White House move to end ‘birth tourism’ discriminatory and misleading, say advocates

The White House announced Thursday it is halting the practice of what it calls “birth tourism” but New Mexico reproductive justice advocates call the new rule discriminatory and say it puts migrants at risk. As of Friday the State Department stopped issuing temporary visitor visas to nonresidents who enter in order to give birth on American soil. The practice enables the baby to be a U.S. citizen. Although it’s not known how many people engage in birth tourism, some conservatives consider it a “loophole” in immigration policy. But reproductive justice advocates call foul and say it’s another tool to demonize immigrants in general, and women immigrants and pregnant immigrants in particular.

Lawmakers renew effort to alter practice of diverting federal aid to rural schools

New Mexico for years has taken a large share of federal education aid intended for rural schools that lie in areas with large parcels of public and tribal lands and has distributed it to other districts, including urban ones. Legislation that would have undone the long-standing practice quietly died last year. State lawmakers have renewed the effort with more force in the current legislative session, introducing at least four bills designed to make up for tens of millions of dollars in federal Impact Aid diverted each year from rural districts, including many that serve Native American students. “It’s an issue of fairness,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who co-sponsored one of the bills. While New Mexico funds public school districts through a formula based on student numbers using money from several sources — including oil and gas revenues — school districts in many states heavily rely on property taxes.

Education committee members decry public school spending plans

Lawmakers on the state House and Senate education committees on Wednesday decried the lack of funds proposed for some of their priorities for fiscal year 2021, indicating a deeper conflict is broiling over the largest share of the state’s budget as the Legislature and governor begin hashing out differences in their spending plans. During a joint hearing on public school funding proposed by both the Legislative Finance Committee and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, education committee members said their input over the past year has been ignored. The initiatives they cited as underfinanced or omitted completely ranged from cybersecurity to teacher recruitment and retention efforts to providing feminine hygiene products for teen girls. Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and former school board member who serves on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee, said she didn’t think the voices of educators, school administrators and higher education officials were “entirely reflected” in the competing budget proposals. “I feel like we have been left in the lurch,” added Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, a former teacher and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Pueblo eyes film production facility to meet what state says is rising demand

Tesuque Pueblo is actively pursuing plans to turn its old Camel Rock Casino into a film production facility after the space was used last year for the movie production of News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. 

The Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp. is in talks with scouts for film and television companies about using the location for future productions, said Timothy Brown, the entity’s president and CEO. The former casino, located off U.S. 84/285, could be used on a short- or long-term basis or rented to a major production company, he said. 

“We feel it’s a great use of that facility,” Brown said Wednesday. “It’s a great space because of the numerous rooms and the size of the rooms for production facilities, wardrobe, building sets and for storage.” The pueblo’s pivot to film comes as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says demand for production facilities in the state is on the rise.

PHOTOS: Opening day at the Legislature

Elected officials from around the state gathered at the Roundhouse on Tuesday for the opening day of the Legislature. Here’s a look at the day in photos. Climate activists representing the New Mexico chapter of the Extinction Rebellion held banners and waved flags outside the Roundhouse. Extinction Rebellion New Mexico held an event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday to give testimony before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) at a hearing about PNM’s proposal for replacing power generated at the San Juan Generating Station with natural gas and renewable energy alternatives. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, center, at the opening day of the Legislature.

Musical chairs with Senate committee leadership

The New Mexico Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved three new leaders for key committees, including Sen. Joseph Cervantes as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He succeeds a longtime colleague, Richard Martinez, who was convicted last month of aggravated drunken driving. Earlier in the day, the Senate Committees’ Committee, which chooses members of other panels that debate legislation before it reaches the Senate floor, selected Cervantes for the high-profile leadership position in which he likely will influence two key issues: legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, which he opposes, and a firearms restriction for people considered at risk of harming someone, which he supports. Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, relinquished the committee chairmanship after his conviction but did not step down from his Senate seat. Martinez injured two people in a drunken-driving crash in Española in June.

Egolf challenger Johnston begins 7 day fast on Capitol steps

The woman who is challenging the state’s Speaker of the House for his seat in this year’s elections began the first of seven days of fasting and public engagement on the steps of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe Monday. Lyla June Johnston, who will face Santa Fe Democrat Brian Egolf in the Democratic primary, will be unveiling the pillars of her seven-point “Seven Generations New Deal” platform each day of the “Fast for the Future” event. The campaign is focused heavily on addressing the climate crisis and protecting the planet for future generations. “It’s a seven day fast because we want policy to support the next seven generations. It’s a very long-view policy outlook,” Johnston told NM Political Report, something she believes is missing from our current political leadership.

New Mexico finance panel skeptical of tuition-free college plan

Members of the Legislative Finance Committee from both sides of the aisle cited concerns Monday about the governor’s $35 million plan for a scholarship program that aims to make tuition free for many in-state students attending New Mexico’s public colleges and universities. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, one of her key initiatives for the 2020 legislative session, would make higher education accessible to a larger number of high school graduates, lower the burden of student loans and help reverse a trend of declining enrollment at colleges. But lawmakers’ comments during a hearing on the proposal Monday, a day before the session’s start, raised questions about whether it will gain enough support to pass the Legislature. “I see a whole lot of problems,” Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, a member of the Legislative Finance Committee, told Higher Education Secretary Kate O’Neill. 

Among the problems Muñoz cited: The scholarship could create an  incentive for eligible students to choose a four-year university over a two-year community college, leaving smaller schools with stagnant or declining enrollment. Muñoz said he’d like to see the tuition aid apply to community colleges first to increase student numbers at those institutions.

New billboards aim to start conversation about abortion access

A grassroots advocacy group launched a billboard campaign Monday to promote keeping abortion safe and legal and to spark conversations about abortion access. The two billboards, from ProgressNow New Mexico*, will be on I-25 near the Budagher Drive exit, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The signs face both north and south so drivers traveling in either direction will be able to see the message. The two highway billboards both say, “Rape is about power and control. So are abortion bans.”

The second billboard will be on the side of a truck driving around the state Capitol building and downtown Santa Fe Tuesday.

Oil Conservation Division can enforce oil regulations for first time in a decade

The state agency charged with regulating the oil and gas industry can once again enforce those rules by imposing penalties. The Oil Conservation Division (OCD), a division of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), adopted a new rule Thursday which enables the OCD to assess penalties to oil and gas producers operating in the state for violations of New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Act. It’s the first time the OCD has had the authority to impose fines for violations since 2009. The rule change stemmed from the Fluid Oil and Gas Waste Act — also known as the Produced Water Act — which passed during the 2019 legislative session. A provision of that bill enshrined into law the OCD’s ability to assess monetary penalties between $2,500 to $10,000 to oil and gas producers in violation of state law of, depending on the nature and severity of the violation.