Poll finds Hispanic families still in need of relief

A recent survey of 480 Hispanics in the state found that close to half have $1,000 or less in savings and nearly a quarter have $100 or less. The survey from Latino Decisions, in partnership with several other nonprofit organizations, found that 49 percent of Hispanics surveyed have $1,000 or less set aside for emergencies and 24 percent have $100 or less in savings. In addition, 48 percent have had their hours or pay cut since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of 45 elected officials, including some from the state’s three largest cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces as well as other cities and counties around the state, signed a letter sent to New Mexico’s congressional leadership Tuesday asking that all residents, regardless of immigration status, be included in the next federal relief bill. Migrants and refugees who lack social security numbers were left out of the federal relief CARES Act in late March.

After a long battle, the Gila River Diversion project comes to an end

After 25 years, $16 million dollars, and missing a key deadline, the Gila River Diversion proposal is now effectively dead. The Interstate Stream Commission voted 7-2 Thursday against supplying funding needed to complete an environmental impact statement required for the project. Critics of the project, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and conservation and environmental groups, cheered the vote. 

“This proposal is actually the fourth proposal to dam the Gila. We hope this is the fourth and last proposal,” Allyson Siwik, executive director of the Gila Conservation Coalition, told NM Political Report. 

Siwik boiled down her opposition to the proposal bluntly: “It’s expensive [and] the water is unaffordable.”

The proposal would have seen 14,000 acre-feet of water diverted each year from the Gila River for landowners to use in New Mexico. The state is entitled to that amount of water each year from the river as part of the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act.

SCOTUS DACA decision will help 5,800 New Mexico DACA recipients

About 5,800 recipients of legal protections for some young immigrants in the state got surprising, but welcome, news Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against President Donald Trump in his lawsuit against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The 5-4 ruling allows the program under the Department for Homeland Security to continue. Put in place under the Obama administration in 2012, it allows individuals who came to the U.S. as children to gain temporary legal status so they can apply to college and professional jobs. According to a 2019 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service report, 652,880 residents are enrolled in the program. New Mexico was one of the states that sued the federal government.

What ‘qualified immunity’ means for New Mexico

It’s been two and a half weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and protests and demonstrations calling for police accountability have continued to increase. Calls to action include a push to defund police forces, demilitarization of police and a reform of use of force standards. 

Now, many federal lawmakers are introducing and co-sponsoring bills aimed at changing standard practices and in some cases how police are held accountable in civil suits. Both of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, that would change how citizens can sue police for constitutional violations as well as police use of force standards. 

New Mexico has its own history of police reforms and calls for better practices — the Albuquerque Police Department is still in the middle of an attempt by the U.S. Department of Justice, to reform some unconstitutional policing practices. But attempts at holding officers accountable through civil suits in New Mexico often fall flat because of a federal judicial doctrine that ultimately protects officers from being sued: qualified immunity. Heinrich said qualified immunity makes it nearly impossible for plaintiffs to move forward with civil rights claims in federal court. 

“Through the lens of Albuquerque, I think setting the new standard of qualified immunity is a standard of reasonable action,” Heinrich said.

ACLU spending on education in two state senate districts targeted by progressives

Two progressive Democrats, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, who are challenging  incumbents who lean more to the right within the Democratic party, are getting a boost in their campaign efforts. Correa Hemphill is running against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Gabriel Ramos. With her May filing report, she has outraised Ramos by $53.26. Ramos, who was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to replace Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, is running his first election for the seat. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is spending $150,000 in the remaining weeks of the primary to educate voters on the fact that Ramos and state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, also a Democrat, both voted against HB 51 in 2019.

Progressive Democratic challengers want new voices in the state legislature

District Senate 38 Democratic candidate Carrie Hamblen got a boost last week in her bid to defeat incumbent state senate candidate and President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen. That’s because the race narrowed to two candidates – Papen and Hamblen – last week when healthcare professional and entrepreneur Tracy Perry dropped out, citing health reasons. Hamblen, who was the morning radio host for National Public Radio local member station KRWG for 20 years, would have likely split the more left leaning Democratic voters in District 38 with Perry. But Hamblen said the race is now, “more of a challenge for Senator Papen.”

Perry’s name will remain on the ballot. Hamblen is one of seven progressive Democrats running for state senate seats in the upcoming June 2 primary against a group of more conservative-leaning Democrats.

Udall, Heinrich introduce long-awaited legislation to protect portions of the Gila River

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced legislation Tuesday that would designate portions of the Gila River as Wild and Scenic, after a “years-long” effort to protect what’s known as one of the country’s last wild rivers. 

The M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act would designate 446 miles of the Gila River and other waters in the Gila and San Francisco water basin as either wild or scenic, protecting those portions of river from future development. 

RELATED: A win for the state’s last wild river

Udall said they drafted the legislation with input from community members, private landowners, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, local fishers, farmers and ranchers. Udall said he and Heinrich  also worked with landowners and state agencies to identify where the designation boundaries should be. “We opened up that draft for additional feedback, to make sure New Mexicans have a seat at the table in helping determine the future of the Gila,” Udall said. “We have now introduced a strong piece of legislation that will protect the Gila, while ensuring that existing uses and planned projects, including grazing, recreation, restoration, and access can continue.”

Heinrich said the legislation is timely in a period of economic uncertainty caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The outdoor recreation industry was fueling some of our fastest job growth, particularly in our rural communities, just before the pandemic hit,” Heinrich said. “Roosevelt said conservation means development as much as it means protection, and he’s absolutely right.

Funding for childcare centers crucial to national recovery, advocates say

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, along with other senators, called on Congressional leadership to allocate at least $50 billion in emergency funding to stabilize the childcare industry. The National Women’s Law Center estimates that at least $9.6 billion is needed each month to preserve the nation’s childcare system during the pandemic. According to a letter, many childcare centers projected at the beginning of the health crisis that they could not remain operational if they had to close for more than two weeks. Many across the nation have been closed for longer than that, the letter states.  The letter said that keeping childcare functional is “critical for getting families back to work and school as we recover from this crisis.”

“The profound gaps in our childcare infrastructure already cost American families and the economy about $57 billion each year in lost earnings, productivity and revenue,” the letter states. Nearly 500 organizations around the country signed the letter.

Senators ask for more flexibility for states, tribal and local governments on COVID-19 relief funds

U.S. Senators want the Trump administration to remove what they call needless, bureaucratic restrictions on how states can use funding from coronavirus relief efforts. The Senators, including New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, argued that state, local and tribal governments should be able to use funds from the CARES Act to repay lost revenue and help them balance budgets. The two joined 44 other U.S. Senators who signed onto a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which said that the administration added red tape that was not included in the law passed by Congress. “To avoid distracting states, Tribes, and localities from meeting the crisis at hand, the Treasury Department should publicly confirm that states, Tribes and localities may use these funds to maintain their essential services as the CARES Act clearly permits,” the letter states. States have seen their revenue plummet as many have issued stay-at-home orders and economic activity has declined.

Heinrich joins task force to advise White House on reopening economy

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich will be part of a bipartisan task force to advise the White House on reopening the American economy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This public health crisis is like nothing any of us have ever experienced. As elected leaders and policymakers, we will rightly be measured by how we responded,” Heinrich said in a statement. “I’m committed to bringing all of our country’s resources to bear to confront this pandemic, and putting partisan politics aside.”

Heinrich will join members of both the House and Senate on the panel. 

Politico, citing a Democratic aide, reported that Trump was not antagonistic during a phone call with members of Congress Thursday morning. The members received invitations to participate on Wednesday.