Trump’s Labor Department eviscerates workplace safety panels

Last October, Gregory Junemann received a brief email from an official at the U.S. Department of Labor effectively firing him and 15 others from a volunteer gig helping the government reduce hazards to workers. “Thank you again for your continuing service in providing exceptional guidance on improving the health and safety of our federal workforce,” the email said. Junemann, a labor union president, was a member of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, first established by President Richard Nixon. It is one of five panels created by law to advise the labor secretary on how to improve health, safety and whistleblower protections in nearly every facet of the workforce. But under President Donald Trump, the boards have been mothballed or outright killed.

Federal watchdog identifies new workplace safety problems at Los Alamos Lab

Los Alamos National Laboratory has failed to keep track of a toxic metal used in nuclear weapons production, potentially exposing workers to serious health consequences, a federal watchdog has found. The New Mexico lab’s failure to adequately track beryllium — small amounts of which can cause lung disease and cancer — violates federal regulations put in place to prevent worker overexposure, according to a report last week from the Department of Energy’s inspector general. The report is the latest example of serious workplace safety violations that have occurred at Los Alamos — which gave birth to the atomic bomb during World War II — including radioactive contamination and other injuries to workers. In October, for example, an independent federal safety board said the lab was ill equipped to respond to emergencies and found recurring flaws in emergency preparedness dating back to 2011. Soon after, the Department of Energy launched an investigation following a “near-miss” incident in which a worker responded to an alarm and entered an oxygen-deprived room, which could have resulted in asphyxiation.

Lawmaker says public schools need more funding

If state Sen. Bill Soules had his way, New Mexico would invest an extra $375 million in public schools right now. Where the cash-strapped state would find that money is another matter altogether. Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, has once again introduced legislation calling for the state to follow the recommendation of a decadeold study and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more into its public education system — one that generally ranks at or near the bottom in most national reports. But Soules’ bill doesn’t have a chance in the upcoming legislative session. And he knows it.

Report looking at possible ‘pay-to-play’ on investments stirs up a hornet’s nest

A report examining possible “pay-to-play” over state pension investments is drawing sharp reactions and a call for an investigation into whether donations by investment firms broke state laws. The International Business Times and the money-in-politics watchdog nonprofit Maplight released an investigative report earlier this week on donations given directly to Susana Martinez’s campaign and to organizations that backed Martinez and later received state investment money from a public pension fund. A spokesman for Martinez essentially called the report clickbait and said “these accusations are shameless and dishonest” in a statement to NM Political Report. The spokesman, Joseph Cueto, continued, “It’s a shame that the dark-money liberal political group behind this is getting their way with clicks and smear headlines without a shred of evidence. The Governor remains open to further strengthening of our disclosure laws – despite Democrats’ previously killing her proposals to do just that.”

IBT is a for-profit online news organization based in New York City.

Longtime legislator Lucky Varela dies

Longtime state representative and budget guru Luciano “Lucky” Varela died at the age of 82 this weekend. Varela’s son Jeff announced Sunday morning, first reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican, that the longtime state government employee and legislator had passed away. Varela had been in hospice care after a series of health problems including a heart attack earlier this year. Jeff Valera said in a statement:
Our father has passed on to another life and leaves us with many memories of his love for life and for public service. We will always cherish the times with him on the family compound in Pecos, and being with him at the State Capitol during many legislative sessions.

Couple allegedly urinated on Quran at Santa Fe library

A couple in Santa Fe allegedly urinated on copies of the Quran and Bill Clinton’s autobiography and moved  copies of the Bible and books by conservative provocateur Ann Coulter to prominent locations in a library. The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported the incident, to which Santa Fe Public Library employees alerted police last week. There is no video evidence of the couple’s alleged actions, but the library manager told police three copies of the Quran were damaged “by a yellowish liquid substance,” the New Mexican reported, citing a police report. The couple had caused trouble before. From the New Mexican:
On March 3, library staff asked the couple to move their vehicle, a white Ford F-250 truck towing a white double-axle trailer, from the library’s parking lot, according to a police report.

Senate OKs bill on redacting names from police reports

The state Senate approved a bill Monday that would allow government agencies to redact the names of victims and most witnesses from police reports of rape, stalking and domestic violence until a defendant has been charged. Senate Bill 149 would amend the state’s public records law to add this exception. Senators voted 40-0 for the measure, which next goes to the House of Representatives. The sponsor, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, said the bill would “extend the same protections and dignity to victims of rape and intimate partner violence as the law currently provides to their rapists.” New Mexico’s public records law already prohibits government agencies from releasing the names of people who are suspected of a crime but have not been charged.

Proponents of early ed measure struggle to secure House votes

Supporters of a popular idea among Democrats — a proposed constitutional amendment that would take between $153 million and $163 million a year in the first three years from the state’s land grant endowment to expand early childhood education — are having a difficult time mustering the votes to get it through the state House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1 has been waiting all week to get a floor vote. Word got out Friday that the resolution once again would not be heard, even though it was the top item on the House calendar. The measure would amend the state constitution to draw less than 1 percent a year from the endowment to pay for early childhood education. The sponsors of the proposal, Democratic Reps.

Wrangling continues on raising New Mexico minimum wage

A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday. Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed. But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates. And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.

Proposal aims to close campaign donation loophole

A legislator from Santa Fe County is proposing to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance law that allows state lawmakers to accept campaign donations while they are in session. State law bans state representatives, senators and candidates for the Legislature from raising money from Jan. 1 until they adjourn. But the statute only prohibits soliciting contributions. It says nothing about legislators accepting money.