A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday. Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed. But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates. And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.
A legislator from Santa Fe County is proposing to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance law that allows state lawmakers to accept campaign donations while they are in session. State law bans state representatives, senators and candidates for the Legislature from raising money from Jan. 1 until they adjourn. But the statute only prohibits soliciting contributions. It says nothing about legislators accepting money.
Santa Fe is about to become the most powerful city in the Legislature. Presumptive House Speaker Brian Egolf and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth both are Santa Fe Democrats, Anglo lawyers from the city’s east side. When Wirth was elected to the Senate in 2008, Egolf was elected to represent Wirth’s old district in the House of Representatives. Both have strong liberal voting records and both have chaired the committees that deal with the environment and energy in their respective chambers. Conservation Voters New Mexico, which for years has maintained scorecards for lawmakers, gives Egolf a 98 percent lifetime rating.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, who also chairs the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board, appointed a group to look into the policies and procedures behind investigations into shootings by police officers and use of force incidents in the state. The announcement of the review by a new subcommittee of the board came hours before a mistrial in South Carolina, where police officer shot Michael Slager shot Walter Scott, a black man, in the back as Scott ran away. Scott died. The April 4, 2015 incident was caught on video and quickly made news around the country after it happened. “Officer-involved shootings can have devastating consequences for both the civilian and law enforcement communities,” Balderas said in a statement.
The state wants to extend a waiver that allows the state to waive work requirements for federal food benefits. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported the news of the proposed waiver coming from the embattled state Human Services Department. The department previously sought to reimplement the work rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, but a federal judge blocked the request. Earlier this year, a federal judge slammed HSD for doing the work of creating new rules and procedures for the work requirements while not working toward compliance with a decades-old consent order. Last week, a federal judge named a Texas administrator as a “special master” to oversee the department’s food benefits functions.
One bright spot New Mexico Republicans point to in state elections is the defeat of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. The Belen Democrat lost after Advance New Mexico Now, a Super PAC with close ties to Gov. Susana Martinez, and other organizations targeted him for what they saw as obstruction of important issues. In recent days, Sanchez has told media outlets this nearly single-minded focus on his state Senate district may have tipped the balance and allowed Democrats to take back the state House of Representatives while expanding their state Senate majority. “I’m really grateful for her aiming at me,” Sanchez told the Albuquerque Journal. “They focused their attention on me, and they didn’t pay attention to what they needed to pay attention to.”
He said something similar to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
New Mexico’s biggest daily newspaper is scaling back. The Albuquerque Journal recently eliminated six positions, including one in the newsroom, according to Brian Fantl, the newspaper’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. On top of this, five more reporters recently left the newsroom, and it’s unclear whether their positions will be refilled. One of those positions, which belonged to staff writer Ollie Reed, is getting eliminated, Fantl confirmed. Reed was laid off Thursday.
New Mexico Democrats are at war with a political action committee tied to Gov. Susana Martinez that is spouting a seemingly endless stream of negative, unfactual ads and mailers. The PAC, Advance New Mexico Now, is using a lot of resources against state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen, a longtime Martinez nemesis who has led the Senate to oppose many of her core policies. Its most recent ad and mailer show the wife of a slain Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner officer claiming Sanchez was “cold and dismissive” when she met him and told him to support tough-on-crime laws. Sanchez, who faces a tough reelection against Republican Gregory Baca, said this meeting actually never happened. “I have never met the widow of Rio Rancho police officer Benner, not once,” Sanchez said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
A federal PAC is coming to the aid of the state House Majority Leader, even as House Republicans seek to keep control of the state House. That’s the news from the Santa Fe New Mexican, which spoke to Mark Murphy, who is a major donor to GOAL-West PAC. GOAL-West PAC also received attention last year for trying to influence Las Cruces municipal elections. Now, the PAC is seeking to aid Republicans in state House races. Most are on the list of swing districts, like Andy Nuñez of Hatch in District 36 or Christina Hall of Albuquerque in an open seat in District 24.
More than two years after being filed in federal court, a lawsuit over leaked emails from Gov. Susana Martinez’s 2010 campaign account was dismissed with prejudice Monday. Attorneys on both sides filed the motion to dismiss, which likely puts the issue to rest. “It’s dismissed with prejudice,” Bruce Wetherbee, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, told NM Political Report. “End of story.”
Dismissed with prejudice means that the lawsuit cannot be re-filed in court. Wetherbee worked with Independent Source PAC when the liberal political action committee publicly released some leaked emails from Martinez administration staffers and allies in 2012.