Lawmakers and prosecutors appear as far apart as ever on reform proposals for New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham admonishing them to find common ground in April. That’s when the first-term Democratic governor vetoed a reform bill — with significant consternation — that would have shifted the systems away from incarceration as a first resort and likely seen significantly fewer people returning to prison and jail.
The disagreements center largely on who should be locked back up for violating their probation and who should not, and a change that would have required the Parole Board to issue detailed, written findings when it denies someone’s release after 30 years behind bars. If changes favored by legislators become law, potentially thousands of people in New Mexico who are currently locked up would remain under state supervision, but not behind bars. It could burden the justice system, creating the need for new jobs and monitoring mechanisms, but also save the public millions in lock-up costs, legislative analysts say. Lawmakers have pushed the changes because they say a shift toward rehabilitation and providing services to lower-level offenders can help them turn their lives around and stay out of the justice system.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and all fourteen of the state’s district attorneys are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill that would change laws governing probation and parole for criminal offenders. The prosecutors said in a letter Friday to the governor that the measure approved by the Legislature would jeopardize public safety. Supporters of the bill said that isn’t accurate. The letter is, at best, disingenuous, said House Judiciary Chairwoman Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s four sponsors. “We are looking at a new day here and a lot of what is claimed in that letter, the exact opposite is true,” Chasey said Friday.
Lawmakers and open government proponents on Friday raised questions about transparency and possible conflicts with other investigative agencies as New Mexico legislators try to flesh out details of the long-discussed creation of a state ethics commission. House Bill 4 would create an independent state agency overseen by seven commissioners with power to investigate and enforce compliance with laws on governmental conduct, election campaigns, lobbyists, gifts and financial disclosures by state officers, employees and contractors, among others. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Saturday. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who introduced the bill, presented it to the committee Friday but asked the members to give him another day to work on changes before voting on it. Ely said the bill’s goal is to “make sure we go after the bad people in this system and shine a light on these people.”
The process is taking longer than Democrats would hope, but bills to expand voting rights are moving through the state legislature. Democrats advanced two voting bills—one, to automatically restore voting rights to felons and another to expand automatic voter registration—out of the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grants Committee on party-line votes Friday. But a bill to allow same-day voter registration failed to come up for a vote, with a visibly frustrated committee chair saying they’ll meet again on Saturday. The debate on the bill to allow felons to vote began Wednesday, including substantial public comment. Felon enfranchisement
In its current form, HB 57 would remove a felony conviction from the list of reasons why the Secretary of State could cancel a voter’s registration.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee closed ranks Wednesday behind a bill that would prohibit public money from being spent on textbooks for private schools, perhaps putting the lawmakers at odds with a state Supreme Court decision. The committee voted 10-4 along party lines for House Bill 45, which would require timely state funding for textbooks for public schools. The measure also would exclude private schools from receiving public money for books or other instructional materials. Republican lawmakers say the bill defies a Supreme Court decision. The justices found in December that providing textbooks to private schools, a long-standing practice in New Mexico, is permissible under the state constitution.
Lawmakers voted to update the State Legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the first such change in a decade. The 15-0 Legislative Council vote came a day before the start of the 2018 legislative session. The council adopted the policy crafted by eight legislators who rewrote it at a time where many industries and organizations, including political institutions, are grappling with sexual harassment. The policy allows for an outside investigator to look into allegations of sexual harassment against legislators. It also calls for “outside counsel who is experienced in harassment matters” to determine in consultation with legislative leaders if a complaint merits an investigation.
The House approved a bill to establish workplace protections for pregnant workers Tuesday afternoon on a 51-14 vote. The bill would require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers who ask for them. Sponsors and proponents of the bill have given examples of reasonable accommodations such as allowing pregnant women breaks to walk or to or drink water at their desks. Some of the legislators who raised concerns about the proposal during debate, such as state Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, ultimately voted for the measure. Dow said she worried about businesses being held liable to new damages.
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — The Loving Care Shelter Home, one of several private homes in Las Vegas that has provided room and board for people with mental illness, is a ramshackle place between a mobile home and a burned-out house in an old neighborhood near downtown. Inside the home, according to a recent state inspection report, residents lived in filth, with paint chipping off walls, stained and threadbare rugs, torn window screens, electrical hazards, a rickety wooden front porch with an old couch with cigarette burns and piles of debris in the backyard. The medical care of the five residents at the Loving Care Shelter Home was shoddy, as well, according to the 96-page report by the state Department of Health on the home’s deficiencies. Among other problems, residents didn’t get required medical checks, and there were no plans to manage their illnesses, the report says. The home’s two staff workers weren’t trained in how to store drugs and assist residents with their medications.
A bill to require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers passed a state House committee on party lines Friday morning. During debate, Southwest Women’s Law Center attorney Sarah Coffey provided examples of “reasonable accommodations,” which included allowing pregnant workers to have a bottle of water at their desks, giving them more bathroom breaks and allowing them to walk around the office when needed. “We’re trying to alert women and employers that women don’t need to necessarily quit their jobs or stay home if there’s a small accommodation made to keep working,” state Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque and sponsor of the legislation, said at the hearing. Three Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Committee—state Reps. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, Gail Armstrong of Magdalena and James Townsend of Artesia—voted against the measure.
Advocates and supporters of reproductive health access and rights unveiled three bills in the state Legislature they say will improve and protect access. This includes measures to preserve birth control access under the federal Affordable Care Act and allow women on the birth control pill to obtain one year’s worth of refills at a time, penalize medical providers that refuse to offer certain reproductive health services and procedures and require workplaces to make “reasonable accommodations” to employees who are pregnant. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill to expand access to birth control. At a Tuesday press conference for the bills, Armstrong said her measure is in anticipation of contraception access through the ACA “that may be on the chopping block.”
“We’re going to ensure that regardless of what they do federally, in New Mexico we take care of women and families and let them choose what’s best for them in deciding if and when and how often to have children,” Armstrong said. Her bill would guarantee patients access to any type of federally-approved contraception without “having to prove that something else doesn’t work” before obtaining the kind “most appropriate for you,” she said.