2021 Kids Count Data Book indicates positives but also continued challenges

The advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book on Wednesday and said that, according to the data, New Mexico saw 20,000 additional children enrolled in Medicaid in 2021. Emily Wildau, the New Mexico Kids Count Data Book coordinator, said that data was one of the biggest surprises for her to come out of the annual assessment of how New Mexico is doing in terms of how children are doing. “That was one of the biggest things that really stuck out,” Wildau said. Every year NMVC releases the Kids Count Data Book that assesses how New Mexico children are faring. Wildau said that this year, because of some data collection challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the data is based on earlier surveys and resources.

LFC report fleshes out crime surge

Lawmakers looking to push through an array of “tough on crime” bills got some legislative ammunition to support their cause this week. The Legislative Finance Committee released a memo to Rep. Patti Lundstrom,  chair of the committee, saying violent crime rates are going up, and not just in Albuquerque. 

The memo says at least 20 New Mexico communities — including Gallup and Albuquerque — have experienced increases in violent crimes. 

Santa Fe was not among those cities. The LFC document says Albuquerque’s 2021 homicide rate of 117 killings represented an “acute rise” from 2020 — a 48 percent jump. And New Mexico State Police investigated 17 homicides in 2021, up from 10 in 2020. 

The memo’s sobering details include that the reasons behind Albuquerque’s homicide rates have drastically changed over the past year. In 2019 just 15 percent of those killings happened through robberies or because of “personal disrespect.”

In State of the State, governor asks legislators to think big

Saying the state has “unimaginable financial resources” at its disposal, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham challenged lawmakers Tuesday to think big and be aggressive on New Mexicans’ behalf during the 30-day legislative session. “Dating back decades, a timid mindset has afflicted people in this Capitol building, a pessimism that can be self-fulfilling,” the governor said during a live-streamed State of the State address she delivered from her office amid the ongoing threat of COVID-19. “Thinking small is a curse. Big and meaningful changes are possible, but the biggest change may be our attitude, our perspective,” she said. “At a moment in time when we have the money to do it all, let’s not limit ourselves; let’s not be unnecessarily incremental.

The governor’s 2022 State of the State, annotated

Once again, NM Political Report joined New Mexico PBS and other news outlets in annotating Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State speech (as prepared for delivery). Our reporter Andy Lyman joined journalists from other outlets in the state to provide context and fact check comments made by the governor. See the full speech, as prepared for delivery, with annotations below.

WATCH: The 2022 State of the State Address

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered her annual State of the State address on Tuesday. Because of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, Lujan Grisham delivered the address remotely from her office. The video of the address is available below, courtesy of New Mexico PBS.

Free college tuition proposal could get a second chance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to offer free tuition to all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges might get a second chance. A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state Higher Education Department would cover tuition for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status. The plan would combine all of the state’s existing college scholarships into one aid pool and steeply increase the available funding. “The real goal is to ensure college affordability, to establish an all-encompassing free college package combining all the scholarships for New Mexicans looking to enroll,” Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the possible legislation, told lawmakers on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting Monday. For years, New Mexico has developed initiatives to cover some tuition costs for in-state college and university students, including both new high school graduates and adults.

Legislation aims to limit executive emergency powers

Thirty-day legislative sessions in New Mexico are typically reserved for budget issues, along with any special issues the governor asks lawmakers to consider. This year, besides the budget, legislators are expected to debate and vote on bills regarding public safety and education. But two lawmakers are hoping that at least one of their two bills to limit emergency powers of the executive branch gains at least some traction this year. 

House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 40 both aim to limit the amount of time a governor can maintain emergency orders without a say from legislators. Both pieces of legislation are sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell. One major difference between the two is that the joint resolution would not require Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s approval, as it is a proposed constitutional amendment. 

Ely and Nibert can usually be found on opposite sides of most issues, but in this case, they seem to have found common ground in wanting to give some power back to the Legislature.

State to get COVID help from federal medical teams

New Mexico will get a boost in medical personnel from the federal government amid the ongoing COVID-19 surge. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that New Mexico is one of a handful of states that will receive federal medical teams. New Mexico had a large increase in cases in December, before the rise of the Omicron variant, and case numbers have continued to increase to record levels in recent days. Hospitalizations have also remained at high levels for weeks in New Mexico, with 609 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday. “I am grateful to President Biden and our federal partners for their continued support in our ongoing battle against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexico health care workers are counting on each and every one of us to do our part to ease their burden – get vaccinated, get boosted, and mask up.”

The U.S. Department of Defense Medium Medical Team is expected to arrive in New Mexico within the next week and will provide help at the University of New Mexico Hospital for 30 days. 

This isn’t the first time the state received federal medical help.

Medicaid coverage could be extended to 12 months for postpartum care

New Mexico could expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum care from two months to a full year starting this spring. The New Mexico Human Services Department is working to have the new rules in place by April 1, Nicole Comeaux, Human Services Department Medicaid director, told NM Political Report. The federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) made changes in how the state can ask for Medicaid dollars to encourage states to expand Medicaid for pregnant women. Comeaux said this change enabled HSD to start the process of expanding Medicaid coverage to all expecting individuals, including those who miscarry. She said it could impact up to 17,000 individuals in the state.

Governor, SOS announce voting rights expansion package

New Mexico’s governor along with the state’s top elections official announced support for legislation that would protect and expand voting rights in the state. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced their backing on Thursday, less than two weeks before the start of the state’s 2022 regular legislative session. The announcement also came on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to stop the certification of electoral votes. The voting rights package proposed by Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver would expand online registration for voters, provide increased support for Native American residents and create a permanent absentee ballot list for those who request to be added.