Dismal Kids Count data tracks with Martinez administration

The easiest number to understand in the just-released 2019 Annie E. Casey Kid’s Count report is that New Mexico ranks 50th overall in child well-being. That’s a stark ranking, the second year in a row New Mexico earned that distinction. For detractors and supporters of former governor Susana Martinez, there’s a lot to digest in the numbers released Monday because they track with nearly her entire tenure. The chart below shows the Kids Count rankings in several categories for 2012-2019, but most of the data comes from 2010-17 (Rankings go back to 1990, but a different methodology was used in those years, making direct comparison difficult). New Mexico results in the annual Kids Count report prepared by NM Voices for Children

“It very much is a reflection of what happened, and more specifically, what didn’t happen during the Martinez years,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which monitors the indicators for New Mexico.

Police watchdog raises concerns over State Police ‘Surge’ in ABQ

A member of Albuquerque’s official police watchdog group is questioning the tactics and results of the recent “Metro Surge Operation,” in which 50 New Mexico State Police officers flooded the city ostensibly to help fight violent crime. “This is the perfect atmosphere, the perfect storm for civil rights violations, and it completely undermines the serious energy people have invested in police reform in Albuquerque,” Chelsea Van Deventer of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board told New Mexico In Depth last week. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Homicides and non-fatal shootings have gone up in Albuquerque in recent months, including the high-profile murder of a University of New Mexico baseball player outside a Nob Hill bar last month. In response, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Mayor Tim Keller, both Democrats, agreed on the “surge,” with Keller’s office saying publicly the operation would focus on “targeting violent crime in Albuquerque.”

The results, according to a KOAT-TV story, have not matched the stated goal.

Judge sees progress in state efforts on Medicaid, SNAP

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuitover the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. 

He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules. Another mom with a teen daughter got benefits approved, but needed to wait more than two weeks for an EBT card. 

This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Oil and gas had little to fear during legislative session

Stepping to the microphone at a press conference wrapping up this year’s legislative session, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, hammered the podium to the drum beat for Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before declaring it the “best, most productive” legislative session in state history. He proclaimed major achievements in education funding, criminal justice reform, a path for carbon-free electricity — and a bill that would save 100,000 acre feet of water each year from use in oil fields. “The produced water bill, I think, is going to go down as one of the greatest environmental accomplishments to come out of the state legislature of New Mexico,” Egolf said. “Just the quantity of fresh, potable water that’s going to be saved for agricultural and municipal use is breathtaking.”

The bill Egolf held up in victory paves the way for recycling wastewater from oil and gas production for reuse by the industry, reducing the need for freshwater in the production process. 

It had the support of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association but was controversial among environmental groups because it sets the stage for such water to see other, non-industrial uses in the future. In the final days of the session it was amended to allow the Oil Conservation Division to issue fines and penalties for permit violations, a measure championed by environmentalists.

Lawmakers point state to new educational future

It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. 

“This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse. 

State lawmakers pumped an additional $500 million into the public schools budget and created a new early education department. Teachers and school administrators received a salary increase. And money for early childhood programs got a boost. 

But bills that emphasized multicultural, bilingual education and strengthened the community school model – ideas that some lawmakers and education advocates consider transformational – seemed destined to die, stuck in legislative committees. 

Then in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, two of them were pulled from certain death and placed on the Senate floor Saturday morning. 

The Multicultural Education Framework, a centerpiece of the Transform Education NM coalition of Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit plaintiffs and community advocates, was defeated, going down on  on a 14-22 vote, with seven Democrats voting against the bill. 

In contrast, a bill that strengthens the community school model, cleared the Senate after contentious debate on a bipartisan vote of 24-15 and and is headed to Lujan Grisham’s desk. A priority of the governor, the community school model provides social supports for struggling students and makes schools a community hub. 

Sen. Mimi Stewart, a retired teacher who chairs the Legislative Education Study Committee, put up a spirited defense of the legislation. 

The community schools idea had been long studied by the LESC, she said.

