A bill to impose a moratorium on new contracts for private prison facilities passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee 3 to 2. Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and a co-sponsor of HB 352, described it as “a newer version” of HB 40, which stalled at the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier this session. HB 352 would create a task force made up of 17 stakeholders, including the state Department of Corrections and other agency representatives, to analyze phasing out private prisons. HB 40 would have ended private prisons within 3 to 5 years in New Mexico. HB 352 is a more “narrow” approach, advocates said.
As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise within state-run detention centers across New Mexico, namely in Otero County, the numbers for county jails often go overlooked by the general public.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office reports the number of positive cases within state and federal detention centers daily. Her office also includes the number of congregate care facilities that have seen positive tests in the last 28 days. But those daily reports do not include any information on the roughly half a dozen county jails around the state.
According to the state Department of Health, those numbers are purposefully left out of daily reports because state officials think they would add more confusion than clarification.
During a news conference on Wednesday, NM Political Report asked Lujan Grisham why the state was not releasing COVID-19 numbers for county detention centers. She said even though the state is collecting those numbers they are not released in daily updates from her office. Without clarifying the reason for not including those numbers in the updates, she said the data is there.
“We know by zip code, we know by, often, occupation, we know by correctional facility, we know whether it’s staff or it’s an inmate, whether in a nursing home, whether it’s staff or a resident, we are and we continue to refine getting the data,” Lujan Grisham said.
Immediately after the news conference, NM Political Report requested that data from Lujan Grisham’s office, but was told by a DOH spokesman that any request for county detention center data would need to be requested from the counties themselves.
David Morgan, a spokesman for DOH, said the information would have to come from the counties that oversee each regional detention center and would likely require an official records request pursuant to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
Only 328 people live in Red River, but even they have a lobbyist. The mountain town known as a vacation destination pays $2,000 each month plus tax for the services of Gabriel Cisneros, who represents a short list of local governments at the state Capitol. He is just one in a small army of lobbyists at work in Santa Fe during this year’s 30-day legislative session representing towns, counties, villages, school districts, colleges and even charter schools — mostly if not entirely on the taxpayers’ dime. They may seem like a waste of money given that these communities are already represented by legislators and an alphabet soup of advocacy groups from the New Mexico Association of Counties to the New Mexico Municipal League and the Council of University Presidents. Government officials counter that lobbyists are worth the price to keep up with a legislative process that can affect local budgets and institutions, from the county jail to the water treatment plant.
Lobbyists and their employers spent $236,828 on gifts, wining and dining for elected officials, their guests and staff during the 2016 legislative session. And that’s only a portion of what was spent during the 30-day session because it captures only those times lobbyists spent $500 or more on a single event.
We’ll know more about how entertained lawmakers were during the 30-day session when lobbyists and employers make their full reports on May 1. If Gov. Susana Martinez signs House Bill 105, lobbyists will have to file reports again in October. Right now lobbyists file full reports only in January and May. Last year, during a session twice as long, lobbyists reported spending nearly $300,000 during the session.
By Sandra Fish | New Mexico In Depth Lobbyists and organizations feted New Mexico legislators and other officials with more than $519,000 worth of food, drink and gifts from Jan. 15 through the end of April. Of the 600 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office to represent more than 750 clients, only 116 spent money during the session. Those individual lobbyists spent $334,419 on events such as the 100th Bill Party, electric toothbrushes, teddy bears, gift certificates and, in one instance, ammunition for concealed carry training. And 14 companies spent $184,685.