© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/23/22
To debate immigration reform, let’s start with the truth
By Sherry Robinson All She Wrote
Rebecca Dow, Republican candidate for governor, wrote recently, “There is a lot of rhetoric thrown around when it comes to securing our border…”
“Rhetoric” is a nice word for what’s being thrown around, and Dow did her own throwing recently in a newspaper op ed when she said the president and the governor “opened our border,” ended the previous administration’s remain-in-Mexico policy and stopped building the wall.
The open-border accusation is often heard on the far right, but it’s not heard anywhere else. That’s a problem for Dow who would need votes from Democrats and Independents to win in November.
And it’s false, according to PolitiFact, a service of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit school for journalists.
I would argue that the open-border myth is insulting to our border personnel who are doing their jobs 24/7. The vast majority of enforcement encounters result in people being turned away at the border.
President Biden continued Title 42, a Trump policy of refusing entry to most border crossers to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to PolitiFact, although it’s exempting children who arrive alone, as well as some families. On Dec. 2, the administration re-implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols, known as Remain in Mexico, which requires asylum seekers without proper documentation to wait in Mexico for their immigration court date.
Which is why immigrant advocates are complaining about thousands of asylum seekers stuck in dangerous Mexican border towns.
The administration has tried to back away from Title 42, but court actions so far are preserving it as a tool for immigration control. Which, in an election year, is fine with some Democrats.
Dow and three fellow candidates want the governor to send National Guard troops to the border, as Texas and Arizona have done. Candidate Greg Zanetti has not. The retired brigadier general of the New Mexico Army National Guard told the Albuquerque Journal the others don’t understand the complexities of deploying the Guard on the border.
The National Guard can’t be used for immigration enforcement. So in Texas and Arizona, they’ve been “helping” for a few years. Assigned to keep watch in Texas, they lacked night-vision goggles so they stared into the darkness until they fell asleep, according to widespread media reports. They also built fence and clerked. In Arizona they cleaned stables sheltering the Border Patrol’s horses and maintained the patrol’s vehicles.
In March 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called 10,000 troops for Operation Lone Star and authorized them to arrest anyone breaking Texas laws. Both the Army Times and Stars and Stripes reported that troops lacked equipment, didn’t get paid for months, and had little to do. The state packed 36 troops into windowless trailers. Alcohol and drug abuse became so widespread that senior officers resorted to breathalyzers. The army saw upwards of 1,200 legal actions for everything from sexual assault and manslaughter to property loss.
State taxpayers pay the tab because their governors ordered the troops. In Texas the budget for border security spiraled from about $800 million in 2020 and 2021 to more than $2.9 billion in 2022 and 2023.
The cost alone should give us pause, but remember that National Guard members have jobs and lives. If a governor calls them to do busy work, someone’s kids are without a parent and someone’s employer and co-workers must fill the void.
So where are all these people supposedly streaming across the border? The Associated Press reported that immigration tapered off during the Trump administration and nearly stopped for 18 months during the pandemic, exacerbating the current labor shortage. This isn’t news to farmers and employers.
Title 42 is a finger in the dike, but it’s no solution. That would require our congresspersons to sit down, hear each other, hear the public, compromise, and produce new law, as we elected them to do.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/16/22
Report: Indian school abuses spanned decades
By Sherry Robinson All She Wrote
It was the secret that wasn’t really a secret.
The wretched conditions inside Indian boarding schools were well known and documented. Students took their painful experiences home. Historians wrote about the students, abuse, crowding, and disease. A 1928 report described serious problems for the U. S. Interior Department.
Last year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland launched an investigation into Indian boarding schools after Canadians found hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of former Indian schools. I wrote then that it was appropriate to investigate and recounted the miserable history of boarding schools on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in my book, “I Fought a Good Fight: A History of the Lipan Apaches.”
