© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/19/23
Christine Trujillo, a woman warrior, steps down
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
“Mom, you’re president of the AFL-CIO!”
Not many women ever heard that sentence. In 2001 Christine Trujillo had been teaching for 21 years, served on the state school board, and was president of the 6,500-member American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico.
That December she became the first woman and the first teacher to lead the New Mexico Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.
Trujillo routinely juggled so many responsibilities that it took her daughter’s remark for her to pause long enough to appreciate this new honor. Busy women know that feeling.
This month Trujillo announced her resignation as a state representative after ten years of service. News coverage focused on Trujillo as legislator and teacher, but she was a labor leader for 12 years. It was no cake walk.
Growing up poor in Taos, 12th in a family of 16, she saw how people struggled to make a living, and she herself had plenty of challenges, she told me in a 2002 interview.
As a high-school dropout and single mom, she completed a GED. Next she got a degree from New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas while working as a bilingual secretary. In 1980 she became a bilingual teacher with Albuquerque Public Schools and joined a union. She was active in women’s and human rights groups and the union before winning a position on the state school board in 1999.
There she opposed teaching creationism in public schools. “Religious dogma in the science realm is not something that I support,” she said at the time. She also used the position to champion bilingual education.
In 2001 she became president of the teachers’ union and five months later, the state AFL-CIO. She joked about being a workaholic but said being involved came naturally to her. As for being the first woman president, she said, “We’re all working people. We all work for better conditions, better salaries, for respect for our crafts.”
The organization’s men took her election in stride. Lawrence Sandoval, of the Communications Workers of America, called the change refreshing. “I think she’s probably one of the strongest labor leaders in the state,” he said.Her immediate challenge was electing Democrat Bill Richardson governor.
Gov. Gary Johnson, then a Republican, allowed the state’s collective bargaining law to sunset in 1999, and Richardson promised to revive it. Richardson won in 2002 and signed a new bargaining rights law, which spurred new organizing.
The Great Recession was a blow to labor beginning in 2008. Union numbers continued to slide as Republicans, ahead of 2010 elections, pushed harder to cripple or destroy labor unions. Trujillo worked with every single union.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, took office in 2011. She quickly fired all three members of the state’s Labor Relations Board and forced out its executive director. “She’s trying to destroy all the efforts that we have made over the past ten years,” Trujillo said. Unions appealed to the state Supreme Court, which reinstated two members.
Next Martinez laid off 44 state employees, three-quarters of them from the state Public Education Department, including the local president of Communications Workers of America. An administration spokesman said the recession forced budget cuts. Trujillo called it retaliation.
In 2012 Trujillo stepped down from the AFL-CIO at the point of its highest membership ever and won a seat in the state House of Representatives. She threw herself into education issues as chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee and more recently was active in health issues.
I never saw her raise her voice.
Now she’s resigning from the House because of health issues and the sense that it’s time. As a leader, a politician, a warrior for her beliefs, Christine Trujillo is unmatched. If she were an athlete, they’d retire her number.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/5/23
False complaint to Ethics Commission goes public
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
It’s one of those calls no elected official wants to get.
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was out of state when a reporter called to ask her about an ethics complaint.
“What ethics complaint?” she asked.
The state Ethics Commission received, investigated and dismissed the complaint in April and notified Lundstrom by legislative email, which Lundstrom and many other lawmakers don’t use outside of sessions. Unaware of the complaint, she didn’t respond, but the commission dismissed the complaint on a technicality – namely that the complaint wasn’t filed within two years of the alleged misconduct.
Somebody who was dissatisfied with the outcome leaked the complaint to the Santa Fe New Mexican, and now, true or not, it’s gained legs.
Todd Hathorne, of Rio Rancho, claimed that in 2020 Lundstrom failed to disclose a memorandum of understanding that “directed” $1 million to her employer, the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corp.
That year, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a utility, announced it would close its coal-fired power plant, a blow to McKinley and Cibola counties. Lundstrom carried a complex bill to create an economic district around the plant to pave the way for redevelopment. She’s introduced similar bills.
