Carlsbad wrestles with oil, gas boom

Seated on the floor of First Christian Church on a recent Sunday morning, Pastor Dave Rogers pierces the heart of a debate in Carlsbad as it adapts to a historic oil and natural gas boom. Rogers recounts to three children the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man from a despised group helps a traveler beaten, robbed and left for dead after religious passers-by ignore him. “I wonder what it’s like to be a neighbor to somebody we don’t know and that needs our help,” Rogers asks his young listeners as a dozen or so adults, mostly senior citizens, look on. Welcoming strangers and helping neighbors are values many in the small congregation – and broader community – identify with Carlsbad.

Are New Mexico’s hospitals shortchanging community health?

In Albuquerque’s poorest neighborhoods where few grocers offer healthy produce, a cornucopia of subsidized fruits and vegetables for hundreds of families. In San Juan County, where more than one in 10 residents is diabetic, personalized classes to help participants reduce their risk of developing the disease by incorporating physical activity and healthy eating into their daily lives. And in Santa Fe County, where dozens of people die each year of drug overdoses, a facility where anyone with a substance abuse disorder can walk in to get sober, and then hopefully move on to treatment and recovery. What connects these otherwise disparate public health initiatives, and others around the state, is that they are supported, in part, by millions of dollars from the state’s nonprofit hospitals. It’s not simple generosity that motivates the largesse.

Bridging silos to solve climate change

Sea ice is melting, droughts and wildfires are becoming more severe, and countless other effects are currently being experienced around the world due to changes in climate. But because many people around the world don’t feel the effects directly, little action is taken to combat it, said Subhankar Banerjee, Professor of Art and Ecology at the University of New Mexico. 

A good example, Banerjee said, is in northern New Mexico, where it’s “largely unknown” that roughly 90% of mature piñons died in the early 2000s, which Banerjee said shows the impact of both an ecological crisis and a climate crisis. Banerjee spoke to an audience in Las Cruces in late November about the decimation of hundreds of animal and plant species around the world. The 2018 global “Living Planet Report” produced by the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation organization, indicates an overall decline of 60% in vertebrate populations worldwide — animals such as mammals, birds, reptiles and fish — between 1970 and 2014. 

“This crisis as I see it is a more expansive crisis than the climate crisis,” Banerjee said. But the climate crisis is significant.

Low pay: A stumbling block for quality childcare

Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. 

“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities.

New Yazzie court filings seek more action on education

The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education. 

Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.

Welcome to Spanish Week: The promise of dual language education

The sign on the door of Claudia Sanchez’s fourth grade class at Mesquite Elementary says “Welcome to Spanish Week.”

The plastic-covered sheet signals to students that this week they’re learning math, science, reading and other subjects in Spanish. It also signals that this isn’t your typical bilingual classroom. 

This is one of Gadsden Independent School District’s dual language immersion classrooms, where students spend half their time in Spanish and the other half in English, and where the goal is not just to become fluent in English, but to become biliterate. In other words, to read, write, listen and speak in two languages. 

Gadsden’s bilingual programs have won praise for their consistency and strategic use of data to help their students succeed where others struggle. Of the district’s 16 elementary schools, 12 have earned A’s or B’s from the Public Education Department. That’s more impressive when you consider that nearly 40% of its students are learning English, compared with 14% of students statewide — and the overwhelming majority of its students are low income.

Criminal justice race, ethnicity data may be coming to NM

A state senator says she’ll push for laws in the coming years to answer a long-troubling question in New Mexico: does the criminal justice system here disproportionately target non-white people? Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and former law professor, tells New Mexico In Depth she was “stunned” to learn during this year’s legislative session, her first in the Senate, that few agencies collect or share data on the race and ethnicity of people caught up in the system. “I thought, how was I not aware of this?,” she said in an interview this week. “It was really weird.”

So Sedillo Lopez is working up a memorial she plans to introduce at the 2020 session, which begins in January, directing the New Mexico Sentencing Commission to study how — and whether — the state’s jails and prisons gather demographic information on people who are locked up or on probation. Though she doesn’t yet have a detailed plan for the next step, she aims to use the study to bolster a bill in 2021 that would “ensure that this data is collected and continues to be collected regardless of who’s in charge.”

The Sentencing Commission says it’ll be glad to do the work.

More water or more wild: The decades-long struggle over the Gila River’s fate

This story was published in collaboration with Bitterroot, an online magazine about the politics, economy, culture, and environment of the West. On the sunny afternoon decades ago when M.H. “Dutch” Salmon first set eyes on the Gila River, he was not impressed. “This was no river,” he would later write. “It was a stream, and standing on the bank, I could see that if you picked out a riffle, you could cross on foot without wetting your knees.” Rivers he knew growing up in the East could float freighters. “This Gila,” he wrote, “would ground a canoe.”

Indeed, the Gila where Salmon first saw it runs shallow and warm in the summer.

BernCo DA: New Mexico AG should review questionable police shootings

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez says he’s done waiting for a so-called “DA panel” to determine whether the Albuquerque police officer who killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes in 2014 should be prosecuted. Instead, the first-term, Democratic DA in New Mexico’s most populous district wants the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer to decide. He has referred the case to state Attorney General Hector Balderas, according to a letter he sent to the Hawkes family’s legal team, which was obtained by New Mexico In Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter on Friday. 

And according to the letter, the Hawkes case is just the first. Going forward, he intends to refer all police shooting cases to the AG for a second look if his special prosecutors return recommendations that no charges be filed against the shooting officer. Not so fast, says Matt Baca, Balderas’ spokesman and general counsel.

Agreement on NM probation, parole reforms seems stuck in the mud

Lawmakers and prosecutors appear as far apart as ever on reform proposals for New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham admonishing them to find common ground in April. That’s when the first-term Democratic governor vetoed a reform bill — with significant consternation — that would have shifted the systems away from incarceration as a first resort and likely seen significantly fewer people returning to prison and jail. 

The disagreements center largely on who should be locked back up for violating their probation and who should not, and a change that would have required the Parole Board to issue detailed, written findings when it denies someone’s release after 30 years behind bars. If changes favored by legislators become law, potentially thousands of people in New Mexico who are currently locked up would remain under state supervision, but not behind bars. It could burden the justice system, creating the need for new jobs and monitoring mechanisms, but also save the public millions in lock-up costs, legislative analysts say. Lawmakers have pushed the changes because they say a shift toward rehabilitation and providing services to lower-level offenders can help them turn their lives around and stay out of the justice system.