SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico environmental advocates say the state took a step forward during the 2019 legislative session by passing bills that address renewable energy and public health, but is lagging in solar-energy development. Conservation Voters New Mexico has released its statewide Conservation Scorecard for the 2019 Legislature. Liliana Castillo, the group’s communications director, noted that shortly after taking office, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham focused on climate change. Castillo said she believes the executive order to place limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel drilling is in line with residents’ priorities. “New Mexicans across the board really care about protecting our air, land and water and diversifying our economy – the things that people talk about are the most important things, right?
Last year as hardcore band Cipher took the stage in Philadelphia, the group’s frontman, Maurice “Moe” Mitchell, took a moment to call for unity. “The hardcore scene, and I grew up in the hardcore scene, was a rare space where people of all different race, class, gender, expression, create a community together,” Mitchell told the crowd. That rare message in today’s political climate is one that Mitchell seems to take with him everywhere, including as an organizer for Black Lives Matter and, more recently, as the national director for the Working Families Party. Mitchell came to New Mexico this week as part of a “national blitz” and said he plans to take what he learned in the grassroots world of progressive organizing and apply it to the more-distinctly-organized world of political campaigns. “When you’re coming from a very, sort of, top-down staff model, it can be very scary to give that much latitude to people you may not even know,” Mitchell said of how political groups are typically structured.
Another Democratic contender has entered the race for the open seat in the state House of Representatives currently held by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Los Alamos County Councilor Christine Chandler, who used to work as an in-house lawyer for Los Alamos National Laboratory, announced Thursday she would run for the House District 43 seat, which Garcia Richard is vacating to make a run for state land commissioner. Chandler joins a fellow Los Alamos County councilor, Pete Sheehey, a retired lab scientist who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last month. Republican Lisa Shin also is running for the seat, which until recent years was considered a safe GOP district. Chandler is involved in several Los Alamos community organizations.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced a plan today for lobbyists to take sexual harassment training before each session of the New Mexico Legislature. “Sexual harassment in any form is never acceptable,” Toulouse Oliver said in emailed statement to reporters. “This is just a first step, but it is my hope that by giving lobbyists the opportunity to enroll in sexual harassment training programs, we will be able to prevent some instances of misconduct from happening in the first place.”
The current lobbyist registration forms will be amended to include a checkbox for lobbyists to confirm they have taken the training. Those forms will be searchable and online. The training would be voluntary, but Toulouse Oliver hopes it could someday be mandatory.
State Sen. James White, R-Albuquerque, recently joined state legislators from around the country for a meeting of the Council of State Governments in Detroit, Michigan. At one event, he and two others sat in a car. White wasn’t driving. Neither was anyone else in the car. In fact, there was no steering wheel.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation that reinstates funding to the Legislature and higher education— two things she vetoed during the regular session. Martinez also partially vetoed a bill that would have moved money from other funds into the state’s general fund. In her message, Martinez criticized the Legislature for taking money from fund balances “that do not exist.”
“We cannot balance a budget with funny money,” Martinez wrote. Martinez also vetoed a proposal to increase gas taxes and permits for gas haulers. “I have said since my first day in office that New Mexicans are overtaxed and state government overspends.”
The Legislature is set to reconvene Tuesday to decide whether to override Martinez’s vetoes or adjourn until next year.
Many New Mexicans are fully aware that, with the summer, fire season is just around the corner. But James Canyon Fire Chief Bill Hanson goes further. “Fire season is here,” Hanson said. What is approaching, Hanson said, is the end of the fiscal year. And his volunteer fire department, located just east of Alamogordo, still doesn’t know how much money they’ll receive or when the money will arrive.
The New Mexico Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by the state Legislature against Gov. Susana Martinez over some line-item vetoes she made to the state budget. The oral arguments will take place May 15 at 9 a.m. Ahead of this, the court ordered the governor’s office to submit a response to the suit by May 5. The Legislature will be allowed to file a reply by May 10. Also, the court asked the New Mexico Council of University Presidents to file a brief as part of the lawsuit by May 5. At issues are two large line-item vetoes Martinez made to the budget, one cutting the entire higher education budget and the other cutting the entire budget of the Legislature.
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.
New Mexico’s courts face a funding crisis that threatens to undermine the judiciary’s ability to protect our rights by delivering timely justice. We must act now to prevent further damage. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels recently told a legislative committee, “We are now basically on life support through the end of this fiscal year.”
Pete Campos is a Democratic state senator who represents the Las Vegas area. In courthouses across the state, New Mexicans can see the corrosive effects of budget cuts and underfunding of the judiciary. Most magistrate courts are closed to the public for at least half a day each week because the courts are unable to fill vacant staff positions.