Hathorne wrote in his complaint that as then chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, “Lundstrom played a key role in the financial decisions of the State. While she undoubtedly did good work in her role, she also used that role to secure” $1 million for her employer, which then paid her about $100,000 a year.
He asked the commission and the Attorney General to investigate.
The commission didn’t investigate, but it wouldn’t have been hard. “All you have to do is call DFA (the state Department of Finance and Administration) and ask if there’s a contract,” Lundstrom said. “There’s a process. They don’t just write you a check.”
Reporter Daniel Chacon confirmed there is no contract and therefore no check, and there is no million bucks in the memorandum of understanding. The memorandum was simply an agreement saying the utility, McKinley County and the economic development group would collaborate to redevelop, save jobs and help the community. It was a false accusation, Chacon concluded. According to Chacon, Hathorne couldn’t tell him where in the memorandum it says the state would funnel money to Lundstrom’s employer. Hathorne said he relied on information shared with him during this year’s legislative session by an unidentified individual.
I would add that Hathorne misunderstood the economic development group’s financial underpinnings. The state doesn’t support it, the members do; Lundstrom’s alleged reward for funneling money is just her regular salary. Chacon also reported that Hathorne is a member of the Republican Party of New Mexico’s Central Committee, which gives the episode a political scent. Lundstrom says she has many Republican friends and is mystified why the party would target her. Hathorne admitted that Lundstrom “has made some good decisions” and even supported some Republican positions. “It wasn’t driven just by political agendas,” he told Chacon.
Recently, the New Mexican “obtained” the complaint, which is code for a leak.
Here’s the rub. When lawmakers created the commission in 2017, one major concern was about false complaints that would make headlines, causing headaches for elected officials before anything was ever proven. The remedy was to keep the complaint confidential until the commission decides on probable cause.
“They dismissed it before I even knew it was filed,” Lundstrom said. “Then miraculously it ends up with the press.”
Lundstrom knows she’ll have to deal with this false complaint when she runs for office next year. “It’s got to be some kind of political hit,” she said. In the current climate, a political adversary needs only to flash a headline, and it doesn’t have to be true.
One leak set a sad precedent. Now nobody is safe.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/29/23
Reorganization 20 years ago produced dysfunctional Department of Cultural Affairs
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Long-time State Archeologist Eric Blinman recently sued the state, his former boss and the governor over his firing in February. The abrupt termination of the well known and respected Blinman produced a public outcry and petitions of support, along with complaints about Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego, who’s fired a string of directors.
When we talk about what makes New Mexico unique, we talk about culture, heritage and history. Archaeologists are the people who discover and explain it all. This is not just about one guy. It’s DCA’s job to preserve, protect and present our cultural treasures.
Most of us think this is important, but the last two governors haven’t cared enough about DCA or its mission to appoint competent secretaries. One result: During a tight budget year in 2016, the former secretary slashed jobs in the Historic Sites Division and staffed up other divisions. This included three new PR jobs.Historic Sites, one of DCA’s smallest divisions, absorbed half the job loss. The state ignored protests of local governments, volunteers, and historians.
By 2021 the two biggest sites, Lincoln and nearby Fort Stanton, were dirty, deteriorating and understaffed. Calls to Santa Fe from residents, volunteers and interest groups went unanswered. News coverage finally forced DCA to act, but outspoken staff members lost their jobs.
This year, after the uproar over firings, the governor announced Garcia y Griego would forego scrutiny by the Senate and serve without confirmation. The two women are personal friends, the lawsuit says.
Blinman’s lawsuit, filed May 18, gives us a peek into DCA.
According to the lawsuit: Blinman first tangled with his boss because she insisted on interviewing and selecting Blinman’s employees even though she’s not an archaeologist. He asked to hire a deputy director and financial person. She said no and then complained because he couldn’t keep up with his work.
He reported a hostile work environment to the department’s human resource officer. When the secretary was rumored to be having an affair with one of her subordinates, Blinman feared it would harm the agency and reported that to HR. Weeks later, he was fired and banned from the building he raised money to build. He and his former employees are forbidden to talk.
