Lujan Grisham signs labor bill into law, dismisses transparency concerns

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a change to the state’s Public Employee Bargaining Act (PEBA) into law Thursday, despite government transparency advocates urging her not to. 

Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the law will ensure consistency and clarity for local labor boards around the state. 

“Our public employees – including teachers, sanitation workers, firefighters and police officers – deserve uniform rules and a uniform process to negotiate fair wages and safe working conditions,” Lujan Grisham said. 

Last week, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government asked the governor not to sign the bill in the name of transparency. The group argued that a possible unintended consequence of HB 364 is that information about public employees like hire dates would be kept a secret. The sticking point for the group, according to a letter they sent Lujan Grisham, is a provision that requires employers to pass on information about new employees within 10 days, but bars passing that information on to “a third party.” But, a lawyer for a New Mexico public sector labor union told the Albuquerque Journal that the language specifically supports the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) instead of eroding it as NM FOG claims.  

In the same press release from Lujan Grisham’s office on Thursday, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki reiterated that the governor’s office does not see the bill as problematic for transparency. 

“Concerns about a specific provision involving the transmission of employee information between public agency and union are well-intentioned and valuable, as this administration aims to honor and restore transparency in government after eight years of the opposite,” Stelnicki said in the statement. “But what was publicly accessible is very much still publicly accessible.”

In a statement issued after Lujan Grisham signed HB 364, NM FOG said the issue will likely not get cleared up until a challenge is filed in court. 

“While the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) appreciates Governor Michelle

Lujan Grisham’s public expressions of support for transparency in government, only time will

tell whether courts will construe the problematic provisions of House Bill 364 in the way the governor would like them construed or in the way they’re actually written,” the statement read. 

Questions about what information on public employees should be readily accessible led to a lawsuit in 2012 between the same labor union that pushed for HB 364 and then-Gov. Susana Martinez. The Martinez administration argued that information like hire dates, salaries and names of public employees should be published on the state’s Sunshine Portal.

EPA, state agencies want public input on drilling wastewater report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of New Mexico released a draft report on Friday about the possibility of someday reusing or recycling wastewater from the oil and gas industry. According to the draft white paper compiled by the EPA and three state agencies, “Given that drought is no stranger to New Mexico, decisions about water are growing ever more complicated and meaningful.”

This summer, the EPA and three New Mexico agencies convened a working group to understand and clarify existing regulatory and permitting frameworks and create a road map toward finding other uses for wastewater generated by oil and gas drilling. The draft report lays out various possible reuse scenarios, explains which agencies would be involved in permitting and regulations and parses some of the legal issues. As the authors note, New Mexico became the third-largest oil producing state in the U.S. in 2018 and the industry produces enormous quantities of wastewater.  According to the report:
For every barrel of oil, four or five barrels of produced water may be generated: an estimated 168 to 210 gallons of produced water for every 42 gallons of oil produced.

Cannon AFB water contamination on tap in Friday night meeting

Friday evening in Clovis, the U.S. Air Force is scheduled to host a meeting about groundwater contamination below and near Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. Details about the meeting were publicly released Tuesday, Nov. 6, on Election Day. This summer, the Air Force announced it was sampling groundwater wells for traces of harmful chemicals found within firefighting foam used at the base from the 1970s until last year. The testing was part of a nationwide effort by the military: Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of human-made chemicals, often referred to as PFAS’s, that includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

Transparency concerns about oilfield water reuse plans met with silence

As state agencies move forward with plans to study reusing wastewater from oil and gas drilling, some environmental and community groups want the administration to slow down. They’re concerned about the working group’s quick schedule and lack of transparency thus far on an issue they say demands careful study. This summer, New Mexico signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and formed a working group to figure out how wastewater might be reused within the oilfield itself—and someday, beyond it. As we reported last month, the state initiated the process with the EPA. Following the publication of that story, representatives from more than 15 environmental and community groups signed onto a letter to the EPA which said the agreement between the federal agency and the state violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and requesting the federal agency withdraw.

State law encourages secret payouts

Before Cynthia Herald left the Bernalillo County courthouse last November she told reporters that she was relieved to finally gain closure on an ordeal with the University of New Mexico that lasted more than half a decade. Herald sued the university’s medical school, claiming she was wrongfully dismissed from a residency program and settled before closing arguments. The terms of the settlement were, by state law, temporarily shielded from public scrutiny. That meant the public couldn’t see the total amount UNM agreed to pay, including how much money was to come from the medical school’s anesthesiology department and how much from the state’s Risk Management Division. Seven months later, the University still won’t release that information and cites the same law.

Overflow crowd opposes state’s proposed science standards

Hundreds of New Mexicans waited in Santa Fe outside the Jerry Apodaca Building on Monday morning. They were there to share their thoughts about the statewide science standards proposed by the Public Education Department’s (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. Update: State backs off controversial science standards
Under the proposal, New Mexico would join about 20 other states around the country and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But New Mexico plans to adopt those standards with some key changes involving lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. People started arriving an hour-and-a-half before the start of the 9:00 a.m. hearing, and others didn’t leave until almost 2:00 p.m. Some New Mexicans stood in line for more than three hours, waiting for their names to be called so they could enter the building, stand before public officials in a small auditorium and speak for three minutes each.

Still no solid plans for Gila River diversion, despite millions spent

With a big deadline bearing down in 2019, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, or CAP Entity, has yet to choose a plan or exact location for the Gila Diversion. That’s despite already spending more than $12 million of the state’s federal subsidy for the project. At the end of September, AECOM—the engineering firm hired to come up with designs for the CAP Entity to choose from—presented board members with possible design ideas based on the group’s cost and needs. The CAP Entity was then supposed to decide at its October 3 meeting on a plan. Instead, the group punted.

Dozens gather on Saturday to talk transparency and UNM Athletics

NM Political Report’s third News & Brews event featured NMFishbowl.com’s Daniel Libit and New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Board President Greg Williams. Reporter Andy Lyman interviewed the two about Libit’s recent public records lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Foundation and transparency issues related to the university’s athletics department. “I’m a curious observer much more than I am a fan,” Libit said of the Lobos. Libit has filed over 150 records requests under the state’s Inspection of Public Records trying to understand how the UNM Foundation makes its decisions and raises its money. Last November, Libit launched his website with a story raising important questions about the WisePies naming rights of The Pit, the university’s arena that hosts basketball games. Libit now lives in Chicago but grew up in Albuquerque.

Law could cut transparency on lobbyist spending

Lobbyists may end up reporting far less of their spending on lawmakers under a bill lauded for improving the state’s campaign finance system. House Bill 105, signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday, aims to make it easier for the public to access information about campaign contributions and lobbyists’ reporting. But the bill also ends a requirement that lobbyists report cumulative spending on lawmakers, and increases the limit for reporting from $75 to $100 per event. The original legislation struck the cumulative total requirement. The House Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee increased the reporting limit, a change that made it through two more committees as well as the full House of Representatives and Senate.

House votes to archive webcasts

Archiving is finally coming to the webcasts of the New Mexico State Legislature. Well, archiving of House proceedings, anyway. A House rule change proposed by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, passed unanimously on Tuesday night. The proposal called for archiving of the House proceedings beginning in the next legislative session and keep those archives for five years. “I think this is just such a big step for us to increase the transparency of this body,” Steinborn said.