New Mexico voters embraced candidates in the 2020 elections that have historically been underrepresented, including women, in elected office. The state saw a slew of “firsts” this year.
For the first time in the state’s history, New Mexico’s three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be held by women of color. And both Yvette Herrell, who will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District, and Deb Haaland, who won reelection to the state’s 1st Congressional District, are enrolled members of Indigenous nations. Haaland is a member of Laguna Pueblo, and Herrell is a member of the Cherokee Nation, making New Mexico the first state in the U.S. to have two Indigenous Representatives.
Teresa Leger Fernandez, who won New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, is Latina.
Terrelene Massey, Diné (Navajo) and the executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said she’s really excited to see more representation from women, especially women of color and Native American women. “I think they’ll provide different perspectives on the different issues they’ll be working on,” Massey said.
Reproductive rights advocates picked up six more votes in the state Senate. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Action Fund, called it “a really good night for abortion access in New Mexico.”
Democrats picked up three seats in the state Senate, according to unofficial results. Those seats are state SD 10, which Democrat Katy Duhigg won over Republican Candace Gould. State SD 20, which Democrat Martin Hickey took, defeating the Republican candidate and taking a seat formerly held by Republican William Payne. The Democrats also won state SD 23, with Democrat Harold Pope Jr., who took the seat when he defeated Republican incumbent Sander Rue.
The state Senate has shifted to the left and progressive Democrats picked up one state Senate seat Tuesday night, according to unofficial results, and will likely pick up two more. All results cited are as of midnight on Wednesday. All results reported election night are unofficial until the Secretary of State announces the official results later this month. Progressive Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill beat Republican James Williams in state SD 28, which encompasses Grant, Catron and Socorro counties. Correa Hemphill led most of the night and won with 51 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.
ByJens Gould and Michael Gerstein, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Over the objections of Republicans who wanted to cut more, House Democrats pushed through a scaled back state budget to shore up a $2 billion budget shortfall caused by the pandemic and oil price crash that devastated state coffers. The House approved the roughly $7 billion budget in a 46-24 vote along party lines, with Republicans opposing the budget plan. In extended budget talks over the past several days, lawmakers continuously described the spending reductions as difficult decisions in the face of massive hits to state revenue. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has referred to the cuts as “austerity” for the state, but supported them at slightly different levels. The bill now only needs to be approved by the full Senate to get to the governor’s desk, as the Senate Finance Committee approved the House’s version Friday.
A bill to provide support to children who have “aged out” of foster care but still need a safety net passed unanimously in the Senate chamber Monday. SB 168 would allow children who are 18 to 21 who lack resources necessary to enter adulthood to access aid from the Child, Youth and Family Services Department. CYFD would be able to leverage federal dollars to pay for the services. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill. Padilla said while on the Senate floor that the bill aligns New Mexico with federal law and federal requirements for funding already available.
The New Mexico Senate unanimously passed a bill Saturday that would allow the public to immediately view records pertaining to claims against the government, as legislators admonished financial settlements made under the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez. Senate Bill 64, sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue and three other lawmakers, would remove a requirement that the state must wait 180 days before publicly disclosing information about such settlements. It would also eliminate criminal penalties for revealing confidential records related to these types of claims. The bill now moves to the House. Lawmakers said they were compelled to introduce the bill after millions of dollars in secretive settlements were made during the Martinez administration, many of which were found to have been carried out without adequate investigation or documentation. During debate on Saturday, senators had harsh words for officials from that administration and the attorneys involved, saying they allowed corruption to continue unchecked in New Mexico.
Legislation aimed at eliminating a six month confidentiality period after legal settlements with the state stalled indefinitely in a Senate committee, pending changes suggested by some members.
The Senate Judiciary Committee decided on Monday to postpone SB 64, sponsored by Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque and Democratic Sen. Linda Trujillo until more changes to the bill are made.
Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes said he is trying to avoid making changes in committee and suggested the sponsors take some of the recommended changes into consideration and bring it back to the committee. Concerns from other members ranged from a lack of penalties for releasing information before a settlement is made official to unclear language about when a claim with the state is considered settled.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, bluntly told the bills sponsors, along with General Services Department Secretary Ken Ortiz, that the bill was unclear. “Frankly, I think you’re so far in the weeds you’re not clear,” Ivey-Soto said.