Blinman sued in federal court for gender, race and age discrimination and violation of the state’s whistleblower act, among other things. Attorney Merit Bennet, a workplace specialist, argues that Blinman had a valid contract and that two Hispanic women, the governor and the secretary, fired a 69-year-old, white male.
Some of us wonder why the state archaeologist or a museum director is a political appointee. The jobs require such specific education and experience they’re unlikely to be a soft landing for political cronies. Why aren’t they part of the state’s civil service system?
It goes back to a state reorganization that started in 2003. Former Gov. Bill Richardson elevated the Office of Cultural Affairs and three other divisions to cabinet-level departments. In 2004, Rep. J. Paul Taylor, D-Mesilla, carried the bill for DCA. To Taylor, an educator who cared deeply about the state’s heritage, the change would help protect the agency.
That’s not how it worked out.
DCA’s managers became division directors. They got a pay raise and, to increase accountability, they were now appointees exempt from the state Personnel Act.
The bill was controversial. A former museum director predicted that appointees would find it “harder to take principled and ethical stands against whatever issue may come up.” A former chairman of the museum’s board of regents said removing directors from the state personnel system “totally politicizes the museum system.”
I would further argue that the arrangement has encouraged mismanagement, crony hiring and mistreatment of employees because the secretary and her hires enjoy a special status.
We are stuck in this bad movie unless lawmakers decide to change it.
In response to this column, we received the following email:
As a political activist with the New Mexico Library Association, our experience with former DCA Secretary Veronica Gonzales was very positive. When the State Librarian position became vacant by retirement, a group of us met with her early in her tenure to share our needs and concerns. She attended and keynoted several of our Library Association conferences. She was accessible and supportive of our initiatives about bond issues and broadband. She got Governor Martinez to present at several libraries, to publicize summer reading programs and other State Library programs and resources. She was particularly interested in tribal libraries and their services. That she effectively managed the DCA through the entire eight years of the Martinez administration with little controversy and too little money is a tribute to her abilities.
Joe Sabatini, Co-Chair
New Mexico Library Association
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/15/23
FEMA: Not helping disaster victims for 20 years
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Wildfires in northern New Mexico last year quickly destroyed homes, property and trees in a race to the horizon. But the agency that’s supposed to help victims with housing and reimbursement operates in slow motion, if it operates at all.
As a recent story by Source New Mexico and Pro Publica made clear, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has done almost nothing, hogtied by its own regulations and bureaucratic inertia. On May 10, U. S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, along with Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, wrote FEMA and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, to express their “deep concern.” Nearly $4 billion promised New Mexico sits untouched.
Governors have been pounding on FEMA’s desk and griping to presidents for at least two decades.
Remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – the floating bodies and the stadium full of helpless people in New Orleans? FEMA and its hapless administrator took heavy flak, but problems started before. President Carter created the agency in 1979 to guide the federal response to disasters, natural and man-made. Post 9-11, in 2003, FEMA became a division of the Department of Homeland Security. By 2004, first responders and local officials complained that the small, agile, independent agency they knew had disappeared inside a mammoth federal department. FEMA continued to dispense water, food, tents, and other supplies, but now Homeland Security’s inspector general was scrutinizing spending and investigating allegations of fraud.
That had the effect of slowing and chilling FEMA’s response. Spending slowed, appeals of internal decisions increased, and internal communications bogged down.
By 2005 governors were trading horror stories about FEMA. "Every state has had the same experience,” Gov. Brad Henry told The Oklahoman. "Some of the stories I've heard from other states are worse.” After FEMA Director Mike Brown resigned in September 2005, news outlets reported Homeland Security’s hand in the bungled response to Katrina.
In the next decade climate change also battered the agency. Disasters have struck more frequently, but FEMA has had staffing shortages, according to the Government Accountability Office. During the 2017 and 2018 disaster seasons FEMA’s operating groups were operating with one-fourth of needed staffing, and some employees refused deployments because of burnout and difficult conditions in the field. Personnel who did deploy weren’t always qualified.
