Legislators’ last attempt to balance this year’s budget relied heavily on across-the-board cuts to state programs, but some critics of the new effort say lawmakers are placing the burden of a projected $69 million deficit on local institutions ranging from school districts to fire departments. Discussions on a package of solvency measures continued Friday with the House of Representatives meeting for less than an hour before recessing until Saturday morning to vote on the legislation. With an eye toward stopping cuts to schools and economic development programs, Republicans plan to propose a series of amendments. “We don’t want to vote ‘no’ on something and not have an alternative,” said House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque.
A legislator from Santa Fe County is proposing to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance law that allows state lawmakers to accept campaign donations while they are in session. State law bans state representatives, senators and candidates for the Legislature from raising money from Jan. 1 until they adjourn. But the statute only prohibits soliciting contributions. It says nothing about legislators accepting money.
The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step last month of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials in early November, Harness and one of his investigators turned over information they had gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.
New Mexico legislators start their 60-day session Tuesday with plenty of unfinished business, including closing a projected budget deficit of about $67 million. But any hope that the passing of a rancorous election year and the ongoing budget crisis would inspire bipartisan compromise already seems to have evaporated. Instead, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and top lawmakers have staked out positions that almost guarantee a clash over taxes and spending. In addition, more budget cuts are likely, no matter the outcome. Martinez proposed easing the projected deficit by requiring public employees to pay for a bigger share toward their pensions.
A bill that would update the state’s medical cannabis law could see some changes before it’s ever heard in a legislative committee. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, prefiled his aptly named Medical Marijuana Changes bill last month. Now McSorley is working with a group of producers and patient advocates to make changes to his bill one week before the legislative session starts. McSorley told NM Political Report he wants to add opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients to buy cannabis. He also said he wants to allow all veterans to use cannabis medicinally.
An overdue audit from a troubled state agency has finally been released to the public. But it raises nearly as many questions as it was supposed to answer. The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) submitted its 2015 audit to the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) nearly a year after it was due. The audit, conducted by an independent contractor, was reviewed and then posted on OSA’s website earlier this week. In a letter to DHSEM Secretary M. Jay Mitchell, State Auditor Tim Keller noted that the accountants identified 19 problems, most of which are related to grant management and financial controls.
Near the end of his announcement for mayor last weekend, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis took a shot at the city’s public school district, saying it needed “radical repair.”
“I believe now is the time to deconstruct this large unaccountable school district and replace it with smaller, more accountable school districts,” Lewis said at the business incubator ABQ Fat Pipe, which is located in the old Albuquerque High School building. “As your mayor, what I’ll do is lead the charge to fundamentally change education in our city.”
With more than 95,000 students in the school system, APS ranks as the 31st largest public school district in the nation—outsizing the public school systems in bigger cities like Detroit, San Francisco and Boston. Lewis is making the idea of breaking up the school district a part of his mayoral platform. To do so requires action from the state legislature. State Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, could be the lawmaker that takes on the issue this legislative session, which starts next week.