Now everybody knows this open secret. Recently, the Interior Department released a report on 408 Indian boarding schools in 37 states from 1819 to 1969. New Mexico was third in the number of these schools (43) behind Oklahoma (76) and Arizona (47).
The report describes institutions that devoted minimal time to education while offering students as free labor; that disciplined by starvation and physical and emotional abuse; that tolerated sexual abuse; that housed children in crowded, unhealthy dormitories; and that punished them for speaking their own languages.
The government delegated responsibility for about half these schools to major Christian denominations and missionary societies. Some of them sent unqualified, unsuitable people to staff the schools. There was no oversight.
And the government used Indian Trust Fund money to pay for it.
I’ve heard many an elder say they were beaten for speaking their own language. In my own research I was shocked to learn that hundreds of children died of tuberculosis at the schools from living in deplorable conditions. As the disease persisted, schools sent students home if they showed symptoms. Many died, alone and friendless, on the way. This is how a revered chief at Mescalero lost his son.
Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo, has said the investigation is the first step. The next will be a listening tour to hear boarding school survivors and their families. Even though many elders died in the pandemic, there will be plenty of testimony.
She envisions helping people heal by providing mental health services. “I come from ancestors who endured the horrors of the Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead,” she said. “We are uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to recover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for too long. As a Pueblo woman, it is my responsibility and frankly it's my legacy.”
Healing is one goal. Accountability is another. How do you hold a government accountable? Government isn’t just a passel of bureaucrats – it’s a body that represents us.
At the time, this misguided policy was widely accepted. When Captain Richard Pratt, founder of Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, said his policy was to “kill the Indian… and save the man,” he was considered a friend of Native Americans.
Accountability is also due from the religious organizations participating in this travesty. The churches’ employees interacted with children daily. Granted, some were kind, but far too many were despicable.
The path should lead to recognition of the wrongheaded policies of the past and to an apology. Some tribal leaders have mentioned reparations. Haaland has said the president “fully understands the obligation of the United States to Indian tribes.” But reparations are a slippery slope that could be emotional, divisive, slow, and ultimately unproductive.
Here’s an alternative proposal: Fully fund the federal Indian Health Service. From my reporting, I know they’re desperately underfunded. IHS receives half of what it needs to serve its patient population. This simple action could happen quickly and benefit every tribe.
And, referring to the obligation Haaland mentioned, it would be a promise kept.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/9/22
Land agencies need to rethink prescribed burns
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
On the afternoon of April 6, the U. S. Forest Service set the Las Dispensas prescribed fire, a 1,200-acre project intended to help the Gallinas Watershed, the primary water source for Las Vegas.
Weather conditions were within acceptable parameters, as were “resource availability, fuel moisture levels, air quality, ventilation, and forecasted weather and wind,” the agency explained in a news release. “Prescribed burns are… always managed with firefighter and public safety as the first priority.”
That afternoon, by 4:30 p.m., it became the Hermit’s Peak wildfire when “unexpected erratic winds in the late afternoon caused multiple spot fires that spread outside the project boundary,” the Forest Service said, and began burning across steep, rugged terrain.
At this writing, the Hermit’s Peak/ Calf Canyon fire is 176,273 acres and is 21% contained. About 6,000 families have had to evacuate their homes and ranches.
I’ve been surprised at how circumspect many New Mexicans have been about this out-of-control prescribed fire. Maybe it’s because people in the area have more urgent work to do and know a rant about this disaster won’t do much good.
That’s started to change lately.
The governor recently demanded that the federal government change its parameters regarding prescribed burns. She also expects reparations. Like the rest of us, she questioned why they would burn in April, which is notoriously windy in New Mexico, and when the forest was dry as straw. “New Mexico is going to work diligently to make sure the feds have a whole new set of rules that keep us safer. That’s for sure,” she said.
Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., wrote to the Forest Service that she’s outraged. “New Mexicans will feel the damage from this fire for years and generations to come,” she wrote. She too called for updated protocols.
