Senate approves bill requiring background checks on all gun sales

The state Senate narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require just about anyone buying a firearm to undergo a background check. This legislation has been a priority for gun control advocates, but all 16 Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate said it would not prevent the sort of mass shootings that have spurred calls for such laws. Scheduled for the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, the Senate’s vote was the biggest test yet for gun control during this legislative session. Majority Democrats won the day on a 22-20 vote. Senate Bill 8 now heads to the state House of Representatives, which already has passed a law on background checks this year and might approve this measure.

State to Air Force: Clean up contamination at Holloman

The state of New Mexico has responded to reports of groundwater contamination at yet another Air Force base—this time, Holloman Air Force Base. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a notice of violation against the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at Holloman, which sits on nearly 60,000 acres just outside the City of Alamogordo. “We are dismayed by the Air Force’s lack of prompt response to the contamination found at Holloman and will use all avenues available to us to hold the military accountable and make affected New Mexicans whole again,” said NMED Secretary-designate James Kenney in a press release from the department. “This Notice of Violation is a step toward ensuring that happens.”

A November 2018 Air Force site inspection report showed contamination levels in some areas at Holloman are 18,000 times the federal limit for PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

Bill would freeze fracking permits while impacts studied

When you’re driving at night through Counselor, N.M., on U.S. 550 the horizon takes on a dusky illumination, almost like daylight, Samuel Sage said during a Monday news conference in Santa Fe. Bright light flares from natural gas being burned off as part of oil and gas production, which has become increasingly common in that area of Northwestern New Mexico, particularly since 2013, said Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation’s Counselor Chapter House. Sage was among several environmental advocates who gathered at the state Capitol in support of a bill that, if passed, would create a four-year moratorium on any new state permits for hydraulic fracturing — a type of deep horizontal drilling that injects high-pressured fluid below ground. The bill also outlines extensive reporting requirements for several state agencies related to the impacts of fracking. “All we want is clean air and clean water,” Sage said.

2018 report shows off-the-charts contamination in Holloman AFB water

The groundwater below Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo tested positive for hazardous chemicals—and the contamination levels are more than 18,000 times higher than what the federal government says is safe.  

A November 2018 site inspection report provided to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and obtained by NM Political Report this week, details the contamination. Currently, the state is trying to understand the extent of the problem and what might be done. According to the report, in 2016, the U.S. Air Force identified 31 potential release sites at Holloman. Two years later, in 2018, contractors tested five areas to determine if PFAS were present in soil, sediment, ground or surface water.

Dems push plan to tap the ‘permanent fund’ for early childhood education

A proposed constitutional amendment to draw more money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education jumped its first hurdle with ease Wednesday. The House Education Committee voted 10-4 on party lines for the measure. Democrats supported the measure, House Joint Resolution 1. It would take another 1 percent — at least $150 million a year — from the $17.5 billion state endowment. The bill’s proponents, including Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, say early childhood education can transform New Mexico, often regarded as one of the worst states in the nation for public education.

Governor adds New Mexico to climate pact states

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed up New Mexico to support the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement on Tuesday. In joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, Lujan Grisham is aligning New Mexico with other states working toward the accord’s goals after President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the international agreement in 2017. Signing an executive order at the state Capitol, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. “I will join 19 other governors who are clear about making sure we do something about climate change irrespective of the failed policies and lack of science that is going on in our federal government today,” Lujan Grisham said. The order is a start, cheered by environmental groups as affirming a pivot from the policies of her predecessor, former Gov. Susana Martinez.

Budget talks for New Mexico energy, water and environment agencies

Each session of the New Mexico Legislature, it’s tempting to rush to cover bills, some of which never make it out of committee, let alone get signed into law. There’s no doubt many important bills are winding their way through the legislature this year—related to renewable energy, healthy soils and pollution fines. But this year, I’m kicking off environment coverage of the 2019 session by looking at what three critical agencies have to work with in terms of budgets and responsibilities. On Friday, the heads of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), New Mexico Environment Department (NEMD) and the Office of the State Engineer presented to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The top staffers were there to answer questions about their department’s budgets, one version recommended by the Legislative Finance Committee analysts and another recommended by the governor’s office.

Shutdown is over, but federal workers remain uncertain

On Monday, federal employees will return to work. For now. After more than 30 days, the partial federal shutdown ended Friday. During that time, almost 11,000 New Mexicans—and 800,000 people nationwide—were either furloughed or working without pay. But many people remain wary, given that the deal worked out between Congress and the White House only reopens the government for three weeks, through February 15.

Democrats’ competing bills aim to boost state’s minimum wage

How high will the statewide minimum wage go? Or will it go at all? For many business owners, that is a key looming question during the 60-day legislative session. The minimum wage in New Mexico, unchanged since 2009, could see an upward adjustment from $7.50 an hour. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, wants to double that to $15 an hour Jan.

For Haaland, climate change is ‘worth losing sleep over’

Elected in November to represent New Mexico’s First Congressional District, Rep. Deb Haaland is among the first of two Native women to join the U.S. Congress. Focusing on her background, national magazines and television programs profiled her even before she swooped to victory on Election Day, outpacing her nearest opponent by more than 20 points. After her first week in Congress, we’d agreed to meet at the Albuquerque BioPark’s Botanic Garden to talk about climate change. And on a cold, cloudy morning, we ducked inside the garden’s faux-cave, complete with giant toadstools and plaster footprints of prehistoric creatures. Neither warm, nor particularly quiet, the cave is a uniquely terrible place to conduct an interview.