Trump administration neuters nuclear safety board

The Trump administration has quietly taken steps that may inhibit independent oversight of its most high-risk nuclear facilities, including some buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy document shows. An order published on the department’s website in mid-May outlines new limits on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — including preventing the board from accessing sensitive information, imposing additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandating that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board. The board has, by statute, operated independently and has been provided largely unfettered access to the nation’s nuclear weapons complexes in order to assess accidents or safety concerns that could pose a grave risk to workers and the public. The main exception has been access to the nuclear weapons themselves. For many years, the board asked the Department of Energy to provide annual reviews of how well facilities handled nuclear materials vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction — and required federal officials to brief the board on the findings.

Analysis: Pardons have plummeted in New Mexico under Gov. Martinez

Brenna Ellis thinks the Trump stuff on social media played a part. She pushed for the New York reality TV star’s rogue candidacy on Facebook during the 2016 election season. Meanwhile, she was making a big ask of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who had publicly feuded with Trump over his comments about immigrants and Martinez’ running of the state. Ellis, 51, wanted the governor to issue a pardon for her 2001 felony conviction on conspiracy to commit arson. An act of mercy from Martinez would give Ellis, who served six months in jail and has been free for more than 15 years, a clean record and enable her plumbing company to secure government contracts.

Martinez’s legacy undefined as she approaches final session in charge

Gov. Susana Martinez leaned in, and a discernible vigor crept into her voice. Speaking at a news conference earlier this month about her proposed state budget, the former prosecutor seemed in her element, discussing an issue that has come to define her two terms in office: crime. She started her presentation on the state’s spending plan talking about a crime wave, and when a reporter asked about bail reform, she eagerly lambasted new court policies as creating a “revolving door at the jail.” Yes, there was talk of tax reform and education, too. But if there is any issue Martinez has felt most comfortable railing about in front of the cameras, it is crime.

Does poorly educating students violate the NM constitution? A judge will decide

How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Up in smoke: Opportunities on climate, renewables shunned during Martinez administration

Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.

Martinez orders state hiring freeze to save money

Gov. Susana Martinez announced a hiring freeze Thursday, which goes into effect Saturday. The move, announced in a two-page memo to cabinet secretaries from State Personnel Director Justin Najaka, comes as Martinez indicated she will not sign the budget passed by legislators. “It is critical that Executive agencies take immediate action to control spending as we continue to refine the financial impact on state operations due to unprecedented budgetary challenges the State is currently experiencing,” Najaka wrote. Some positions will be exempted from the freeze, according to the memo, including wildland firefighters at the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, law enforcement officers and forensic scientists at the Department of Public Safety, tax collectors and auditors at the Taxation and Revenue Department and highway workers at the Department of Transportation. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered from pre-recession high

The order asks secretaries to cease recruitment for all other positions not listed in the memo and to notify applicants by March 31, 2017 that the advertisements have been closed.

Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill

The Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill regarding teacher evaluations Tuesday. It was the first vote to override a veto by the Senate since 2010. The bill would allow teachers to use their 10 allotted days of sick leave without penalties to their evaluations. Currently, teachers are penalized in their evaluations if they use more than three days of sick leave. Note: This is a breaking news story and more information may be added.

Senate panel backs bill to keep some spaceport business dealings secret

Spaceport America, which has generated plenty of controversy because of the tax subsidies it receives, now says its success depends on less public scrutiny. The Senate Public Affairs Committee obliged Friday, backing a bill to exclude many spaceport business dealings from the state’s public records law. Its members voted 5-2 to allow the spaceport to withhold information about clients in the space business. Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, dissented.

With proposed State Department cuts, private diplomacy more important than ever

At the arrivals area in Dulles airport last Thursday, Ebrima and his two girls, Sarah and Aminata, stood nervously. Almost a year and one really long hour of waiting at the airport later, they were about to see their mom and wife, Fanta Jawara. Fanta, an American citizen, had been held in a Gambian prison, notorious for human rights abuses, for most of this period as a political prisoner. As the door opened, they rushed Fanta, and embraced her tightly. No eye was left dry at the terminal.

Gov. orders agencies to consolidate human resources

In a shake-up of state government, Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered agencies throughout New Mexico’s bureaucracy to eliminate human resources divisions and shift responsibility for personnel matters to a single office. Martinez had telegraphed the move for months because of a budget crisis that has prompted cuts across New Mexico government. Her order follows through on a recommendation floated many times during the last several decades as a means of streamlining state bureaucracy and cutting costs. But Martinez’s executive decision also puts the jobs of hundreds of government employees in peril at a time when New Mexico’s unemployment rate is among the nation’s highest. A spokesman for the State Personnel Office said it is still assessing how many employees will be affected but added that the move is expected to save millions of dollars each year.