Posts from residents on the Santa Fe National Forest’s website are overwhelmingly thank yous to firefighters, but a few are pointed. One woman wrote: “Looking forward to accountability. I live moment to moment trying to figure out if our home is gone or not. I know my livelihood is gone. I signed up for the forest, the views, the peace. None of those are left in my lifetime.”
A man asked: “Will the USFS personnel who made the decision to go ahead with the prescribed burn that started these fires be resigning? Will they be facing fines or jail time? The obvious negligence warrants some sort of consequences, doesn’t it?” He notes that “if it had been a camper or woodcutter they’d be in jail with massive fines.”
Other writers observed that “everyone connected to the start of the Hermit’s Peak fire will punish themselves for the rest of their lives,” that whether or not heads roll the goal should be to re-evaluate the decision-making process in the context of climate change, and that the agency owes the public transparency.
We’ve been here before. Many of us remember the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 that started as a controlled burn during another dry, high-wind spring. It burned 43,000 acres near Los Alamos and consumed 235 homes.
And last month, a day after Hermit’s Peak, another controlled burn by the U. S. Bureau of Land Management near Roswell became the Overflow Fire when a fire whirl, a kind of fire-driven dust devil, spun across fire lines. It burned 1,900 acres.
It’s not my purpose here to pile on, but I hope all the land agencies can have open, honest discussions about the prescribed burn, which is still a useful tool in fire prevention, and look seriously at other options, such as mechanical removal.
One positive development in this heartache and destruction is the governor’s successful bid to get a federal disaster declaration now, as the fire burns, rather than months later. It’s a good precedent to set.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/2/22
New Mexico needs better fire plans and policies
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Last year, we saw California burn, whispering to ourselves, “There by the grace of God go I,” and knowing that climate change could and would deal New Mexico the same hand.
Now here we are with 20 wildfires and the governor declaring an emergency as forecasters remind us it’s still early in fire season. June is the historical peak.
The acreage of burned western land, forested and nonforested, is three to four times greater than it was in 1970, according to a bio-climatologist quoted by Source New Mexico. Scientists have been warning for years that what we call drought is permanent. Fire seasons are getting longer, and the fires are bigger and hotter.
As I write this, the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon fire has reached nearly 104,000 acres after growing by 6,844 acres the day before, becoming one of the state’s largest fires ever recorded. The nearby Cook’s Peak fire was 59,000-plus acres.
Isn’t it time for us to start expecting – and even planning for – these disasters instead of acting surprised and scrambling to respond? We need a statewide contingency plan.
Cases in point: A man posts on the U. S. Forest Service Santa Fe National Forest Facebook page that La Placita Fire Department in Gallinas Canyon has been asked to help protect structures and provide water, but fire officials haven’t offered to feed them because they’re volunteer firefighters.
A woman thanks the Forest Service for its informative briefings and posts but notes that elderly Spanish speakers don’t have access to social media. The Forest Service is now posting in Spanish. Mandatory fire evacuations blanket Mora and San Miguel counties, but several hundred people stayed because of livestock. They’re far from grocery stores, but if they leave the State Police won’t allow them to return. (In Ruidoso, some people were in town for routine errands when evacuation orders were issued; they couldn’t go home to retrieve pets or important papers.)
In Mora County, volunteers were hauling food from Teresa’s Tamales in Cleveland, inside the fire zone. Owner Teresa Olivas told Source New Mexico she intended to stay and feed as many people as possible. And the Mora Shot Rangers, initially organized to get COVID-19 vaccines to rural seniors, were also distributing meals and checking on residents.
Some land owners used their own equipment and muscle to dig fire lines around their property and douse hot spots because fire crews in the area were too thinly stretched to protect individual properties.
We salute all these people who are going above and beyond, but how many Teresas are out there? One tiny eatery can’t feed everybody. Some remote land owners are simply doing without. Right now, and not in the next legislative session, the state needs a plan and policy to address these issues:
• The use and treatment of volunteer firefighters. Called to help, they can’t just stop and make themselves a sandwich before they go.
