

New Mexico’s five electoral college votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who received the most popular votes nationally, under a bill that state senators approved Monday in a party-line decision. All 26 Democratic senators voted for the measure and all 16 Republicans opposed it, perhaps a predictable outcome three months after Republican Donald Trump lost the popular vote but handily won the presidency in the electoral college. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the electoral college allows presidential candidates to ignore most voters because it largely functions as a winner-take-all system in individual states. “Candidates have no reason to pay attention to states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind,” Stewart said. In addition, she said, minority-party voters in heavily Republican or overwhelmingly Democratic states believe that their votes don’t matter because the electoral college takes precedence over the popular vote.

Circuit court closures could create hassles for rural New Mexico residents

Like a town dance or charity dinner, Judge Jeff Shannon’s visits to Peñasco were announced in black movable letters on a marquee in front of the community center. Every other Friday, Shannon or the other magistrate judge in Taos County, Ernest Ortega, would drive through the mountains from their courthouse about 45 minutes to the north and hold court in Peñasco, an unincorporated community of nearly 600 people in the shadow of Jicarita Peak. While hardly ceremonious, the community center was practical. The judges could use the copy machine for free, and the building was a gathering place. Locals sometimes played pool while the judges held court equipped with little more than a box of files and rubber stamps, handling traffic citations and other minor offenses, saving at least a few residents of southern Taos County a 60-mile round-trip drive into town along wending forest roads.