Prison profits: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee says it will give a donation from the private prison company Geo Group to charity. The Florida-based firm runs several prisons in New Mexico and has contributed to politicians on both sides of the aisle. According to financial disclosures Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee published last week, Geo Group donated $2,500 to the Democratic governor’s inaugural festivities. Democratic politicians have faced awkward questions about financial contributions from the private prison industry amid outrage over the federal government’s zero-tolerance policy toward undocumented migrants. Companies like Geo Group have stood to gain from the federal policy.
The House Education Committee on Saturday unanimously advanced a bill that would appropriate $452 million in new public school funding in the coming fiscal year for at-risk students in New Mexico and millions more for small schools. The action comes as lawmakers and the governors are drafting an overall state budget for fiscal year 2020 that includes a $400 million to $500 million infusion for education to help fulfill a state District Court ruling in a lawsuit that says New Mexico has shortchanged several groups of students with the highest needs — those learning English as a second language, special-needs students, low-income kids and Native American children. District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe issued a final decree Thursday in the case, in which a group of plaintiffs argued New Mexico is failing to provide an adequate education for these students. In her final ruling, Singleton again wrote that state leaders and the Public Education Department have violated the state constitution and “the rights of at-risk students by by failing to provide them with a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education.” Singleton’s decision has not placed a price tag on reforms needed to meet her mandates.
The state House of Representatives voted 41-27 to advance a proposal to draw money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for more prekindergarten programs.
“This bill … is a step in the right direction,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat. “It could transform education in the state of New Mexico.” House Republicans, all of whom voted against the measure, cautioned that any drawdown from the endowment would affect its ability to grow. “Should we permanently damage the goose that lays the golden egg?”
The state Senate voted Friday to confirm Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s five nominees to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, an unusually fast decision that came just six days after she announced her choices. The Senate Rules Committee, which is responsible for background checks on gubernatorial nominees for high-level jobs, considered the candidacies of all five during a three-hour hearing. Then the full 42-member Senate confirmed all of them without dissent. The new regents are:
o Kimberly Sanchez Rael, whose background is in business. She will serve a six-year term.
Dual efforts to enact a Medicaid Buy-In program in New Mexico passed their first challenges this week in the Legislature. Thursday night, the Senate Public Affairs Committee passed its version of the legislation, sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino. And hours later on Friday morning, the House Health and Human Services committee approved a bill to allow some New Mexicans to pay premiums for a health care plan that taps into the existing framework of Medicaid. The two bills mirror each other. Supporters say with a Medicaid Buy-In system, the state will save money on administrative efforts, since Medicaid is an already-built system, while expanding insurance coverage.
All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:
We’ve got an essay we hope you’ll read this week, “The Wonder of Water.” And as it turns out, early Thursday morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released to the Federal Register the official revised definition of the “Waters of the United States.”
• In eastern New Mexico, the owners of Highland Dairy sued the manufacturers of PFAS products that contaminated groundwater below Cannon Air Force Base. According to MyHighPlains.com, the dairy owners “claim they were notified in November that their milk would no longer be purchased” and said prior to that, they sold about 15,000 gallons of milk per day.
An advocate for one of the plaintiffs in the landmark court case mandating improvements in New Mexico’s public schools said Wednesday that state lawmakers are failing to comply. “The Legislature has dropped the ball on funding needed to move the state toward compliance with the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents one set of plaintiffs in the case. The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed spending an additional $416 million for public education in the coming year. Of that total, $113 million would be directed toward at-risk students who headlined the lawsuit. “It’s not enough,” Sanchez said.
ByRobert Nott and Andrew Oxford, Santa Fe New Mexican |
State Sen. Pat Woods says big lottery winners can turn into losers, so he wants to conceal their identity from the public. His push for secrecy initially failed Tuesday when the Senate Public Affairs Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the proposal, Senate Bill 397. But then committee members reconsidered and advanced Woods’ bill in a 5-2 decision. “I hate hearing stories of people who win lottery prizes and are broke shortly thereafter,” said Woods, R-Broadview, in arguing for the state-sanctioned gambling operation to keep winners’ names private. He said those who claim jackpots often don’t know how to manage their money and are easy prey for con men and unscrupulous family members.
For just a moment, it looked like Stan Rounds was the loneliest guy in the room. The executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders stood up during a committee hearing to tell educators, lawmakers and early childhood education proponents that he is against a proposal to pull money from the state’s multibillion-dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand prekindergarten initiatives. That’s because, he argued, that state trust land endowment is designed to support K-12 public education programs — and any other draw from the fund, now valued at about $17.5 billion, could hurt schools down the line. Rounds was one of only two people in that legislative hearing to voice opposition to House Joint Resolution 1. The other was a business representative from Albuquerque.
Jury duty: Courts get all kinds of excuses for skipping jury duty. But some New Mexicans might be able to save those excuses. The Senate voted Friday to make it easier for residents over the age of 75 to get out of jury service. Current law allows citizens summoned for jury duty to be excused based on age if they turn in a notarized affidavit proving they are over 75. Under Senate Bill 174, sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, courts could verify age using other state systems.
Martinez said that will save elders what can often be a long drive in rural areas to the courthouse.
Two state senators who represent rural districts hope to topple a long-standing system that uses the lion’s share of a federal grant program to help fund urban schools. Operational money from the grants initially goes to 25 school districts and five charter schools. But then the state shortchanges these needy districts, said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who called what happens “a shell game.” That’s because the state takes the equivalent of 75 percent of that Impact Aid money and reduces it from those districts’ general fund support for schools. Districts receiving Impact Aid say that means they only get a quarter of the federal money.