• Rural residents’ need to care for livestock or retrieve pets left behind.
• Local communities’ ability to temporarily house and feed the displaced. What can the state do to help?
• Possible aid to people who’ve lost everything.
Congress must reckon with federal agency funding and firefighter pay. Congress has kept land agencies on shoestring budgets. They simply don’t have staff or resources for the management and reforestation now required. Wildland firefighters work more hours in trickier conditions. Last year Congress nudged their pay up from $13.50 to $15 an hour for risking their lives, but because many jobs are classified as temporary, they don’t get benefits. Their ranks are thinning.
A great many people are doing heroic work, and this list of issues shouldn’t detract from that, but their jobs and our future would be better with serious planning.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/25/22
Lawmaker would have schools ignore laws and rules
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, recently urged school districts to ignore the state Public Education Department, he drew flak from the Albuquerque Journal for “fomenting a rebellion.” This was just the latest burst in his campaign against the PED.
During the regular legislative session, Montoya, House Minority Leader James Townsend and several other Republicans introduced four measures to fashion education more to their liking. House Joint Memorial 2 solicited legislative support for local control of public education and asked for a task force to recommend rule changes that would improve local control.
House Joint Resolution 11 asked voters to amend the state Constitution and get congressional approval to allow the state to give taxpayer money to parents with kids in home school or private nonreligious schools at a cost for home-schooled children alone of more than $50 million, according to a legislative analysis.
HJR 11 also called for an exception to the state’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits contributions of public money to private entities. They would have struck the word “uniform” from the state’s promise to provide a “uniform system of free public schools.” They didn’t require that students attend an accredited private school or for home schooling to cover subjects that meet any standards.
As the Attorney General pointed out, HJR 11 had legal and constitutional issues, beginning with deleting “uniform,” which promises fairness and equity in educating the state’s children. The word, in fact, was key to the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit over educational sufficiency and the Zuni lawsuit over public school capital outlay. The State Auditor asked how the state would oversee spending to parents and private schools.
HJR 15 was another attempt to bestow taxpayer money on parents of home schoolers or private school students.
HJR 13 would have replaced PED with an elected state board of education “to ensure that New Mexicans' voices are not lost in the process of decision making,” Townsend, R-Artesia, said in a news release.
Townsend may be unaware that New Mexico had a board of education for years. In a massive education reform about 20 years ago, voters did away with it. The problem was that individual board members, accountable to nobody, were running amok. He and Montoya didn’t have a problem with PED under the previous, Republican administration.
In January Montoya opined in the Santa Fe New Mexican that the Democrat Party is “the party of white, rich, liberal progressives” with no “connection to traditional New Mexico.” Further, he wrote, those rich, white liberals “believe white children should be ashamed of the ‘privilege’ of being white and that minority children should be angry for not having this privilege. This belief is racist at its core.”
The four measures went nowhere because the House Education Committee didn’t hear them. That would have been the decision of Chairman Andres Romero, who is neither white nor rich and is intimately connected to traditional New Mexico as a social studies teacher at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, a minority-majority school in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
The four bills were dead on arrival; the only news coverage they got was from the Carlsbad Current-Argus.
Frustrated by the Legislature and angry about new social studies standards, revised to be more culturally responsive, Montoya announced that local schools are “morally obligated” to reject the new social studies standards.
The Legislature, where Montoya serves as House Minority Whip, funds public schools and expects them to march to PED’s drumbeat. Cooler heads don’t find the new standards inflammatory and note an effort at inclusion and multiculturalism. Bottom line: Districts and teachers have a lot of flexibility.
Montoya himself swore an oath as a legislator to uphold the U. S. and state constitutions and state laws. If he now believes we should only obey the laws we like, he shouldn’t be a lawmaker.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/18/22
New Mexico’s Housing Trust Fund casts a ray of light
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In a moment, everything was gone.
