Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.
Common Cause New Mexico, a group that advocates for ethics and campaign finance legislation, released its first legislative scorecard this week. The scorecard is designed to track the legislators’ performance on ethics, transparency and good government bills. Common Cause New Mexico did not name anyone “champions” or “opponents” as other advocacy groups do with their scorecards. Instead, it just shows how legislators voted on five bills in 2015 and six bills in 2016. “The report is in keeping with our pledge that everyone—legislators, lobbyists and advocates—needs to be held accountable for their actions, their votes, their contributions and expenditures,” Viki Harrison, director of Common Cause New Mexico, said.
Senate Democratic leaders accused the governor’s office of spreading misinformation on the REAL ID Act even as they announced their plan to comply with the federal identification law. The Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, made the announcement on Tuesday and included audio of what they said was a phone call made to the governor’s office about the need for passports to travel. They said the audio showed a member of Martinez’s office saying that New Mexicans would need a passport—not just a state-issued driver’s license—to travel by January 10 of next year. Federal officials have said that New Mexicans would need passports or other identification to enter some federal facilities by next January but that travel through airports would not be enforced until at least the spring. “It is time to clear up for New Mexico residents whether they need to run out and get a passport, or not, in order to take a domestic commercial flight, or to enter a federal building or one of the military or research facilities in our state.
Conservation Voters New Mexico released the group’s annual conservation scorecard that rates legislators on how they voted on select conservation bills. While releasing the card, the group noted that it has successfully fought back what it calls anti-conservation legislation for 11 years in a row—but the new House Republican majority made it a more difficult fight. “We knew that we were in for a brutal fight to hold back the anti-conservation legislation,” executive director Demis Foster said on the conference call announcing the results. Foster said that a new trend showed more legislators than ever—37—earned 100 percent scores while more legislators than ever —nine—earned a 0 percent score. Senate scores higher than House
Members of the Senate received higher scores from CVNM than the House.
New Mexico legislators are joining the conversation on drones and discussing the devices’ role in the state. The interim Science, Technology & Telecommunications Committee heard a presentation on Monday about the use of drones in New Mexico. Present at the meeting was Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park. McCamley, a supporter of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs, told New Mexico Political Report that he would like to see more legislation that outlines how and when drones can be used for personal use. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits the commercial use of drones without an FAA approved pilot’s license.
Starting today, cops in New Mexico can no longer take personal property without convicting someone, child predators will face tougher penalties and frozen powdered alcohol products are now recognized as being under state liquor control. These are just a handful of the 62 laws passed earlier this year during the regular state legislative session. Seventy-nine other new laws went into effect last month, while others with the emergency clause went into effect even earlier. The new civil asset forfeiture law is perhaps the most impactful and passed both chambers of the Legislature with wide support, netting no votes against it from either the state House of Representatives or the state Senate. Before, law enforcement officers could arrest someone and seize a personal item, such as their car, without proof that this person committed a crime.
State Rep. Deborah Armstrong watched with interest while California debated changes to the law on exemptions vaccinations for children. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that would give California one of the strictest laws regarding vaccination exemptions. The other two states with similarly strict laws are West Virginia and Mississippi; Mississippi has the highest rate of vaccinated children in the nation. “I’m glad to see that there was support and recognition that something needs to be done to not have exemptions be really easy, but for legitimate reasons to be able to have an exemption,” the Albuquerque Democrat told New Mexico Political Report in a short phone interview on Wednesday morning. Armstrong introduced legislation in this year’s New Mexico legislative session that would close a loophole in the state’s vaccination law.
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday leaves the door open for a big change to New Mexico’s redistricting system–if legislators and voters choose to implement the changes. The nation’s high court ruled 5-4 on Monday that an independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Arizona is one of sixteen states with similar processes for redistricting. Supporters of such commissions say that by taking the decision out of the hands of partisan politicians, oddly shaped districts designed to protect one party or politician will no longer be the norm. Opponents argued that this meant legislators would be abrogating their constitutional duty on making districts for elections.
Democratic lawmakers felt the brunt of Gov. Susana Martinez’s 42 capital outlay project vetoes, with 27 of those projects sponsored solely by Democrats. But Martinez did veto some GOP projects, including three Albuquerque projects advocated by House Majority Leader Nate Gentry. A key aspect of the capital outlay appropriation process involves lawmakers recommending local projects on behalf of their constituents. Only a fraction of the projects make it into the bill, when legislators must choose how to allocate their share of the bond money. The $294 million bill included $84 million for lawmaker projects, divided equally between the House and Senate, then divided equally between the lawmakers in each body.
Schools can no longer deny students access to programs because they refuse to take psychotropic medications, references to a key aspect of No Child Left Behind are gone forever in New Mexico public schools and e-cigarettes are now considered tobacco products, according to new state laws that went into effect today. June 19, 2015 marks the day when roughly half of the new legislation passed by state lawmakers in the 2015 session becomes law. In total, 79 new laws are now in place. They include a bill sponsored by state Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, called “No Compelled Medication Use For Students.” It bars school administrators and employees from compelling “specific actions by the parent or guardian or require that a student take psychotropic medication,” according to its fiscal impact analysis.