Some hope Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new executive order giving state employees 12 weeks off to care for a new child is a harbinger for the passage of a bill that would bring that benefit – and more – to all New Mexico employees. Lujan Grisham made her announcement earlier this week. Starting with the first day of 2020, all state employees are now eligible to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child, whether a birth or an adoption. Leave must be taken within the first six months following the child’s arrival. If both parents work for the state, both parents are eligible for the leave.
The University of New Mexico is reevaluating its policy of charging for electronic copies of public records on a per-page basis in response to a reprimand from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. In an email to NM Political Report, the school’s Office of University Counsel said the UNM public records custodian is “evaluating the fee structure” for fulfilling requests of electronic records. Associate University Counsel Patrick Hart also wrote that the public records department will suspend the policy and practice of charging $0.38 a page for electronic records through the end of September. The change comes after the state Attorney General’s office issued a determination letter in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report. NM Political Report filed the complaint after the UNM’s Custodian of Public Records billed $0.38 a page for an electronic file that contained more than 1,600 pages.
The University of New Mexico violated state law when it didn’t properly fulfill records requests from NM Political Report, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office. A determination letter from Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp, in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report, cited two violations of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). In one instance, the university failed to provide records in the statutorily required amount of time. In another instance, the AG’s office determined that UNM violated state law by charging $0.38 per page to transfer more than 1,600 pages in a single electronic file. “Based on our review of the evidence and applicable laws, we conclude that the University’s proposed fees violated IPRA,” Kreienkamp wrote.
Billions of taxpayer dollars have flowed out of state since 2013 due to government purchases that are not filled — or cannot be filled — by New Mexico companies, a Searchlight New Mexico analysis finds. Over the past five years, 43 cents of every dollar the state paid companies and consultants went outside New Mexico’s borders, according to Searchlight’s analysis. That price tag stands at $3.2 billion and is growing. According to the state’s own data, spending on outside vendors grew faster than spending on in-state vendors over the past five years of Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration. That dynamic is unlikely to change without a significant overhaul of the state’s economy, according to several experts interviewed for this article.
Before Cynthia Herald left the Bernalillo County courthouse last November she told reporters that she was relieved to finally gain closure on an ordeal with the University of New Mexico that lasted more than half a decade. Herald sued the university’s medical school, claiming she was wrongfully dismissed from a residency program and settled before closing arguments. The terms of the settlement were, by state law, temporarily shielded from public scrutiny. That meant the public couldn’t see the total amount UNM agreed to pay, including how much money was to come from the medical school’s anesthesiology department and how much from the state’s Risk Management Division. Seven months later, the University still won’t release that information and cites the same law.
State law requires the New Mexico Lottery to allocate 30 percent of its gross revenues for college scholarships, a program that helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. So effective was this system that it funneled more than $40 million annually to the scholarship program for nine consecutive years, helping many students obtain a college degree without the crushing debt that can come with loans. But lottery revenues dipped in 2017, a fact that figures heavily in another attempt to change the law. A Republican lawmaker has revived an annual bill to eliminate the requirement of pledging 30 percent of gross lottery revenues to college scholarships. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, proposes that at least $38 million in net revenue go to the scholarship program.
Oil and gas industry revenues pay a huge share of the money that goes into the state budget. And lobbyists for big oil companies pay a huge amount of campaign contributions to New Mexico politicians. An analysis of lobbyist expense reports filed in recent days with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office shows oil companies dominate the list of the largest donors to campaigns and political committees since last October. By far the biggest contributor among lobbyists in the new batch of reports was the Austin, Texas-based Stephen Perry, Chevron USA’s state government affairs manager for Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Perry listed $183,250 in contributions.
A special audit of the University of New Mexico Athletics Department found a variety of problems dating back years. According to the Office of the State Auditor, responsibility ultimately lands in the lap of the university’s Board of Regents, which is supposed to ensure the university, including the athletics program, is fiscally responsible. Auditors found in many cases the UNM Athletics program fell short of that goal. The problems include “a tangled web of transactions” according to State Auditor Tim Keller. At the center of many of the findings are two non-profits that aid the athletics department in fundraising, the UNM Foundation and the UNM Lobo Club.
A recently released email showed that former University of New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs asked Gov. Susana Martinez’s top political adviser for advice about the search for the university’s new men’s basketball coach. An Albuquerque Journal reporter received the email through a public records request that also revealed information on other athletic department issues, including a controversial Scotland golf trip where the university paid for donors’ expenses. The revelation came after the Journal reported political influence in Santa Fe was part of the search for a new Lobos basketball coach. The coaching job is perhaps the most prominent state position, and is always among the most highly-paid. A Journal reporter asked Krebs via email, “Are you making this hire?
Plutonium capable of being used in a nuclear weapon, conventional explosives, and highly toxic chemicals have been improperly packaged or shipped by nuclear weapons contractors at least 25 times in the past five years, according to government documents. While the materials were not ultimately lost, the documents reveal repeated instances in which hazardous substances vital to making nuclear bombs and their components were mislabeled before shipment. That means those transporting and receiving them were not warned of the safety risks and did not take required precautions to protect themselves or the public, the reports say. The risks were discovered after regulators conducted inspections during transit, when the packages were opened at their destinations, during scientific analysis after the items were removed from packaging, or — in the worst cases — after releases of radioactive contaminants by unwary recipients, the Center for Public Integrity’s investigation showed. Only a few, slight penalties appear to have been imposed for these mistakes.