Such comments came from both Ukraine and Ruidoso this past week. War and climate change are multiplying the numbers of unhoused people.
So far, we see a heartening outpouring of generosity. In Ruidoso and Las Vegas, dazed people who lost everything can get a cup of coffee and canned goods as they try to figure out their next move. They have a name: Climate change refugees.
But what happens after the next natural disaster and the next and the next? Add to that: economic displacement and the resulting homeless camps and people living in their cars. And the frontline workers everyone claims to appreciate who can’t find affordable housing. And the “man camps” in our oil fields.
We have a towering housing problem that’s far beyond the reach of the market or private charity.
According to the Housing New Mexico Advisory Committee, the state is short 32,000 units for renters earning less than 30% of median income in their area. Another 218,471 households were spending more than 30% of their income on housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition said that in New Mexico household income must be at least $35,814 to afford a two-bedroom rental.
One ray of light was the success of Senate Bill 134, which creates a dedicated revenue stream to build and maintain affordable housing in the state. It allocates 2.5% of severance tax bonding capacity, $20 million to $25 million a year, to the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund, administered by the state Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA). The fund can be used to build, rehabilitate and weatherize affordable homes for low- to moderate-income New Mexicans.
The measure had the enthusiastic support of the New Mexico Home Builders Association; CEO Jack Milarch thanked lawmakers and the governor.
Builders say they’re willing to take on these projects, but they need help. Land and materials costs have spiraled, and affordable housing is unaffordable to build. Miles D. Conway, executive director of the Santa Fe Homebuilders Association, told the New Mexican: “There is no question about it. No affordable housing is being built without these types of programs — without subsidies and incentives.”
Since the Housing Trust Fund was created in 2005, developers could apply for money to help meet the costs of building affordable housing; the MFA vets the applications based on need. However, the fund had only received a dribble of money, about $27 million total over 17 years, through yearly requests for appropriations. In the last five years, the fund received $5 million in fiscal 2022, $1.2 million in FY21, $2 million in FY20, and nothing in FY19 and FY18, according to legislative analysis.
Even that dribble has created 4,532 new, affordable housing units with an economic impact of $580 million in 16 counties, the analysis said. For every dollar the state spent on the program, MFA leveraged $26. That’s remarkable.
Still, local governments and builders say they need to know they can count on funding when they plan, hence the need for recurring dollars. Commitments to recurring dollars make some legislators nervous, but opposition was slight. In the Senate, three Republicans and in the House, 14 Republicans and one Democrat.
One of the opponents was Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, whose constituents will be glad to have another resource when they rebuild.
The MFA wrote: “Affordable housing is not just shelter, it is at the core of a healthy lifestyle and flourishing communities. Its economic and social impacts are significant, including being a social determinant of health.”
During the recent legislative session and special session, legislators talked a lot about spending the state’s windfall on “transformative” change. The bill’s two sponsors, Democrats Nancy Rodriguez of Santa Fe and Nathan Small of Las Cruces described SB 134 in those terms. They’re correct, but New Mexico needs much, much more.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/11/22
New Mexico could take lessons from Texas heritage tourism program
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
When my son drove his family, including his in-laws, to see Carlsbad Caverns, they were as fascinated by the pump jacks as they were by the caves. They’d never seen these bobbing creatures, but you won’t find one in a “New Mexico True” advertisement.
That’s one of many differences between how New Mexico and Texas promote themselves to tourists. Listening to a presentation on the Texas Heritage Trails Program at a recent historical conference in Lubbock, I thought we could learn from them.
Texas touts “heritage tourism” through driving trails in ten regions of the state. While the Texas Historical Commission is the initiative’s umbrella organization, the regions are partnerships among the state, local governments and private entities. A line item in the state’s budget pays the salaries of executive directors of each trail region, and they raise money through events, memberships and grants.
