Efforts are underway to craft legislation for regional water utility authorities

With only a few months left before the beginning of the legislative session, efforts are picking up to draft legislation. 

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, hosted a meeting on Tuesday to discuss legislation that would enable the creation of regional water utility authorities similar to the ones that serve communities in the Lower Rio Grande area and Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This is not the legislation’s first rodeo, as Herrera put it. Wirth sponsored the Regional Water Utility Authority Act in 2019, but it died. Currently, small water systems in the state have options like entering into joint power agreements or creating umbrella entities, but these don’t fully address the needs. “I want to believe that timing is everything,” Herrera said.

Use it or lose it: NM Supreme Court rules unused water rights can be lost even if some of the water is used

New Mexicans who do not use all of their groundwater rights for a certain length of time can lose the rights to the unused portion, according to a new ruling out of the state Supreme Court. A well that once provided water to steam engines on a bustling railroad in the now-defunct railroad and mining town of Cutter, located in Sierra County near Truth or Consequences, ceased operations. Since then, only three acre-feet of water per year has been used and the water rights have been transferred to a new owner. This water came from a well built to supply the railroad and livestock. Cutter dates back to the late 1800s when it formed as a mining community.

New Mexico AG Hector Balderas joins in amicus brief supporting lawsuit against Texas’ anti-abortion laws 

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joined and a coalition of 21 attorneys general signed onto an amicus brief in support of Fund Texas Choice v. Paxton, a lawsuit waged to protect abortion access in other states from Texas anti-abortion laws. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, joined 20 other attorneys general in signing the “friend of the court” brief supporting a Texas abortion fund fighting a legal battle to protect interstate travel for abortion care. The brief, filed on Friday, supports the abortion fund’s motion to halt Texas abortion laws that violate the constitutional right to interstate travel by impeding pregnant individuals in Texas from crossing state lines to seek an abortion. According to the motion, Texas’ abortion laws unlawfully interfere with the constitutional right to interstate travel. One of the concerns, according to the brief, is that thousands of individuals who are residents of states such as New Mexico, where abortion is legal, could be living in Texas for college, graduate school or serving as temporary workers and could find themselves in need of an abortion. 

Millions more travel to Texas as visitors, and they, too, could be in need of abortion care while traveling.

ACLU-NM: Surveillance video indicates inmate was beaten at state corrections facility

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico released a surveillance video that shows a group of incarcerated men beat another inmate while two guards look away at the Central New Mexico Corrections Facility in Los Lunas. The video appears to contradict the incident report filed by the guards regarding what took place. New Mexico Department of Corrections told NM Political Report that “an investigation has been initiated and two staff members have been placed on administrative leave.”

“There was an incident reported on August 10, 2022, at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility where a verbal disagreement led to a physical altercation between low-security level inmates actively participating in a work crew. NMCD takes the safety of staff and inmates very seriously and acknowledges the concerning nature of the video,” Carmelina Hart, public relations manager for NMCD, said through email. According to the incident report obtained by the ACLU-NM, a guard confronted the alleged victim, whose name has not been released, about refusing to work and the victim said he would turn violent on the guard.

Lt. Governor contrasts governor’s record on reproductive rights with GOP opponent

Lt. Governor Howie Morales held a press conference in Albuquerque on Monday to highlight Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s record on abortion rights just weeks before early voting and absentee voting begin. Morales spoke, briefly, in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood. He was joined by Marlene Simon, a Santa Fe woman who was raped and had an illegal abortion in 1969, by Dr. Heather Brislen, a New Mexico physician, and by Lila Nezar, a student studying public health at UNM. 

Morales contrasted Lujan Grisham’s record on abortion rights against her GOP opponent, Mark Ronchetti. He highlighted the Legislature’s repeal of the state’s 1969 antiquated abortion ban in 2021. Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which removed the 1969 ban from the state’s criminal code, before the Legislature ended that spring.

Group accuses PNM, AVANGRID of misleading the public

An environment and consumer protection advocacy group said the Public Service Company of New Mexico and AVANGRID engaged in an ad campaign to mislead the public. New Energy Economy filed a motion to show cause with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Friday. In a press release, the group stated that the order to show cause comes as a result of emails from confused New Mexico residents who have seen advertisements that make it look as if PNM and AVANGRID are a single company. The PRC rejected an application for the two entities to merge last year, though that decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. NEE has asked the PRC to investigate what it terms as a “deceptive and misleading co-branding strategy” that it alleges PNM and AVANGRID are engaging in because “they believe that the PRC’s decision is no more than a small pothole on the way to the merger that they are hell-bent on accomplishing.”

