Next stop for Texas-NM water dispute: Supreme Court

Attorneys for the states of New Mexico and Texas learned yesterday that a lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande will head to the U.S. Supreme Court. For New Mexico, a lot is at stake. Though Texas also named Colorado in the suit, its real target is New Mexico. Texas alleges that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump groundwater connected to the river, the state is unfairly taking water from the Rio Grande that, under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact, should be flowing to Texas. When Texas filed a similar suit against New Mexico about the Pecos River, the case dragged on for almost two decades, and cost both states millions of dollars.

Lawsuit over Guv’s emails ends

More than two years after being filed in federal court, a lawsuit over leaked emails from Gov. Susana Martinez’s 2010 campaign account was dismissed with prejudice Monday. Attorneys on both sides filed the motion to dismiss, which likely puts the issue to rest. “It’s dismissed with prejudice,” Bruce Wetherbee, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, told NM Political Report. “End of story.”

Dismissed with prejudice means that the lawsuit cannot be re-filed in court. Wetherbee worked with Independent Source PAC when the liberal political action committee publicly released some leaked emails from Martinez administration staffers and allies in 2012.

Behavioral health shakeup prompts another call for HSD head’s resignation

After testimony from officials from three nonprofits that provided behavioral health services which were targeted with fraud allegations but later cleared by the Attorney General,a second New Mexico lawmaker called for state Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest to resign. “This is just morally repugnant behavior that this administration, this department, has done,” state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday at an interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee meeting. “It’s criminal and obscene.”

Trujillo and eight other state lawmakers listened to the heads of three of the 15 behavioral health organizations that were infamously accused of “credible allegations of fraud” in 2013 by HSD’s then-Secretary Sidonie Squier. The department cited an audit from Boston-based Public Consulting Group that found $34 million in Medicaid fraud between the 15 providers. Squier cut off Medicaid funding from the providers, but the Attorney General’s Office has since cleared all from any wrongdoing.

Charter schools accuse PED of hostility, favoritism

More than two dozen charter schools across the state accused the Public Education Department of directing “a general atmosphere of hostility” toward several state-authorized charter schools. Last month, the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools wrote a list of 20 detailed complaints against the PED’s Charter Schools Division coming from 29 charter schools across the state in a letter to the Public Education Commission, an elected statewide body that oversees state-authorized charter schools. “In a nutshell,” the letter reads, “The relationship between [the Charter Schools Division] and charter schools appears to have deteriorated significantly over the past year, and in numerous cases appears to be broken.”

Twenty charter schools signed onto the letter, though the Coalition says nine more have lodged complaints but didn’t want to go public “for fear of reprisal” from the PED. The list of complaints, which accuse PED of imposing burdensome regulations against charter schools, pits nearly one-third of the charter schools in the state against a state agency that has touted itself as favorable to nontraditional public education. The Coalition wrote the letter at the request of the Public Education Commission after first mentioning the problems at a March commission meeting.

NM marijuana industry generous in political donations

Marijuana-related businesses and their executives donated at least $13,500 to House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, a report filed Sunday reveals. Of that, $10,000 came from Ultra Health LLC and its founder, Duke Rodriguez, a former Lovelace Medical Center executive. The Scottsdale, Ariz., based for-profit recently took over management of Santa Fe’s New Mexico Top Organics, according to Peter St. Cyr’s recent report in the Santa Fe Reporter. Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican, received $5,000 each from the company and Rodriguez.

Here are the key legislative races to watch

Today is the day that candidates for state House and Senate file to say that they are, indeed, running. As candidates file their intention to run for public office, we decided to take a look forward a few months to what districts the two parties will be focusing on come November and the general elections. The top of the ticket matters. Two years ago, Republicans took the state House of Representatives for the first time in a half-century. That same election saw Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, trounce Democratic opponent Gary King by more than 14 points statewide.

After AG’s report, HSD criticized for behavioral health funding freeze

Former behavioral health providers and lawmakers spoke out against Gov. Susana Martinez and her administration Monday afternoon over a shutdown of behavioral health providers in 2013. They spoke after a letter from the Attorney General’s office announced an investigation found no fraud from another ten behavioral health providers, bringing the total to 13. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, a former social worker, said the results are relieving, but came too late. “The news that the Attorney General has exonerated ten more of the agencies accused of fraud two years ago was very welcome but unfortunately comes about two years late,” Ortiz y Pino said during a press conference. He praised the work from the AG’s office since Balderas took over, but also criticized former Attorney General Gary King for not taking swift enough action on the investigation.

Vigil exploring another run for Secretary of State

A former New Mexico Secretary of State announced on Wednesday that she is seeking petition signatures to run for the position again. On her personal Facebook page, Rebecca Vigil wrote that she was seeking 5,000 signatures by Feb. 2 to secure a spot in the Democratic pre-primaries. She said she has not officially announced her candidacy and was clear that she had a long way to go. “I have several bridges to cross before I can make the announcement that I will be in the race for Secretary of State,” Vigil wrote.

Emails won’t be shielded, but defendants must disclose info in leaked email lawsuit

A federal magistrate judge Monday rejected a motion to protect hundreds of leaked emails from top staffers in the governor’s office from a high profile case among other measures. Plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit involving leaked emails from the 2010 campaign account of Gov. Susana Martinez will now also be able to conduct discovery on the defendants. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephan Vidmar limited the discovery to just a handful of issues: what emails were intercepted, who intercepted the emails, who publicly disclosed the intercepted emails and why they publicly disclosed them. The judge made rulings against motions by both sides. The developments mark the latest fallout in one of the longest ongoing scandals in Martinez’s governorship.

NM swims against criminal justice reform tide

The aftermath of a heinous crime that saw a career criminal kill a Rio Rancho police officer is sparking talk of tougher crime laws. Next week, state lawmakers in the interim Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee will hear testimony on a bill to add crimes to New Mexico’s existing “three strikes” law, which assigns mandatory life in prison sentences to convicts of three violent crimes. Yet the local legislative doubling down on “tough on crime” laws—two Republican state representatives are proposing changes that would tighten New Mexico’s three strikes law—comes at a time with strong national momentum in the opposite direction. And it’s Republicans with national ambitions that, in many cases, have been making headlines for this. “Former [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry is going around the country bragging that he closed three prisons,” said state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who supports criminal justice reform.