Musical chairs with Senate committee leadership

The New Mexico Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved three new leaders for key committees, including Sen. Joseph Cervantes as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He succeeds a longtime colleague, Richard Martinez, who was convicted last month of aggravated drunken driving. Earlier in the day, the Senate Committees’ Committee, which chooses members of other panels that debate legislation before it reaches the Senate floor, selected Cervantes for the high-profile leadership position in which he likely will influence two key issues: legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, which he opposes, and a firearms restriction for people considered at risk of harming someone, which he supports. Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, relinquished the committee chairmanship after his conviction but did not step down from his Senate seat. Martinez injured two people in a drunken-driving crash in Española in June.

Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 2020 State of the State address, annotated

NM Political Report partnered with New Mexico PBS, KUNM-FM, Searchlight New Mexico and the Alamogordo Daily News to analyze Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State Address. Below is a copy of her speech, with annotations.

WATCH: State of the State address

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will give her second State of the State address today, on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Lujan Grisham will set out her agenda for this year’s session. Non-budgetary bills need her OK to be discussed in this year’s short, 30-day session. Watch the speech, scheduled for 12:30 p.m., below, courtesy New Mexico PBS.

Governor, staff gear up for State of the State address

On the roughly eight-hour flight from Chicago to Dublin, Ireland, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s speechwriter and top communications staffer started a draft of what will be her second annual address to the Legislature. Six hours and 6,000 words later, Tripp Stelnicki closed his laptop and braced himself to meet his sister’s fiancé in Ireland. Since then, Stelnicki said, the document has run the gauntlet, viewed and honed by the governor’s chief of staff, John Bingaman, senior adviser Dominic Gabello and the governor herself. She made some suggestions — a joke here, a little more emphasis here, a cut there. Over time, 2,000 words were shaved off and Lujan Grisham has gone through a dry run of the address, with microphones on, in the House chamber.

New Mexico is trying to refashion its economy—and it isn’t easy

From a numbers perspective, it’s hard to see a downside to the massive amounts of oil revenue flooding the state of New Mexico’s coffers. But there is one: The windfall is enlarging the state’s dependence on the energy industry. That may not be a problem right now. But it will be when the price of oil crashes again. And almost everyone — industry experts, politicians, economists — expect that it will.

Poll: Guv, Senators’ approval ratings dip

A new poll showed New Mexico’s governor and both U.S. Senators’ approval ratings took a slight hit in the past three months. The poll, conducted by Morning Consult, found that 44 percent of New Mexico voters support the job Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is doing, while 39 percent disapprove. In the last poll, Lujan Grisham’s approval rating stood at 47 percent, compared to 37 percent disapproval. That poll was conducted in the previous three months. Lujan Grisham is a first-term Democrat, who was elected in 2018 and took office at the beginning of 2019.

Medical cannabis patient asks judge to allow cannabis on house arrest

An Albuquerque-based attorney, who also serves in the state Senate, wants a judge to weigh-in on whether those on house arrest should have access to medical cannabis. 

The attorney and state lawmaker Jacob Candelaria, on behalf of his client Joe Montaño, filed a writ of mandamus, or a request for a ruling, in state district court, asking a judge to order Bernalillo County to allow those in custody to use medical cannabis if they are part of the state’s program. 

In his court filing, Candelaria argued that Montaño has a right to “adequate and reasonable medical care” while in custody. Candelaria also argued that state law says, “Medical Cannabis shall be considered the equivalent of the use of any other medication under the direction of a physician and shall not be considered to constitute the use of an illicit substance,” and therefore his client should be allowed access to his medical cannabis. 

According to New Mexico’s Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, which was updated during last year’s legislative session, medical cannabis patients are protected—with some exceptions—from discrimination for using medical cannabis. When mentioning incarceration though, the law seems open to interpretation.    

“A person who is serving a period of probation or parole or who is in the custody or under the supervision of the state or a local government pending trial as part of a community supervision program shall not be penalized for conduct allowed under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act.” NM Stat § 26-2B-10

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the Senate bill that added sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law. He previously told NM Political Report that the custody provision was aimed at those in pretrial services or those on probation or parole, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office agreed. 

Now Candelaria, who is also a medical cannabis patient, is challenging that thinking with the financial help of one of New Mexico’s more prominent medical cannabis producers, which is led by one of the state’s Medical Cannabis Program’s most vocal critics.

State job opportunities limited for medical cannabis patients

Earlier this year, New Mexico legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overhauled the state’s medical cannabis statute. Updates to the law ranged from relatively simple definition changes to more significant changes like allowing consumption areas for cannabis patients. 

But the parts of the law that are supposed to protect patients from losing their jobs solely for being a patient in the program may also be hindering the nearly 79,000 cannabis patients in New Mexico from getting a job with the state. That’s because the law also protects employers by giving them enough autonomy to fire or not hire a cannabis patient for safety concerns or if the employer could lose federal funding for hiring a cannabis user. 

Jason Barker is a medical cannabis patient advocate and a patient himself. He said he started looking at job descriptions after the state announced a three-day “rapid hire event”scheduled for next week and aimed at hiring hundreds of new employees. But, Barker said, many of the jobs he’s qualified for are considered safety sensitive, which would require a pre-employment drug test.

State settles with five more behavioral health providers over 2013 funding freeze

The state settled with five more behavioral health providers who had sued after the state froze their access to Medicaid funding in 2013. At the time, the state said it had found credible allegations of fraud by the providers. The new settlements totaled $10 million and are the last of the ten lawsuits filed by providers over the funding freeze. These latest settlements were paid to Santa Maria El Mirador, the provider formerly known as Easter Seals El Mirador; Border Area Mental Health Services; Southwest Counseling Center, Inc.; Southern New Mexico Human Development, Inc.; and Families and Youth, Inc.

The state’s Attorney General cleared all providers that the Susana Martinez administration accused of fraud. The suspension caused a behavioral health crisis in New Mexico.

NM won’t provide driver’s license data to Trump administration

The state of New Mexico will not provide driver’s license data to the Trump administration. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Trump administration asked states to provide driver’s license information data in another effort to get citizenship data. The administration sought to get the information through the 2020 Census for use in redistricting in 2021, but lost a court battle over adding a question to the decennial census. According to the AP, at least 13 states have denied the Trump administration’s request, 17 others are still deciding and 17 states haven’t received a request yet, while three states did not respond to questions. A spokeswoman for the governor’s office told NM Political Report about the decision on Tuesday after she spoke with the state Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the state’s driver’s license program.