Last August, as fires burned New Mexico, Gov. Andy Beshear, of Kentucky, complained that FEMA was denying too many requests for help. He told people applying for disaster aid: ”Number one, do not give up. Number two, if you’re denied, go and look these people in the eye.”
President Biden toured the region and promised Kentucky, as he did here, that the federal government would provide support until residents were back on their feet. And yet flood victims were denied help when they couldn’t produce the required documents.
So it’s no wonder that Source New Mexico and Pro Publica can report that FEMA hasn’t made payments here. It hasn’t completed rules governing compensation and can’t say when that might happen. A FEMA official told locals that rules must be approved by FEMA, Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget.
Which sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare.
The famous FEMA trailers are scarce. After months of delays and red tape, fire victims used their own money to buy campers, or they’re living in tents or cars, or they’re sofa surfing. FEMA termed these fallbacks “another housing resource” and declared applicants ineligible. Others jumped through hoops to get a trailer on their land but found that FEMA rules made it impossible.
FEMA isn’t working here or any place else, and yet the president keeps making promises. Our congressional delegation should find enough bipartisan support to overhaul FEMA, if that’s even possible in a divided Congress. At the very least, FEMA should be independent again.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/8/23
NMSU betrays parents and athletes in mismanaged program
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
It could have been any parent standing before the microphone, bewildered and shocked at the events that brought him there. But it wasn’t any parent – it was William Benjamin, a former star athlete at New Mexico State University. He talked about how, as a parent, he trusted NMSU and its coaches to do right by his son.
Speaking as a former athlete and current high school coach, he said the brutal assaults against his son and others would never be tolerated in his own program and weren’t a part of his own experience as a student athlete.
“It would never have been tolerated at all. At all!” he said. “My players know that all eyes are on them. They hold themselves to the highest standard.”
When parents hand off their young athletes to an outsider, the coach, they join the circle of trust Benjamin describes. Most of our kids have good experiences, but sometimes the coach and the institution betray this trust. Now Benjamin, who has built student athletes for 14 years, must rebuild his devastated son.
The first whiff of trouble was the exchange of gunfire between an Aggie basketball player and a UNM student. The Aggie had better aim. The next was the widely reported “hazing scandal” at NMSU. Except that it wasn’t hazing. It was a string of criminal sexual assaults against William “Deuce” Benjamin Jr. (at 6’1” he was the team’s smallest member), Shakiru Odunewu, and others. We now know the program stinks from end to end. In April the Benjamins sued the NMSU board of regents, Coach Greg Heiar, Assistant Coach Dominique Taylor, and three former players. Odunewu filed his own suit.
The senior Benjamin said, “We still hold people accountable for their acts, for what they do and do not do.”
Reporting has revealed an anything-goes internal culture in which the tail wagged the dog. According to ESPN, the Associated Press and the lawsuits, three players assaulted teammates and intimidated others into silence. Odunewu reported the abuse to Coach Heiar, who did nothing. As one such assault was in progress, Odunewu asked assistant coach Taylor to stop it. He refused. Odenewu spoke three times to another assistant coach. Again, nothing. Deuce Benjamin finally told his father who then called coaches and Athletic Director Mario Moccia. When they failed to return his calls, he urged his son to go to campus police.
After an investigation, Chancellor Dan Arvisu suspended the program mid-season and fired Coach Heiar. Moccia told the AP, “Coaching hires are not infallible. There is not a crystal ball underneath my desk.”
Yes, but isn’t oversight part of the job?
Moccia hired a new coach, Jason Hooten, at a salary that starts at $425,000 and reaches $475,000 in his fifth year. Hooten said, “A new culture needs to be built, and a new start and a new beginning.” But he told Deuce Benjamin to find someplace else to play, so Benjamin was victimized twice.
Chancellor Arvisu and the regents mutually agreed that he would retire two months early. On his last day Arvisu approved a five-year contract extension for Moccia with a pay raise of $71,800, so his pay will hit $425,000 in five years. NMSU faculty members were stunned.