“When PNM CFO Don Tarry was deposed in another case, he accidentally referred to the merger as ‘delayed’ rather than its actual status – denied, because the PRC that we elected determined that it would not serve the public interest,” NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said in a press release.

Poll: Lujan Grisham leads Ronchetti by 5 points

The second public poll in as many days showed a lead for incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham—but smaller than the poll released earlier in the week. The poll was conducted by Emerson College for The Hill, which is owned by the same company that owns KRQE-TV. The Emerson College poll found a five percent lead for Lujan Grisham over Republican Mark Ronchetti, 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. The poll did not name Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie, who will appear on the ballot, though 3 percent said they would vote for “someone else.” Another 5 percent were undecided. “New Mexico Hispanic voters support Lujan Grisham over Ronchetti by a ten point margin, 50 percent to 40 percent; the Governor’s lead decreases to two points among White voters,” Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling said in the polling memo.

Revised recovery plan released for Gila trout

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plan on Wednesday for recovering the Gila trout, which is found in high mountain streams in parts of New Mexico and Arizona. The plan prioritizes efforts like reintroducing the fish into historical habitats, removing or managing nonnative trout species and captive breeding of the Gila trout at hatcheries. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gila trout is one of the rarest trout species in the country. It first was listed as endangered in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act passed, but has been recognized as endangered since 1967. It was later downlisted to threatened in 2006.

GOP Senator introduces a federal abortion ban that would limit abortion rights in New Mexico, nationwide

South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, introduced legislation on Tuesday intended to create a federal 15-week ban on abortion with few exceptions. Senate Democrats and reproductive advocates and experts denounced Graham’s efforts to ban abortion at the federal level at 15 weeks gestation. If the bill becomes law, it would not supersede states with greater restrictions, but it would restrict abortion in states, such as New Mexico, where there are currently no restrictions on abortion. 

While Graham’s bill would allow exceptions for incest, rape and maternal health, doctors in states with abortion bans already in place are often uncertain of what medically constitutes exceptions for maternal health. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, told NM Political Report through email that this bill takes away “American’s rights to make their own pregnancy decisions” and that it “is dangerous and needs to be defeated.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat, told NM Political Report through email that “you can bet Democrats are going to fight this ridiculous attempt for a national ban on abortion from the GOP.”

In July the nonpartisan fact tank, Pew Research Center reported that 62 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In addition, 57 percent, or six-in-ten adults, disapproved of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

NM sees highest month in cannabis sales, collective $10 million in tax revenue

New Mexico has collected, or is due to collect, nearly $10 million dollars from cannabis taxes, according to the state’s Regulation and Licensing and Taxation and Revenue departments. 

According to the latest announcement from the Regulation and Licensing Department, July marked the highest sales so far with more than $40 million in combined medical-use and adult-use sales. 

According to numbers provided by Regulation and Licensing, since recreational-use sales started in April, New Mexico has seen a total of about $196 million worth of cannabis sales. About $112 million was for adult-use sales which are taxed by both gross receipts and cannabis excise taxes. The total amount of sales since April, multiplied by the 12 percent cannabis excise tax signals more than $10.5 million in tax revenue, not counting gross receipts taxes on cannabis and related accessories retails might sell. But according to numbers reported by the Taxation and Revenue Department, the state is due about $9.9 million in cannabis excise tax revenue. 

Charlie Moore, a spokesperson for the tax department, told NM Political Report that the difference in numbers is likely due to not all businesses filing taxes on time. 

“The excise tax numbers we provide are a snapshot in time – it’s how much has been reported to us as of the date we run the query,” Moore said. “Though the deadline to report is the 25th of the month, some businesses may be reporting late.” 

The difference between what the tax department has reported and the calculation based on what the Regulation and Licensing has reported is nearly $700,000. Still, accounting for just the cannabis excise tax, the state is a little less than halfway to the $22 million Taxation and Revenue Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke projected the state will see by the end of the fiscal year.