Columns appear here a week after they're published in print.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/1/22
Bipartisan support for three water bills ends with wildfire package
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
As three water bills important to New Mexico passed the U. S. House recently, the stretch of the Rio Grande passing through Albuquerque was dry for the first time in 40 years. On the House floor, Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury stood next to a photo of the parched river bed in her district as she made the case for passing the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, which contains her bills.
In a rare gesture of bipartisan support, the entire congressional delegation got behind Stansbury’s bills: the Water Data Act, the Rio Grande Water Security Act, and the WaterSMART Access for Tribes Act. But after the three were rolled into the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican from the state’s Second District, opposed the 48-bill package.
The Data Act would standardize water data across federal agencies and require them to make data more accessible. It would also fund grants for state and local entities to modernize their water databases. The bill was modeled on a New Mexico law that Stansbury, a First District Democrat, sponsored as a state legislator. Under that law, New Mexico has built a website of water databases that water managers and conservancy districts use for management and decision making.
The Rio Grande Water Security Act calls for a 30-year, basin-wide management plan that would include water conservation projects and updated rules. Basin states, tribes, acequias and irrigation districts would all have input.
The WaterSMART Access for Tribes Act would authorize the U.S. Interior Secretary to waive or reduce cost-share requirements for WaterSMART programs, which provide grants for conservation and water infrastructure projects. For low-income communities, the match requirements can be a high hurdle.
Stansbury has only been in Congress a year, so the bills’ passage is a feather in her cap.
Herrell told the Albuquerque Journal in May that the three bills were a “game changer” and a chance to represent the state “as one unit and not have party lines in the way.” She added that water data is often hard to find and understand.
The broader Wildfire Response and Resiliancy Act safeguards key reservoirs of the Colorado River, invests in water infrastructure, improves federal wildfire programs, calls for a national wildland fire risk reduction program to better understand and predict wildfires, and increases pay for wildland firefighters. It also includes Third District Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez’s bill to provide more help to victims of the Hermit’s Peak Fire.
The package passed the House 218 to 199 and now goes to the Senate.
Paying firefighters more than they can make working at McDonald’s has been a crucial need. I’ve written previously that fire managers worry they won’t have the personnel they need to fight ever bigger fires. House Republicans claim that increased pay will cause federal agencies to lay off hundreds of firefighters, an argument that doesn’t even make sense. The agencies lay off firefighters at the end of every fire. Without the package’s pay provision, firefighter pay would actually drop because the increase they got this year was temporary.
Herrell argued on the floor that the package adds red tape. The focus, she said, should be on prevention and management of forests. Herrell wanted the package to include her Wildfire Prevention and Drought Mitigation Act, recently introduced, which would streamline the environmental review process for projects intended to protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, snowpack and water quality, according to her news release. Some fellow Republicans want to increase logging and build more reservoirs.
Herrell has a point. We should know if environmental processes interfere with projects to improve watersheds. But pay for firefighters should be nonnegotiable. If we expect them to risk their lives for us, we must take care of them.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/1/22
Centuries of book bans haven’t discouraged desire to read
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
I recently visited a new Albuquerque library in the heart of the International District. I gave some books to the kids-book drive. Earlier I had sorted books to give to the community library in Hillsboro. While doing this, I recalled my own childhood library experiences.
My mom, an avid reader, took us to the Hobbs Public Library. We would read to our hearts’ content while she roamed the aisles for new readings. What I know now is that early reading was inspiring me to learn.
So, the renewed efforts to ban books tugs at me.
The first book ban in America was in 1642 when Thomas Morton wrote, “New English Canaan.” A dissident from Plymouth Colony, he attacked Pilgrims for cruelty to natives and religious zealotry. The book was banned and Morton arrested.
Fast forward through the years to the early 1940s when segregationists led the fight. In Georgia, Gov. Talmadge led a book burning of “We Sing America,” written by Marion Cuthbert. It made a plea for racial equality.
Book bans and bonfires continued during the civil rights movement. One target was “The Rabbits’ Wedding” by illustrator Garth Williams, published in 1958. A sweet story of two cottontail bunnies who marry in the forest, it was also the subject of rabid censorship efforts because one rabbit was white, one was black. The Jim Crow South didn’t approve. It’s notable that Williams also illustrated “Charlotte’s Web,” a much beloved children’s favorite, which was targeted in 2006 by zealots who believe talking animals are “blasphemous”.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s there were new efforts to ban books. Generally, these efforts originated from the right, with the most frequently banned books discussing racism. Books such as “Black Like Me,” “Manchild in the Promised Land,” and the most acclaimed novel over 125 year, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” drew the ire and fire of conservatives.
The left has its own efforts. “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are constant targets of bans based on racial slurs and white-hero themes.
In the past, when stakeholders expressed concern about books in schools, for example, the parties would read the book, debate the appropriateness, and decide. Today, tactics have changed. Book ban promoters rarely read the content. Groups use meeting disruptions and publicity to generate anger. Librarians are threatened. Small libraries and school boards are overwhelmed with records requests that consume scarce resources. Disrupters travel from town to town like carnival barkers.
This year in Tennessee, “Maus,” a graphic story about a Polish Holocaust survivor, was banned. It is the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. Allegedly banned for profanity (eight words) and violence, the author says a reading of the board minutes showed the real intent was a “nicer version” of the Holocaust.
The most extreme efforts are next door in Texas. House Bill 3979 restricts the extent to which students may read about or discuss race, racism, sexism, and history. Matt Krause, a Texas state representative, submitted 850 titles for review that might “make students uncomfortable.” He admittedly hasn’t read them. The authors are primarily women and people of color.
What hasn’t changed? We still want to read – wherever we are. We have dozens of rural libraries in New Mexico. A mobile library visits smaller villages weekly. Libraries provide digital services for checkout and audio books. In almost any neighborhood, you can spot a Little Free Library. Three hundred independent bookstores opened in the U. S. during the pandemic and not only survived but thrived.
And kids still go to the library on a Saturday morning, sometimes with their moms or dads and read to their hearts’ content.
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