How the undeserving have risen and the deserving have fallen.
A year ago Deuce Benjamin entered the NMSU basketball program. He was “the best high school player in the state and the most celebrated recruit in years at NMSU,” said the AP. All he wanted was to be an Aggie standout like his dad. Today he doesn’t trust anybody.
Maybe if the well-paid decision makers remembered that Deuce is somebody’s son and not an expendable game piece, he would still be the hopeful, trusting youth he was a year ago.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/1/23
Good year for water legislation still slights dams
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Water managers got some good news, for a change, as hydrologists for the National Weather Service announced a record snowpack that will deliver more water to the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers. Even though that snowmelt produced a disaster declaration in Sandoval County and could cause some flooding elsewhere, it’s still a blessing.
You know what’s coming next. It’s the big “however.”
However, climate change and drought are still with us. While a good year allows groundwater supplies to recover a bit and irrigation districts will have a better, longer season, they all know they can’t relax.
So it’s encouraging that legislators this year passed and the governor signed some ambitious water bills at a time when they had money to spend.
Senate Bill 9, the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, was the star of the show.
The bipartisan SB 9 establishes the state’s first dedicated source of recurring funding for conservation without adding new programs or additional bureaucracy. In her budget recommendations, the governor singled out funding for existing state programs to protect communities from wildfire, flood and drought; safeguard water supplies; support rural and agricultural communities; and grow the outdoor recreation economy. Previously, the programs have been unfunded or under-funded.
SB 9 starts with $100 million for disbursements. The State Investment Council will manage a second, permanent trust fund, with an initial investment of $50 million.
For rural areas, SB 1, the Regional Water System Resiliency Act, will be useful. Small water utilities can create and join regional water authorities to seek funding for repair work and hire people for everything from operations to paperwork required by state and federal entities.
Typically, these small utilities contend with aging infrastructure and rely on volunteers. If they’re behind in their reporting, they can’t apply for state and federal grants.
A related bill, SB 337, authorizes the Interstate Stream Commission to issue loans and grants for regional water planning and develop regulations governing regional water planning entities.
Two bills were long overdue.
SB 57 rescued the Water Trust Fund, which has helped finance dozens of water projects around New Mexico since it was created nearly two decades ago. It distributes about $4 million a year. The State Investment Council has warned for years that the fund would be drained within 15 years without new money. Lawmakers created the fund in 2006 with $40 million, added $15 million the following year and stopped. The sponsor asked for $250 million and got $100 million.
The Strategic Water Reserve also needed rescuing. Years ago, the nonpartisan Think New Mexico campaigned for a reserve that allowed the state in 2005 to buy and lease water rights to keep rivers flowing and avoid conflicts over endangered species and interstate river compacts. Lawmakers responded.
Since then, the state has used the reserve to acquire water along the Rio Grande, Pecos and San Juan rivers. It hasn’t “achieved its full potential due to inadequate funding,” says Think New Mexico. Supporters hoped for $25 million; last year’s allocation of $15 has been spent. The budget has $7.5 million, plus another $150,000 in the junior budget bill.
In a year of surplus revenues, we might expect dams to get more money. The State Engineer’s Office has identified more than 70 dams needing repair. SB 195 tried to create a $150 million fund for dam repairs and other infrastructure needs. It died.
The State Engineer got $10 million, plus another $3.4 million previously appropriated for a stalled project, for dam maintenance and improvement.
And the long awaited state water plan got $250,000 in recurring and $500,000 in one-time money, but the State Engineer’s Office, expected to do this and a lot of other water work remains under-funded and under-staffed, according to the online New Mexico In Depth.
Some wins, some disappointments. Even in a year like this, money, like water, isn’t infinite.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/24/23
Bipartisan support delivers for healthcare
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Gina DeBlassie, the governor’s advisor on healthcare policy, described the 11th-hour rescue of the malpractice bill.
