New Mexico has more than 300 buildings and other structures built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps nearly a century ago. These buildings include courthouses, schools, women’s clubs and some structures and trails on National Parks and Monuments such as those at Bandelier National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The CCC and WPA could not have been successful without the people working for them. One of these workers was Donald C. Woolsey of Comanche, Texas, father of Joann Tally of Alamogordo. “Daddy did everything to support America,” Tally said.
With the exception of 16-to-25-year olds, a study found that some women pay more than men for car insurance in New Mexico, according to a consumer advocacy group. According to the data, provided by Consumer Federation of America, the difference in annual average pay rates between a single woman and a single man are small as long as all other factors are equal. But, if a woman has a poor credit history, the rate differences between what that woman pays compared to what a man with good credit history pays can be considerable, according to the data. One example is a 35-year-old single female driver with a perfect driving record but poor credit who lives in zip code 87121, which encompasses an area of Albuquerque’s Westside and west of Albuquerque. This hypothetical female pays, on average, $621.20 more annually for car insurance than a male with better credit credit.
It is nearly a guarantee that recreational cannabis legalization will be one of the main talking points and likely a wedge issue during next year’s legislative session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made it clear since she ran for governor and throughout her nearly two years in office that she wants to see cannabis legalized.
There have been repeated efforts to fully legalize recreational-use cannabis for a number of years, but under former Gov. Susana Martinez those attempts repeatedly failed. Now, with a governor advocating for legalization, backed with potentially millions of dollars, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for proponents of legalization.
But both the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions showed that it takes more than the governor’s support to legalize cannabis. For the past five years, even under the Martinez administration, no such effort to legalize cannabis even came close to getting to the governor’s desk. Now, even months before legislation can be filed, lawmakers are already discussing the merits and downsides of legalization.
New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department along with the state’s Human Services Department settled in federal court last week with a group of plaintiffs that include children in foster care. The suit alleged that the state’s foster program was severely lacking in services and resources.
Both CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock and the plaintiff’s legal team are touting the settlement agreement as the first of its kind as it incorporates changes to the system through a collaborative effort.
Kathryn Eidmann, with national pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is part of the plaintiff’s legal team. Eidmann called the collaborative settlement agreement “groundbreaking and the first of its kind in the nation.”
“[The agreement] centers the impact that trauma has on young people in the foster system and designs a system that is trauma responsive at every stage and every step of the process,” Eidmann said. “That truly does make New Mexico a national leader and a national model that other reformers in this area can look to as they think about reforming their own system to better meet the needs of children in care.”
The settlement stipulates a time table and benchmarks for changes to the state’s foster care program. For example, by the end of this year, the state will ensure no children are housed in hotels or state offices.
Current state restrictions, and more looming, due to the emergence of COVID-19 in New Mexico raises the question for some people: Is this legal? Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared an emergency earlier this month, she has ordered purchasing restrictions, limited group gatherings and ordered restaurants to limit service to take-out only.
While at least one New Mexico scholar and the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union agree that the governor’s actions can be justified, an Albuquerque attorney does not and has said he is working towards challenging the order in court.
Matthew Simpson, who teaches political theory at the University of New Mexico, said there’s a balance in U.S. government between public safety and personal freedoms, and in times of crisis, safety usually wins.
“The measures that might be best for promoting people’s well being isn’t really compatible with maximizing their liberties and so government officials have to try to balance those two and have to weigh them against each other,” Simpson said. “I think at the end of the day protection of life has to take precedence, and usually does take precedence, over the protections of liberty, just because you can’t have liberty if you’re not alive.”
Simpson added that even though New Mexicans are currently restricted from physically gathering in groups of more than ten, their right to assemble is arguably not being violated. “The government isn’t saying you can’t talk to people about your common concerns, they’re just saying you can’t engage in these behaviors that are going to be vectors for this deadly disease,” Simpson said.
But that doesn’t mean putting public safety above rights always works out, he said. The Supreme Court sided with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when faced with whether U.S. Japanese internment camps during World War II violated personal rights.
“I think with the benefit of hindsight, almost everybody thinks that that was just a fundamental violation of rights,” Simpson said.
Starting Monday there will be significantly fewer prosecutors in Bernalillo County’s district court. Raul Torrez, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney, issued a letter to the state Supreme Court Thursday notifying justices that Torrez’s staff will not appear in person to any proceedings that can be done over video conferencing.
“As of Monday, March 23, 2020, my attorneys and staff will not appear in person for any hearings which can be constitutionally conducted by video conference technology,” Torrez wrote.
His announcement came days after the state Supreme Court added additional restrictions for court proceedings amid a growing number of positive COVID-19 tests in the state.
In his letter, Torrez said his office took part in a test video conference with public defenders and a state district court judge. He argued that the test was proof that current technology will allow courts to preserve constitutional rights and public safety.
“Unfortunately, despite viable technological alternatives, in-person hearings continue to be set for routine matters that do not legally require the physical presence of any of the parties involved,” Torrez wrote. “Courtrooms continue to gather too many people into confined spaces, unnecessarily placing my employees, their families, defendants, court personnel, and the entire community at risk.”