These regional executive directors are one of the program’s strengths. At the conference we heard from four of them. They’re energetic multi-taskers who work with individual sites and communities to help get the word out. “We sit on boards. We do hospitality trainings. We design websites,” said one young woman. They staff booths in city events and the state fair. “We’re outside of our region and pushing people into our regions.”
The trails structure embraces ALL the attractions and assets in a region. The Pecos Trail, for example, features the Permian Basin as well as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, Judge Roy Bean in Langtry along with Monahans Sandhills. Each region promotes its state and national parks, small towns, recreation areas, museums, historic districts, festivals, art, battlefields and Main Street cities. The notion of heritage embraces ranching, oil, early railroads, rock art, and border radio stations.
It all began in 1968 with the Hemisfair, a kind of World’s Fair, in San Antonio that brought international visitors to the city. Texas boosters pondered how to keep them longer and draw them into the rural areas. Gov. John Connelly introduced Texas Travel Trails – ten driving trails mapped out with recreation and historic sites marked by signs. Connelly pointed to a desk-top picture of his wife wearing a blue dress and told aides the signs should be “Nellie blue.” The signs guide visitors to this day.
Closest to New Mexico are the Mountain Trail, Pecos Trail and Plains Trail regions.
Connelly dedicated the first trail, the six-county Mountain Trail, in 1968 by driving the loop in a caravan of dignitaries flanked by state troopers. It included Alpine, El Paso, Fort Davis, Marathon, Marfa, and Van Horn. Its biggest attractions are Big Bend and Guadalupe national parks.
Texas views these efforts as economic development through history and heritage, a remarkable perspective. That, according to a brochure, encourages local preservation and statewide marketing to increase visitation, which in turn protects the state’s historic resources.
“It’s a truly rural program and depends on small communities,” said Tammie Virden, executive director of the Texas Forts Trail.
This is another of the program’s strengths. The executive directors are all posted in small communities, not distant cities, so it’s not top-down but a community-up effort in which locals communicate with each other. The executive directors are available to help local sites or chambers or friends groups with ideas or technical assistance.
In New Mexico, rural communities get a little advertising from the state, but they mostly toot their own horn, and it’s a small horn. There’s some regional promotion, but it lacks the all-in-this-together feeling of the Texas program.
We in New Mexico are a little snobbish about our attractions and think we easily outshine Texas. That may be so, but without effective promotion, we’re Cinderella in the attic.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/4/22
Cannabis retailers will sort out supply and demand but water will be tricky
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
On April Fool’s Day legal cannabis sellers opened their doors to recreational users. In the weeks before, speculation was endless. Will retailers have enough products? Will medical cannabis users be slighted? Is production at the right level for both? Is the state’s regulatory framework adequate?
To get an idea of what we’re in for, look at two other industries – hemp and gaming. When hemp farming was legalized in 2019, supplies initially outstripped demand, and inexperienced growers found the work more demanding than they expected. The hemp market had to readjust, and the unfit didn’t survive.
The first casinos were so controversial that the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce (then the Association of Commerce and Industry) couldn’t take a position because members were divided. Casinos had a huge need for accountants, lawyers, construction, liquor and food services. The first casinos, crowded and busy, delivered windfalls to the early gaming tribes. Then casinos proliferated until they were all competing for the same customers, and some lost business. But they grew less controversial, and now they’re pretty much accepted in the business and entertainment landscape.
As an old business writer, I can safely predict that the cannabis industry and its host of startups, many of them small, will struggle with supply and demand, regulation and competition. Eventually, the business will sort itself out, become more predictable, and bless state coffers with new revenues. But not everybody will make it.
Another modest prediction: Cannibis shops will be a shot in the arm to retail. In cities and towns across the state, too many buildings sit shuttered. Some of those places will be cannabis outlets, and they could draw eateries, bakeries and galleries.
