Less than a month after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held a news conference to say she was going to push a “tough on crime” agenda in this year’s legislative session, district attorneys, Republican lawmakers and crime victims held their own gathering Wednesday to deliver a very different message.
The governor’s crime reform platform, they said, is going nowhere.
“We were promised it would be a tough-on-crime year,” said Nicole Chavez, whose teenage son, Jaydon Chavez-Silver, was killed in a shooting in Albuquerque in 2015. “That’s not what is happening,” Chavez said while standing outside the state Capitol. “Every single crime bill has been stopped or tabled.” One piece of legislation that did clear the Senate this week, a “second chance” bill which bans life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, outraged the parents of homicide victims and some Republican lawmakers. The passage of Senate Bill 43 along party lines, with Republicans opposing it, led to Wednesday’s news conference by some of the governor’s critics.
A leading Republican lawmaker and gubernatorial hopeful has introduced a bill to prohibit the state from including critical race theory — a controversial and often-misunderstood concept that is seen by some as a potential electoral wedge issue — in New Mexico’s school curriculum.
Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences said Wednesday the theory is “racist” and is being misrepresented.
“We are a state of diverse cultures, and we should be promoting the thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. — judging people on their character and not color of their skin,” Dow said. “Critical race theory takes us in the wrong direction.” A draft copy of her bill, which Dow provided to The New Mexican, says the state Public Education Department “shall not allow a course in critical race theory to be taught in public schools.” The legislation says critical race theory “espouses the view that one race is inherently racist, sexist or intentionally or inadvertently oppressive.” Some of Dow’s critics were quick to point out critical race theory isn’t currently part of curriculum in New Mexico and is an attempt by the lawmaker to increase her profile among the eight candidates vying for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2022.
State Rep. Jim Townsend, the House minority leader, said for a second he thought the governor “almost became a Republican.” In a news conference Tuesday at the Roundhouse after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address, the Artesia Republican said the most “heartening” part of her 25-minute speech was the talk on fighting crime. The governor reiterated her plan to push for a package of measures to toughen penalties for certain violent crimes and make it more difficult for defendants in violent crime cases to be released from jail before their trial. “That must be addressed, and it must be addressed quickly,” Townsend said. Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, the Senate minority leader said the governor’s “tough-on-crime” rhetoric seemed like an effort to court state residents fed up with rising crime rates.
The New Mexico House of Representatives spent much of the second day of the second 2021 special legislative session discussing the merits of proposed maps. The special session is largely focused on redrawing the state’s political boundaries for U.S congressional districts and state House and Senate districts and is expected to last 12 days.
During a more-than three-hour presentation to the House, both Republicans and Democrats debated the merits of one congressional map concept in particular and whether a newly formed citizen led redistricting committee had presented the best map concepts for the Legislature to choose from. Later in the day, a House committee heard public testimony on a House map that is an amalgamation of three concepts from the citizen committee.
During a House committee of the whole on Tuesday morning, a representative of the citizen committee along with members of the prominent New Mexico polling company Research and Polling fielded questions and sometimes criticism from members.
Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, who is also vying for the Republican nomination for governor, questioned a congressional map concept put forward by advocacy group Center for Civic Policy and adopted by the redistricting committee. Known as el mapa de la gente, or the people’s map, the concept would drastically change the three congressional districts and group rural areas like Roswell and Carrizozo with the urban Albuquerque area. According to the Center for Civic Policy, the goal of the map is to create a strong Latino or Hispanic district.
With just over a week to go before this year’s legislative session ends, the prospect of lawmakers coming through with an independent redistricting plan is looking more likely. But some involved in the process still have concerns about Senate Bill 15, which the Senate unanimously approved Wednesday. The measure would create a seven-member citizens’ committee to gather public input and then come up with three possible redistricting plans for the Legislature to consider by year’s end.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill Friday. Assuming the committee approves the measure, it would go to the House floor for a final vote before heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for a signature.
Some redistricting advocates want the legislation to include language that ensures tribal and pueblo governments are included in the process.
“The redistricting activities have to take into consideration local governments and their role on the Navajo Nation,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. Among his concerns: The bill as written says redistricting should not divide existing precinct boundaries.
New Mexico’s roadways are in terrible shape, and they’re costing the average driver $767 annually in additional vehicle operating costs, according to a new report. But motorists don’t need to read a narrative to understand the condition of New Mexico’s interstates, highways and roads. “All you have to do is hop in your vehicle and drive a couple of miles,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Thursday during a virtual news conference. “Our roads at the moment are a complete disaster, and we do need to take it seriously,” added Padilla, vice chairman of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. The report by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found 56 percent of major roads and highways in New Mexico are in poor or mediocre condition due to inadequate state and local funding.
A House committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would allow the state to prepare for the major task of redrawing legislative districts based on population data from the 2020 census.
Among other measures, House Bill 211, co-sponsored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, creates a seven-member redistricting commission, lays out requirements for choosing those members, initiates a series of public meetings and gives the panel the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting.
“By creating new rules and processes, this makes the process more engaging … with the public,” said Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences and one of the sponsors of the legislation. The bill, if signed into law, would allow the commission to adopt three to five district plans for four elected bodies — the state House and Senate, congressional districts, and the Public Education Commission. The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval. If the Legislature does not select a district plan from any one set of plans, it will be required by law to select the plan the commission says best satisfies the requirements of the Redistricting Act.
Debates among New Mexico lawmakers over the best way to use federal relief funds is likely far from over. Last week, the state’s Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) learned that the estimated number of New Mexicans to receive a one time bump in their unemployment benefits will likely be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 fewer than expected.
During the second special legislative session this year, which took place during the week of Thanksgiving, lawmakers passed a COVID-19 relief bill, allowing the state to use additional federal funds from the CARES Act.
Part of the package that state lawmakers passed allocated $194 million to the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions in order to add a one time supplemental payment of $1,200 to those who qualify for unemployment benefits. Workforce Solutions originally estimated that 140,000 people would qualify for that extra payment. But according to an LFC activity report sent to committee members last week, the department now estimates that 110,000 to 140,000 will qualify for the payment.
Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said his department based the original estimation on how many people qualified for unemployment benefits in June.
“We were saying, ‘Okay, if we have X amount of people get in that match where we were at our height, what would that be? And let’s make sure we have that amount in there,” McCamley said.