New direction, and infusion of money, seen for criminal justice system

Lawmakers are hopeful that 2019 brings an opportunity to significantly overhaul major parts of the New Mexico criminal justice system, after what one key state senator called a “lost decade” that saw myriad ideas but scant action. Bills are expected to address chronically high crime rates across the state, with a focus on speedier justice in cases involving violence and more lifeboats for people whose lesser crimes have saddled them with the stigma of a criminal record. Related: Lawmaker confident about criminal justice reform’s chances of passage

There’s talk of a massive “omnibus” bill that would feature changes to New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, reparations for crime victims, the way law enforcement uses eyewitness testimony to seek convictions and several other laws. Then there are the reforms that, in years past, have found support from both political parties but ultimately met the veto pen of Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor who for eight years stuck to her belief that New Mexico needed tougher penalties for lawbreakers, but largely stiff-armed proposals to address systemic injustices. Those shifts — likely to be proposed in individual bills — would include limiting the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails, creating a pathway for some offenders to have their criminal records wiped clean after a period of time and prohibiting private-sector employers from inquiring about job applicants’ past convictions in most instances.

Proposed NM rule change would allow immigrants to work as lawyers regardless of federal status

Interpretation and enforcement of immigration laws seemingly change as fast as finicky weather patterns under President Donald Trump and his advisers, mostly a group self-styled “immigration hardliners.”
In some cases, the courts have thwarted the administration’s attempts at unilaterally limiting who can enter the United States. Contrarily, Trump, without evidence, continues to tout progress on “The Wall” along the nation’s southern border and, most recently, deployed US military forces to stop what he sees as an “invasion” of migrants from the south. The uncertainty leads to big, philosophical questions on governance such as: How far does presidential power go when it comes to immigration policy? In New Mexico, the charged debate over immigration has raised a narrower question for the state’s legal community. Should people in the United States illegally—regardless of whether they are eligible to hold jobs—be allowed to practice law here as long as they’ve passed the state bar exam?

Small donors make a showing for Lujan Grisham

One of the stories that’s emerged during the 2018 election is a surge of online small donors crossing state lines to power insurgent Democratic candidates who the party hopes will lead to a takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of those campaigns is in southern New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district. Democratic candidate Xochitl Torres Small has built a war chest that includes significant small donor support in a race against Republican Yvette Herrell that the Cook Political Report has rated a “toss-up.”

But Torres Small and other Democratic congressional candidates aren’t the only ones benefiting. New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham’s small donor contributions reported with a month left in the campaign have notably outpaced not just her rival, Republican Steve Pearce,  but also candidates in the last two gubernatorial campaigns. And a much larger share of her small donations, those that are $200 or less, come from outside New Mexico.

ABQ Mayor’s hire of controversial ex-prosecutor riles community

Leonard Waites was surprised. The executive director of the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission had just learned from a reporter that Mayor Tim Keller had hired former U.S. Attorney and defeated congressional candidate Damon Martinez as a senior policy adviser for the Albuquerque Police Department. Waites, who is black and also serves as chairman of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board, was outraged last year by the results of a large-scale federal law enforcement operation. Overseen by Martinez, agents had arrested a grossly disproportionate number of black people for relatively minor crimes in 2016. “I have very, very serious concerns about this,” Waites said Monday of Martinez’s hire, adding that he had heard nothing about it from the Keller administration.

Pressure on the Campaign Trail: Battle for CD2 no sweat for Herrell and Torres Small

It’s just over two weeks before Election Day in one of the hottest races in the country — the Second Congressional District covering the southern half of New Mexico. Attack TV ads and nasty mailers have bombarded the air waves and stuffed mailboxes — and in the age of social media, clogged the news feeds of fired-up voters – all paid for by millions in  campaign cash, national Democratic and Republican party support and spending from dark money groups. And nothing points to the onslaught easing before Election Day. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A 2nd Congressional District election is usually a quiet affair ending in a forgone conclusion.