Because of a flaw in medical malpractice legislation passed in 2021, doctors at independent outpatient facilities couldn’t get insurance, and doctors were leaving the state. Republicans and some Democrats raised the roof. Dem leadership just didn’t see the urgency. One bill had failed, and another was stalled.
Late one night in the governor’s office, a call to an insurance representative confirmed that her company would not insure doctors of independent facilities. It was not an idle threat. At that point the governor waded into the stalemate between trial lawyers and doctors and brokered a compromise, with help from party leaders.
Senate Bill 521, sponsored by the two parties’ leaders, passed with just three days left in the session.
That was a high-profile bill. Also passed and signed by the governor were a number of other healthcare measures that got little or no attention. Together, they represent a “very successful session for healthcare,” DeBlassie told New Mexico Press Women recently.
Give a cheer for the governor’s Rural Healthcare Delivery Fund, intended to relieve healthcare shortages in rural areas. The bipartisan Senate Bill 7 will make grants to providers, clinics and hospitals to expand care in counties with fewer than 100,000 people. The grants would cover operating losses for up to five years.
“We asked for $200 million and got $80 million,” DeBlassie said. “One of the things we need to talk about is what services do we need where and what makes sense.”
Many bills flew under the radar.
SB 245, another governor’s bill with bipartisan sponsorship, allows the state to establish a rural emergency hospital license that enables some rural health facilities to qualify for enhanced federal healthcare reimbursement as a Rural Emergency Hospital. An REH must provide emergency department services around the clock and have a transfer agreement with a Level 1 or 2 Trauma Center. The new license and the improved federal reimbursement will be a lifeline to struggling rural hospitals. DeBlassie expects Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa to be the first REH. Lawmakers passed three important insurance mandates.
SB 273 requires health insurance companies to raise reimbursement rates for behavioral health providers and substance use disorder services and cover couples, marriage, and family therapy without requiring prior authorization or diagnosis.
“Senate Bill 273 stops New Mexico’s short-sighted treatment for behavioral health and Substance Use Disorders and provides for a reimbursement framework which will encourage behavioral health providers to come to New Mexico, and stay in New Mexico,” said Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, a physician.
HB 131 requires group health insurance under the state Health Care Purchasing Act to cover custom orthotic devices and prosthetics to the same extent as Medicare. It’s the nation’s first such bill. HB 27 requires the same insurers to cover breast cancer screenings, along with follow-up screenings recommended by doctors. Often, because of cost, women don’t get the additional screenings they need. And HB 75 mandates that cost-sharing restrictions on chiropractic services be no more restrictive than for primary doctor visits.
Five bills addressed took on prescription drug affordability, but only SB 51, which came from the governor’s Prescription Drug Task Force, is now law.
Passed in the session’s final minutes, it mandates that discounts provided to pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers, or wholesalers be applied to patients’ out-of-pocket costs.
A few things to note: With the malpractice bill, the governor pulled the Dems’ heads from the sand so we wouldn’t lose more doctors. Two bills will make a meaningful difference in rural healthcare, which desperately need help. And many of these bills not only had bipartisan support but bipartisan sponsors from the extreme ends of the political spectrum, proving that there’s still a lot the two parties can accomplish together.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/17/23
CYFD needs a superhero
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Help wanted: The state of New Mexico is seeking one superhero to rid an agency of its demons. The candidate must have the Black Panther’s intellect, Wonder Woman’s ability to strategize, Spiderman’s optimism and courtesy, Wolverine’s self-healing and retractable claws (useful in meetings) – and the moral compass, strength and stamina of them all.
Apply in person.
The state is once again looking for a secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department after Barbara Vigil announced she will leave the post and serve on the department’s newly created Policy Advisory Council.When I last wrote about CYFD, in February, the department was emerging from a year-long review and rolling out its roadmap to a new CYFD. The governor signed an executive order calling for yearly independent audits, four new managers, and a new advisory council. An Emergency Health group will assure safe places to stay for every child, and an Office of Innovation will bring best practices to the agency.