Torrez’s letter echoed concerns he and others in the justice system sent to the Supreme Court last week. Both the state’s District Attorney’s Association and the Law Offices of the Public Defender issued their own letters to the Supreme Court.
The Albuquerque City Council voted Monday night 6-3 to approve a measure that would allow the city’s mayor to declare a public health emergency and receive federal and state funds. The measure would also give authority to the mayor to limit large gatherings and limit the amount of supplies consumers purchase during a public health crisis.
The sponsor of the proposal, Council President Pat Davis, said he began working on the measure last month to update the city’s emergency provision law that has remained mostly the same since the late 1960s.
“It was clear that we needed an update,” Davis said.
During his opening statement on the legislation, Davis said the city law that allows a mayor to declare a state of emergency was developed during a time of war protests that often led to violence and riots.
But the measure was met by heavy scrutiny by Councilor Brook Bassan, who offered 10 amendments that she said were aimed at being less restrictive to citizens. Only three passed. Bassan referenced a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin regarding giving up rights in the name of safety and raised concerns that the proposal might go too far.
“We are considering surrendering our freedoms,” Bassan said. The overarching theme from Bassan was that even if social distancing and limiting large gatherings is needed to stop the spread of a disease, it doesn’t need to be dictated by city leaders.
“Even though we need to have these measures in place, even though we need to be able to be capable of enacting these laws to protect our society, guess what?
For the first time, possibly ever, the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender last week shut its physical offices to the public. Now the office is asking the state’s Supreme Court to postpone all pending trials and allow essential hearings to be done by phone.
In response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state, signs posted on the office’s door last week informed the public that all business should be handled remotely, if possible.
In a statement released Sunday, Chief Public Defender Ben Baur acknowledged the importance of speedy trials, but said the health of those clients and public defender staff should take priority.
“If this virus gets into one of our jails, the conditions are such that it could spread rapidly in close quarters, and many people in jail are already in poor health,” Baur said.
The state Supreme Court already ordered limited actions in court buildings across the state, but said criminal trials should continue. Baur spoke last week with NM Political Report about the decision to close physical offices.
“Our doors will be closed to the general public and all LOPD business should be conducted via telephone and email, to the extent possible,” Baur said. “That’s to protect our clients as much as us.”
But unlike public schools or other events around the state, the LOPD cannot fully shut down.
Baur said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many cases would be impacted by a hold on trials, but that the number is “easily over 100.” He said since the state first confirmed COVID-19 cases, the LOPD has been trying to utilize any and all resources to keep large groups out of court rooms and law offices.
Alec Ortenstein, the managing attorney for the LOPD office in McKinley County, said he has been working with the county’s district attorney to minimize the amount of people in court and the amount of time they spend there.
“Our district attorney and I see completely eye to eye on this issue,” Orenstein said.
A recreational cannabis legalization bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, while a bill that would limit who can become a medical cannabis patient moved on. Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who has pushed for legalization in various ways for a number of years.
Ortiz y Pino’s legalization bill, SB 115, by far received the most debate and criticism, particularly from the committee’s chairman Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. Cervantes, who has long pushed for decriminalization, but has said he does not favor full legalization, said he was more concerned with problematic language in the almost 200-page bill. He spent more than 30 minutes going through some of his concerns, one of which was fairness.
“This bill reflects one of the weaknesses in this state which is the propensity to pick winners and losers,” Cervantes said.
He meticulously picked apart the bill and cited provisions that he said seemed unfair like a section that aims to include organized labor in cannabis production companies and a section that would create a subsidy program for indigent medical cannabis patients. Cervantes also said he didn’t like that the bill would allow those with previous drug convictions to get into the industry, even invoking the name of infamous drug lord El Chapo.
The bill was tabled on a 6-3 vote.
The state of New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department could be on the hook for millions of dollars in tax refunds to medical cannabis producers after a state Court of Appeals ruling made earlier this week.
In her opinion filed on Tuesday, Court of Appeals Judge Monica Zamora wrote that medical cannabis producers should be able deduct gross receipts taxes just as pharmacies do for sales of prescription drugs. Under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, the state’s medical cannabis law, medical cannabis is not prescribed to patients. Instead, qualified medical professionals issue a recommendation to the state Department of Health for each patient.
Zamora cited the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, which says that restricted drugs “shall be dispensed only . . .
A cannabis legalization bill passed its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs voted 4-3 along party lines to pass SB 115 after hours of public comment and debate between lawmakers.
Even though a number of people spoke against legalization, they were largely outnumbered by those in favor of it.
For the most part, those who spoke out in opposition said they were concerned about safety and health issues like driving while impaired and addiction.
The bill’s sponsor and the committee chair, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, did not present the bill. Instead, legalization proponent and medical cannabis patient Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, took the lead on selling the bill to the committee
Candelaria answered some concerns about testing drivers for cannabis use. There is no test for levels of cannabis like there is for alcohol. “Just because there is no test, doesn’t mean people won’t get caught for DWI,” Candelaria said.