More than a year after Albuquerque Public Schools denied her public records requests related to an incident involving her autistic son, Laura Gutierrez is taking the state’s biggest public school district to court. Her lawsuit, filed last month in Albuquerque’s state district court, alleges APS wrongly withheld public records responsive to requests she made in late 2015. She is asking for the school district to release the records and pay damages for violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Under IPRA, public agencies can be fined up to $100 per day in damages for not fulfilling public records requests if the person who brings the suit can prove damages. “I have decisions I need to make as a parent, and without these records I can’t move forward,” Gutierrez said in an interview.
The best thing that may be said about Republican State Representative Rod Montoya’s recent opinion piece regarding the state budget was that it was highly misleading. While mostly rehashing tired attacks on Democrats heard during election time – and short on any specifics—his main point in writing seems to be to accuse the legislative majority of “wast[ing] time on green chile legislation” while important issues went supposedly unaddressed during the legislative session. Nothing, as they say, could be further from the truth. First of all, the Legislature did pass a balanced budget for next year, FY ’18. That budget, which now sits on the Governor’s desk, was responsible and bipartisan—at least in the Senate where it passed 34 to 4. Unlike the reckless one offered by Governor Martinez and her uber-partisan Republican helpers like Rep. Montoya in the House, it prevents any further cuts to K-12 classrooms and other key services such as law enforcement.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed several bills and signed three others Thursday. One of the bills she vetoed was designed to address institutional racism in state government. In her signing message, Martinez said the bill would put too much of a burden on state agencies “without any assurance that the bill would actually identify or reduce institutionalized racism in the workplace.”
The bill sought to evaluate anti-institutional racism policies for state agencies, including in hiring, promotion and retention. Martinez objected to the bill’s attempt to create a statewide evaluation of race and gender gaps in these same areas. Martinez also attacked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez, saying Lopez “blocked several Hispanics from serving in the highest levels of state governance by refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Regents.”
Voters in next year’s general election will get to decide on a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. The measure could lead to creation of a commission to investigate possible public corruption cases and campaign finance violations. Both the House and the Senate on Friday night approved a compromise resolution. That followed the action of a special committee consisting of three senators and three state representatives who reconciled two versions of House Joint Resolution 8. A resolution that unanimously passed the House last week spelled out many details of how the ethics panel would operate.
It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night. The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.
Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education. The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee’s 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close.
Setting up a constitutional showdown with the Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn most of her appointees awaiting confirmation in the state Senate but will keep the officials in their posts across New Mexico government. Aides to the governor accused lawmakers on Wednesday of moving too slowly in confirming her nominations, leaving more than 70 unconfirmed as the session enters its final weeks. But some senators suggested Martinez was attempting an end run around the confirmation process that would undercut the Legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch of government. “The governor cannot circumvent the Senate’s authority,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen told the chamber Wednesday afternoon after a clerk read aloud a letter from Martinez announcing the move. The unusual maneuver has turned a typically mundane administrative process into an unlikely flash point between the governor and Democratic legislators as debate over bigger issues, such as the budget and taxes, come to a head.
Laura Gutierrez has been trying to get public records from Albuquerque Public Schools for more than a year. In 2014 a school law enforcement officer allegedly used force against her autistic son. APS opened an investigation and soon cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Gutierrez wants to see all the documents from this investigation. In the fall and winter of 2015, Gutierrez filed four public records requests with APS for the district’s internal investigation of the officer, an employee of the school district.
Two state senators grappled with the definition of “ethnic studies” in schools during a legislative hearing Wednesday morning. State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored a bill to require that schools offer courses in ethnic studies as electives. State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, was the only member of the Senate Education Committee to vote against the bill. Brandt asked Lopez if her bill would include “all ethnicities.”
Yes, she responded, mentioning Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans as examples. “You didn’t mention mine, and I am an ethnicity,” Brandt, who is white, said.
After a year of high-profile changes in Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet, top officials from several of the most important departments in state government now await Senate confirmation hearings. But the secretaries of environment, finance and health are just of a few of the governor’s nearly 100 appointees on the agenda. With the long list, it is unclear how many appointees will even get a vote before the Senate adjourns March 18. New Mexico’s financial crisis will make confirmation hearings more difficult than usual. Staff members say the Senate Rules Committee only has enough money to conduct background checks on about half the appointees.