Duke Rodriguez, president and CEO of Ultra Health, has often said that tiny places like Texico and San Jon on the Texas state line could be cannabis hubs because our big neighbor is unlikely to legalize cannabis. Rodriguez is probably right, and driving through Texico last week, I tried to imagine that. I could also imagine Texas state troopers being very busy, just as our own state police were in the months after Colorado legalized pot.
This fledgling industry still faces some significant unfinished business. Namely, banking and water.
Banking is so critical to businesses that being unbanked is inconceivable, but most cannabis operations don’t have banks. The federal government doesn’t prohibit banks from serving cannabis businesses, but the risk of money laundering usually scares banks away.
That’s started to change.
In December U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union, New Mexico’s oldest credit union, became the nation’s first financial institution to be certified for banking protocols in cannabis and hemp operations. The program is under the nonprofit Policy Center for Public Health & Safety in collaboration with state attorneys general.
U.S. Eagle and Southwest Capital Bank both serve cannabis businesses through separate operations, each staffed with professionals expert in the industry’s particular regulatory and security issues. For that they charge higher fees. Now that these two institutions have broken trail, others will follow – cautiously.
Water could have been addressed in a cannabis law clean-up bill this year. How much water the industry might use is a serious question. The original cannabis bill required that growers show proof they have legal rights to water, but lawmakers removed language to that effect and instead said growers could lose their licenses if they use water illegally. Newbie growers unfamiliar with state water laws might be using domestic wells to irrigate a commercial crop or they might be leaning on municipal water. The New Mexico Acequia Association, among other groups, insisted on verification language, but the bill died on adjournment.
New Mexico had years to watch Colorado, but this will still be a learning experience for business people, regulators, legislators and cops. A clean-up bill will be back next year and for years to come.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/28/22
Counties spend money to fight misunderstood conservation plan
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In January 2021 the president introduced an initiative with a snappy name: 30x30. The governor jumped on board with an initiative for New Mexico.
The federal plan would preserve 30% of U. S. land and water by 2030. It called for collaboration, inclusion, local leadership, honoring private property rights, voluntary stewardship, and flexibility. Currently, about 12% of lands are permanently protected.
However, in a climate of paranoia over anything coming from government, conspiracy theorists quickly tagged it as a “government land grab.” And in a way, given the touchiness around land and property rights, the president and governor could have expected blowback. We’re not far removed from a sharp national reaction to one eastern city’s use of eminent domain for economic development.
During a recent meeting with San Juan County commissioners, Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said eminent domain will not be used. Eminent domain is the government’s right to condemn private property for the public good, usually infrastructure. The landowner is compensated.
As Propst explained it, the state plan focuses on existing programs to reach the 30x30 goal. It’s about designations and working with land owners rather than acquiring land. Its committee of representatives from state agencies won’t recommend new wilderness areas because the attendant restrictions would interfere with their need for flexible management in the face of climate change, according to the New Mexico Political Report.
State Forester Laura McCarthy explained that wilderness designations, in fact, have hindered needed tree thinning to prevent disastrous forest fires. Land managers need greater flexibility.
A few weeks earlier, Margaret Byfield, executive director of the American Stewards of Liberty, addressed San Juan commissioners. The Texas-based nonprofit calls 30x30 “a plan advanced by radical environmental activists,” and it’s making big bucks for its services.
Byfield told San Juan Commissioners 30x30 would rely on programs like conservation easements that strip property owners of their rights, said the Political Report.
Actually, conservation easements provide tax incentives to landowners who set aside a parcel and promise it won’t be developed. Some conservation easements protect agricultural use of the land. The easements don’t allow public access to the property, and the landowners can continue using the easement while it’s dedicated to conservation.
Byfield claimed incorrectly that landowners aren’t informed the easements are permanent, but the New Mexico Land Conservancy’s website carries such a statement. She also said the government’s goal is to “eliminate use of the land,” but the site describes continued agricultural use. One example is a ranch near Ramah that raises organic, grass-fed beef while protecting archaeological sites and conserving wildlife habitat.