Ivey-Soto’s suggestion was that the sponsors completely strike the section of law that currently requires a confidentiality period and start from scratch.
Just before Rue presented his bill, State Auditor Brian Colón presented a summary of his office’s findings related to 18 settlements made in the final weeks of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s time in office. Late last year Colón’s office conducted an audit of those settlements and found “abuse of power” and wrongdoing by the Martinez administration.
The Martinez settlements’ three year confidentiality period went well beyond 180 days. Some committee members said they were concerned that Rue and Trujillo’s bill did not do enough to prevent a confidentiality period being written into the terms of a settlement.
Regardless of Cervantes’ hesitation to pass the bill along as-is, he said he was frustrated with the revelations of the Martinez settlements.
On Friday morning, three Santa Fe firefighters in uniform walked up to state Sen. Peter Wirth in a Roundhouse hallway. They came bearing a form, and if the majority leader would sign on the dotted line, they’d be one step closer to getting new equipment.
They weren’t the only ones to seek Wirth’s help. The Palace of the Governors wanted interior renovation. The yet-to-be-constructed Vladem Contemporary art museum needed solar. Tesuque Pueblo was after remote monitoring for a drinking water system.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee unanimously approved a measure that would eliminate a confidentiality period for legal settlements made with state departments.
Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, presented SB 64, which would make significant changes to a law that requires a confidentiality period for claims settled with the state. Currently, any claims settled by the state’s Risk Management Division must remain under wraps for 180 days. Rue’s bill not only changes the triggering events that start the 180-day clock, but also eliminates the confidentiality period all together.
There was little discussion and no debate among panel members during the hearing. Members of the public who spoke in favor of the bill included representatives for good government groups like Common Cause New Mexico and the New Mexico Foundation for Government as well as the Office of the State Auditor. No one spoke against the bill.
Prior to the committee hearing, Rue told NM Political Report that he decided to sponsor the bill after it was revealed last year that millions of dollars were paid out in secret legal settlements under the previous governor Susana Martinez.
A New Mexico law that allows legal settlements with state agencies to be kept a secret for at least six months may get a makeover in the next legislative session.
General Services Department Secretary Ken Ortiz told NM Political Report his office, which oversees the state’s Risk Management Division, is in the process of creating a working group to address a relatively unknown statute that mandates settlements stay secret for 180 days. The same law that established the Risk Management Division, which often serves as the state’s de facto insurance provider, contains a “confidentiality of records” section, which is often referred to by its citation number 15-7-9 as legal shorthand.
That section of the statute is less than 300 words and is ambiguous about exactly when the 180 days starts. There are four instances in which the law says the clock starts ticking: when “all statutes of limitation applicable to the claim have run,” when litigation is done, when the “claim” is settled or when the claim is in “closed status.”
Ortiz said previous claims filed with Risk Management were sometimes never put into closed status, simply because someone failed to close it in division’s computer system.
“I wanted to take the human element out of 15-7-9,” Ortiz said.
The failure to “physically click on a button,” Ortiz said, would sometimes delay the start of the 180 days by an extra six months.
“What we’ve seen when we reviewed settlements is, for whatever reason, it took several months after the final action on that case for the staff to administratively close it,” Ortiz said.
That means a 180-day confidentiality period could easily run for more than a year. Last year, for example, the New Mexico Corrections Department settled a lawsuit with six women who sued the state, claiming they were sexual assaulted and harassed by their superiors. That case was settled in January 2018, but GSD’s lawyer at the time said claims were not complete until all of the state’s legal bills were paid, which did not happen until six months after the case was dismissed.
Now Ortiz said he’s working with the governor’s office and lawmakers to better define when the confidentiality period starts, and possibly address whether it should even be 180 days.
Mr. Ortiz goes to the Legislature
Ortiz said he was aware of the confidentiality period before he took the job as cabinet secretary, but was not fully aware of the issues it presented until he started getting calls from news reporters—this one included—about settlements.
“We thought, ‘This is truly tax payer money and people have a right to know,’” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said conversations about transparency also came up when State Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, and State Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, introduced a bill that would require the state to post the specifics of all human rights settlements online. Ortiz said he wants to include the two lawmakers in crafting legislation to address the issue.