The governor promised more details after the legislative session, but we don’t know any more than we did in February. Now the person leading the reforms is out.
Of course, Vigil departs just as the media report another incident. After a baby suffocated, and the mother’s two children and a grandchild tested positive for meth, they remained with her. After a second incident, CYFD placed the children with other relatives but then returned them to the woman. During the session, legislators of both parties introduced bills to reform the troubled agency, and they blasted the agency’s operations and demanded transparency. The quote of the session came from Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces: “We’re telling CYFD to get off their ass. I don’t have a nice way to say this anymore. I’m beyond frustrated.”
Said Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte: “It’s hard to believe we’re going to fix and address all of CYFD’s problems, when we’re letting CYFD identify which problems they want to bring forward.”
Reformers see the governor’s CYFD plan as mere reshuffling. Child welfare attorney Deborah Gray wrote in an op ed: “There cannot be any meaningful oversight of CYFD by CYFD.”
Vigil and the governor argued that the bills would complicate CYFD’s internal reforms, and most of them failed.
Dead bills would have:
One bill almost passed. HB 11, which had 16 bipartisan sponsors, would have established an Office of the Child Advocate in the Attorney General’s office. This office would have reviewed services, investigated and resolved complaints, operated a hotline, and reported yearly. Forty-four states have similar offices. It died on the Senate Calendar.
Just two bills became law.
Senate Bill 107, by Diamond, ensures that victims of repeat abusers get the highest priority for probable cause removal hearings and that abused or neglected children have timely custody hearings.
HB 107 gives CYFD up to three days, instead of two, to file petitions when the agency has taken custody of the child.
One other bit of progress is a 6% increase in funding for the department overhaul and hiring of more social workers.
In a letter to CYFD employees, quoted by the Albuquerque Journal, Vigil wrote that she decided to retire because of “unrelenting factors” that adversely affect the state’s children, whatever that means.
The superhero who applies to lead CYFD will also need a decoder ring.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/10/23
Governor’s veto pen punctures tax bill that tried to do too much
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
There were plenty of signs that the “omnibus tax bill” would not waddle into law books, even before the governor began questioning whether it was sustainable. In the recent legislative session, lawmakers and media kept calling House Bill 547 a “tax reform” measure. It wasn’t. It was more of a wish list – a bunch of bills strung together during the session with little consideration for their individual or collective impact.
The sponsor of HB 547, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, is new to taxation. Lente’s passion and driving interest is tribal education, not tax reform. House Speaker Javier Martinez made Lente chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee in his reshuffling of committee chairs.
Before the ink was dry, business groups lined up in opposition because the bill would raise taxes during a year of surplus revenues and would hobble the state’s businesses. The business community was also mightily annoyed that lawmakers ignored the long-standing problem of pyramiding in gross receipts taxes. (Pyramiding is a tax on a tax when it’s part of the business’s gross income.) Supporters removed some of the more objectionable pieces of HB 547 but not all.
Two days before the session ended, the governor made her reservations clear: “House Bill 547 would reduce the state’s recurring revenue by a billion dollars every single year – that's a full tenth of the entire state budget. That’s on top of the $500 million in broad-based, recurring tax relief that we’ve worked with the Legislature to implement over the last four years.
“Put simply: this tax package cuts too deep, too quickly.”
At the time, James O’Neill (former director of state tax policy) and John Tysseling, both of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce Tax Policy Committee, wrote in an op ed: “The proposed House ‘omnibus tax bill’ squanders a unique opportunity for meaningful Gross Receipts Tax reform in favor of short-term tax giveaways that will not help grow our economy. The fiscal revenue surplus currently available can significantly address long-standing tax policy issues that make New Mexico’s economy less competitive for investment and growth.”
Next the respected John Arthur Smith, long-time former Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and John Bingaman, the governor’s former adviser, published an op ed. While the changes “might be doable this year, it frankly won’t be when oil and gas revenues decline,” the two wrote, because of New Mexico’s continuing reliance on the industry.