Byfield said “threats” in the 30×30 plan include increasing the number of wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and national monuments. The state and local communities, however, would probably use the word “asset” because the areas are stoking New Mexico’s budding outdoor tourism industry. So far, American Stewards has persuaded Chaves, Otero, Catron, Quay, Lea and Sandoval counties to pass resolutions against 30x30. Chaves County is even a big American Stewards customer.
Ben Neary, a former journalist now with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, used an Inspection of Public Records Act request to verify that Chaves County paid the group $185,000 for consultation services on land management and endangered species between 2016 and 2021. Imagine the stink if Chaves County had paid the Sierra Club that much in taxpayer dollars.
In its 2019 Form 990 filed with the IRS, the most recent available, American Stewards reported paying Margaret Byfield $91,128 and her husband Daniel, $101,253 – the lion’s share of expenses ($308,647). The group received far more for its consulting work ($204,332) than it did in donations ($116,948).
This is not just an advocacy organization. It has a financial stake in provoking opposition. Is the ironically named American Stewards advancing its own fortunes or the best interests of the counties?
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/21/22
Opportunity Scholarship opens doors to higher education for all
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
On my first day back in class after 14 years, a big jock had his feet across the last remaining seat. Summoning an assertiveness I’d lacked as an 18-year-old, I said, “Hey! I need to sit down.” He moved.
UNM called us “returning students.” We were the people who started college but then life intervened. In my case, the Bank of Dad ran out of money. My brother loaded up on loans and kept going. I didn’t want to do that, so I dropped out. When I returned, I was a single mom supporting a child as a freelance writer.
UNM set aside a place for us to hang out in the Student Union Building, which was empty the one time I saw it. Returning students didn’t hang out. I carried six to nine credits, ran onto campus to take classes and ran off again to work and parent.
So this year when the governor championed the Opportunity Scholarship, I thought, it’s about time. It allows non-traditional students to pursue a degree part-time or finish their education if they’ve been detoured. The state is paying for the program with the gusher of state revenues and federal pandemic relief money.
A smaller, more restricted Opportunity Scholarship, operating for two years, has helped 10,000 students. The new version, passed with bipartisan support during the recent 30-day session and recently signed, could support up to 35,000 students, more than half the state’s undergraduate students. It’s the only state-funded scholarship program in the nation to include both recent high school graduates and returning students, according to the governor’s news release.
The new program covers tuition and fees at in-state, public or tribal community colleges and universities for students who take between six and 18 credit hours and maintain a 2.5 grade point average. They can pursue career training certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. Full or part-time students can roll together Pell Grants, local scholarships, and private scholarships to pay expenses.
Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque and a co-sponsor, was a returning student who earned her degree a little at a time. To her, it’s “significant that the scholarship is open to people taking six credit hours a semester (because) many New Mexicans must juggle work and family responsibilities in addition to their coursework.”
Amen to that.
In the House, the bill provoked a three-hour debate. Some Republican opponents questioned the bill as a giveaway. “There’s something to be said for having skin in the game versus being handed something for free,” said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho.
I can assure Harper that many returning students have skin in the game in the form of small people at the table who need their Cheerios and peanut butter sandwiches even if mom or dad attend classes and still work.
Other legislators predicted that schools would just raise tuition, knowing the scholarship would absorb the cost. The governor said her administration would be on the lookout for institutions that “game the system.”
Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that. During lean times, state budgeters cut higher education and then cut it some more, arguing that institutions have other sources of revenue. But a campus is like a small town, with the same infrastructure needs, and highly educated employees charged with shaping future citizens.
Keep in mind that not all the funding for the program is permanent. New Mexico might have another oil bonanza next year, but who knows how long that will go on.
If you’ve been thinking about going back to school, don’t wait. Enroll in a New Mexico institution and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. For more information see www.freecollegenm.org.