Former inmates want voting rights restored

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Adam John Griego is dreaming of the day he can vote again. 

The 50-year-old Santa Fean, who spent two years in prison for a felony drug possession charge, anticipates how it will feel when he can finally cast a ballot once more: “Liberating,” he said. “Like freedom.” That’s important for a man who has been free for more than two years but still feels incarcerated in so many ways, he said during a break from working on a vehicle at Great Little Cars in Santa Fe. 

“It’s weird because you come out of prison and you feel like you’re still in prison, if that makes sense, because there’s always someone watching you,” he said, his eyes searching for something — acceptance, perhaps — as he shared the circumstances leading to his fight to restore voting rights to felons after they get out of prison. “There’s a paranoia attached to it,” he said. Recalling the many doors that first opened — jobs, housing opportunities, a chance to buy a vehicle — and then shut after a background check came through, he said he is now working to help others like him regain a sense of right.

Adult sexual misconduct ‘prevalent’ in New Mexico’s public schools

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Two years after being recognized as the girls track coach of the year at Los Lunas High School, Johnathon Bindues was in handcuffs, accused of exchanging thousands of sexually explicit text messages with a freshman on the team. In Grants, a former female high school athlete reported she had been sexually assaulted twice by an assistant coach for the girls soccer team. The accused, Adrian Molina, was a New Mexico State Police officer at the time. In Pecos, three basketball coaches have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past five years alone. The most recent case involves Joshua Rico, a former high school assistant boys basketball coach authorities say used the instant messaging app Snapchat to coerce girls into engaging in sexual acts and sending him sexually explicit photos and videos.

State Public Education Secretary Steinhaus announces retirement

By Nathan Brown and Phill Casaus, The Santa Fe New Mexican

It’s almost as if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Cabinet has sprung a leak. Three Cabinet secretaries have said they were departing within the past week — the most recent Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, whose retirement was announced Saturday in a news release from the Governor’s Office. Steinhaus follows John Garcia and Dr. David Scrase, who last week said they were leaving the General Services and Human Services departments, respectively. Steinhaus’ last day was Friday. Children’s Cabinet Director Mariana Padilla will serve as interim head of the department until a permanent appointment is named.

House panel discusses big changes to Game and Fish management

By Nathan Brown, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Two bills to make big changes to wildlife management in New Mexico got their first hearing in a House committee Saturday. House Bill 183, which would abolish the Game and Fish Department and turn it into a division within the Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department, stalled on a 5-5 vote, with one Democrat joining the Republicans to oppose it. However, House Bill 184, which would change the way seats are allocated on the State Game Commission by getting rid of the current system of districts and creating seats for specific groups such as conservationists and hunters, made it out of the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 6-3 vote. Committee Chairman Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, is sponsoring both bills. He and other supporters pitched them as measures to create a better-run and less politicized department.

Lawmakers take field trip to get firsthand taste of school meals

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Members of the powerful Senate Finance Committee took a field trip Friday to get a taste of what New Mexico students are eating at school — part of a fact-finding mission as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham champions a proposal to provide pupils free breakfast and lunch regardless of family income. Four of the 11 committee members — three Democrats and one Republican — boarded an electric bus outside the state Capitol just after 10 a.m. and traveled about six and a half miles to Ramirez Thomas Elementary, a school in southwest Santa Fe where all the students receive free breakfast and lunch. Four other committee members, all Democrats, drove separately and joined their colleagues in the cafeteria to break bread with the students. “We just wanted to see what a school lunch menu looks like,” said committee Chairman Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. “Are they eating it all?

Additional learning time soars through key committee with bipartisan support

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Educators may be divided on a bill that would extend the number of hours they spend teaching students and building their own skills and knowledge, but lawmakers displayed rare bipartisan support for the initiative. The House Education Committee on Friday voted unanimously to endorse House Bill 130, which would mandate an increase in learning time in public schools to 1,140 hours, including up to 60 hours of professional development for teachers, while allowing districts some flexibility in when to add the hours. “This is a good start to address some of the needs we have,” said Rep. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas. Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said lawmakers have to take the bill seriously because of the “tremendous negative impact on our students” stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some lawmakers, particularly those in rural communities with four-day weeks in public schools, initially expressed displeasure with the idea of expanding to a fifth day or into the summer months when the plan was introduced.

 Scrase announces retirement as state human services secretary

By Phill Casaus and Daniel J. Chacón

Dr. David Scrase, whose near-weekly briefings during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic often served as a barometer of the state’s desperate fight against the virus, announced he will retire from state government late next month. The announcement came late Friday afternoon, often a time when officials release surprising or disquieting news. Scrase, the Cabinet secretary of the state Human Services Department, is one of the few holdovers remaining from the original members of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Cabinet in early 2019. In 2021 and 2022, Scrase did double duty. He ran Human Services while also heading the Department of Health on an interim basis in the maw of the pandemic, as the state’s tenuous health care system teetered beneath the weight of critical cases.

As Water Trust Fund dries up, Wirth champions bill to infuse it with $250M

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A state fund that has helped finance dozens of water infrastructure projects around New Mexico since it was created nearly two decades ago is drying up. The State Investment Council has been sounding the alarm for years, warning the so-called Water Trust Fund, which it manages, could be depleted within 15 years without an additional infusion of capital or a restructuring of its distribution requirements of $4 million a year. “This fund is on a terminal path,” Charles Wollmann, the council’s director of communications, legislative and client relations, said Thursday. “It is going to die unless there are additional appropriations or it would have to slash its annual distribution.” A windfall to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars may be on the way.

Bill would add penalties for livestock rustling

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

This is no bull — and no joke. There’s a crime still all too common to those who run farms and ranches around New Mexico: livestock rustling. And not just cattle theft. Horses, donkeys, pigs, llamas and all sorts of poultry are also being hauled away by truck, trailer and any other means possible, agricultural experts say. In the days of the old West, rustlers who were caught ended up hanging from a tree or scaffold, said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell.

Legislative Roundup: 1/26

Days remaining in session: 51

Active shooter training: The full Senate and legislative staffers attended a closed-door active shooter training Thursday. “Training taking place — no entry,” stated signs on the doors to the Senate gallery. Before a reporter was asked to leave the media gallery overlooking the chamber, Paula Ulibarri, sergeant at arms for the Senate, told attendees she didn’t want them to be paranoid but prepared. “I know you have other places you should be and want to be and have things to do,” she said. “But in this day and age, this is very important to every one of you.”

Ulibarri continued, “This can happen anywhere at any time, and I want you, if nothing else, when you go from this class, I want you to be aware of your surroundings.”

The training was conducted by two New Mexico State Police officers, one of whom told the group the FBI had changed the term from “active shooter” to “active killer.”

“That’s what the person who’s in the building [is] trying to do,” he said.