The package “includes many laudable policies when evaluated individually… but taken together, they present the state with a recurring price tag that is not worth the risk.” The governor, they said, must carve it down to a more reasonable size, and that’s what she did.
On Friday, the governor signed a bill that’s a shadow of its former self. It will still provide rebate checks of $500 for individual taxpayers and $1,000 for married couples, as well as a child income tax credit of up to $600 per child. It will not reduce or raise personal income tax rates or increase alcohol taxes. It will not provide tax credits for electric vehicles, geothermal development, energy storage systems or rural healthcare practitioners. It will not reduce gross receipts taxes.
Looking for politics? HB 547 was mostly the creation of progressives, but moderates – the governor, Smith and Bingaman – tightened the reins.“We can and should consider permanent and meaningful tax reform, but it must be accomplished in a fiscally responsible manner that will not jeopardize the state’s future,” the governor said.
That will require more work than we saw in HB 547 and could begin between sessions, with proposals, vetting and hearings before the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee. With more time and more thought, we might get genuine tax reform and a realistic package.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4/3/23
When a community writes its own history
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
How do you heal a community? By collecting its painful memories, by holding those memories in history, by not forgetting.
Michelle Hall Kells, a UNM faculty member, and a handful of graduate students went to the mining community of Bayard, near Silver City, in 2017 and distributed fliers, inviting people to come to the local library and bring their memories, photos and mementos of the Empire Zinc strike, an event that took place more than 70 years ago. They offered to help people write up their memories.
“There was a large and happy gathering waiting for us,” Kells told members of the Historical Society of New Mexico during its meeting in Silver City. “Stories poured in. We were not ready for the outpouring.”
On Oct. 17, 1950 the 1,400-member International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers Local 890 struck the Empire Zinc Co. over dangerous working conditions and unequal treatment of Hispanic miners. The mine paid Anglos more, gave Hispanics the most dangerous jobs, and required Hispanics to use separate bathrooms, showers and pay windows. The company responded with violence and strike breakers. After an injunction prohibited workers from picketing, in June 1951, 110 women took their places and held the picket line. Police harassed them and threw them in jail. The strike lasted 15 months. On January 1952, Empire Zinc agreed to eliminate its “Mexican scale” wages, and miners won a pay increase.
The strike inspired the film “Salt of the Earth,” which has become the official story of the event. But it was a movie, not a historical account.
Regardless of your opinions on unions, we pay attention to this strike because it was a significant event in local and state history, and it planted the seed of Hispanic political activism. However, Kells believes, the violence is a wound that’s treated by testimonials The object of her ongoing Salt of the Earth Recovery Project is to collect and preserve the stories of witnesses and descendants, to sift fact from fiction in the movie, and in doing that, to help the community heal.
It’s an interesting idea. I found myself wondering if something similar could help other groups – war veterans, for example, or Native Americans sent to boarding schools or victims of last year’s forest fires. When community members become their own historians, it will certainly be a different kind of history.
During the two-day conference, we heard historians speak on an array of events and developments in New Mexico history – usually gleaned from records and occasionally from first-person accounts but never woven from an entire community’s experiences. The old adage is that history is written by the winners. Collective accounts would be history written by survivors.
Even traditional history can be healing when it honors the achievements and sacrifices of the deserving. But what if history gets it wrong?
History has often gotten it wrong when it comes to Native Americans. I saw plenty of that in writing two books about the Apaches. I tried to set the record straight, and so have certain other authors. And yet some writers are still out there peddling the same untruths and stereotypes.
The presence in our sessions of members of the New Mexico-based Chiricahua Apache Nation was a step forward. In one session they explained who they are, what they value, how they’ve been hurt, what they’ve lost, and what they’re trying to regain. Then they participated in the rest of the conference, engaging the speakers in conversations and providing information.
I’ve never seen this type of public engagement, and it’s heartening that despite a divided and easily offended citizenry we can have these kinds of frank but respectful discussions.
Historians will still write about the winners, but if community testimonials expand, and formerly silenced groups speak out, historians and the reading public can adjust their perspectives.