Winners and losers of the 2017 session

One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.

Sen.: Guv lobbied on lease bill

Gov. Susana Martinez personally lobbied the Senate’s top Democrat to support a controversial bill that would have created an exception in government rules and allowed state agencies to extend their leases at a building owned by donors to her campaign. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Monday that Martinez asked him to support the measure after he had voted against it in a committee hearing. “I was concerned about having a state law that overrides an agency’s rule,” Wirth said. But during a later conversation, Martinez asked him to reconsider, Wirth said. As majority leader, Wirth held off bringing the measure to a vote by the full Senate, and he asked another senator to vet its legality.

Senate yanks real estate bill; lawmaker says pay-to-play maneuver exposed

In an extraordinary maneuver, state senators killed a bill Saturday that they had approved four days earlier after one of them said he had misled his colleagues about connections between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and real estate developers who stood to benefit from the legislation. Democrats charged that the bill, which would have extended a building lease for state offices in Albuquerque, had turned into an example of pay-to-play politics, while members of Martinez’s administration maintained they had made an honest mistake based on incomplete information. For her part, Martinez said through a spokesman that neither she nor her staff ever discussed with campaign donors the leases addressed in the measure. At issue was an unusual and late-breaking piece of legislation, Senate Bill 430, that met with skepticism at just about every step of its journey through the Capitol until its sudden death Saturday. Sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, the bill would have carved out an exception to state rules on renting property.

Bills would limit solitary confinement, require reporting in NM

House and Senate lawmakers are pushing identical proposals that would abolish solitary confinement for pregnant women and children and steeply curtail its use on people living with mental illness in New Mexico’s jails and prisons. If passed into law, supporters say either bill would provide a statutory definition for “isolated confinement” in the state and much needed transparency on the scope of the controversial practice of leaving inmates alone in their cells for 22 hours a day or more with little to no contact with others and few opportunities to participate in educational or rehabilitative programs.

“Right now, we do not know on any given day if it’s 100 or 1,000 people in isolated confinement in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, the Democratic sponsor of HB175, said. “Once we have some data, we can have confidence that the Corrections Department and the counties are scaling back the use of solitary confinement.”

This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission

Numerous studies, including one by the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, have shown that isolation in a prison cell can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and create new ones where none existed before. The United Nations and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have argued that solitary confinement is particularly dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing, and condemned its use. New Mexico has a troubled history with solitary confinement.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.

Industry comes out in force, committee kills energy surtax for early childhood ed funding

On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.

Bill would authorize panel to investigate child abuse deaths

State Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat who was raised in foster care and has largely focused his legislative efforts on reforming New Mexico’s child welfare system, has introduced a measure to create a task force on child homicides. The proposal also would give the state attorney general authority to order an independent investigation into a child abuse death. The team would include medical experts, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, child welfare workers, tribal members and others. It would be tasked with evaluating investigations of a child’s death, as well as examining how agencies and individuals responded to concerns about the child before the slaying. The task force also would make recommendations to the Legislature on needed reforms.

Senate Bill 294 comes as New Mexico experiences a steep rise in child abuse cases.

Budget tops list of unfinished business

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.

Bill to slash budget passes House

The House voted to pass a large bill related to budget cuts Wednesday night, sending the amended bill back to the Senate, who are expected to be back in the Roundhouse Thursday. It took a full three hours of debate, largely on a large amendment put forward by Republicans. Republicans, however, paused the debate and went into caucus for three and a half hours (Democrats held a shorter caucus at the same time). The final bill passed on a 36-32 vote. The amendment passed on a 36-32 vote.

Special session off to a testy start

Even before the House and Senate are scheduled to meet at noon Friday, the high tensions between the two parties was evident, previewing what promises to be a bare-knuckle brawl of a special session. The special session is necessary to fix a budget deficit of over $500 million between the current fiscal year and the already-ended fiscal year. The special session will also feature a handful of high profile crime bills. It was these bills that drew the ire of House Democrats, especially since the bills would be heard in committee hour half an hour after the floor session. “The first thing that this House seeks to do is seek reinstatement of the death penalty.