© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/25/22
It’s not shoplifting, it’s organized retail crime
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
My husband saw three women push a loaded shopping cart out of a Walgreen’s store without paying. He told a clerk, who shrugged. Retelling the story later at a social gathering, we found several others had similar experiences.
Most people aren’t unlucky enough to see a crime being committed, but this blatant thievery has become so common that it’s turning big box stores into crime scenes and shoppers into witnesses. It also strikes a nerve because we know that honest customers will end up paying for the “free” goods.
Attorney General Hector Balderas deserves credit for starting the Organized Retail Crime Task Force last year, a statewide initiative that joins the AG, local law enforcement, store security personnel and employees in taking action.
We’re not talking about a teenager stuffing a blouse in her purse. This is brazen stealing of targeted, high-value items. Employees are told to not interfere because of potential danger, and some of the perpetrators have brandished weapons or even shot at store fronts.
In February the first operation, which involved undercover and uniformed officers, chalked up 17 arrests in Albuquerque. They recovered two stolen vehicles, one handgun, and about $3,000 in merchandise.
It was a model of coordination among the AG’s Office; Albuquerque Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit, Impact Unit and Problem Response Team; the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and retailers’ asset protection personnel.
The first busts confirmed what Balderas suspected: The culprits are members of organized rings that have been “very profitable.”
The task force took its first actions in Albuquerque, but it’s also working with agencies around the state. The Carlsbad and Los Lunas police departments and Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office have joined the task force. Recently Española police coordinated with loss-prevention personnel from Walmart to cite 27 people for shoplifting and arrest five.
The task force has also become a valuable conduit for information sharing by retailers and police.
Balderas has urged legislators to crack down on organized retail crime. During this year’s session, Albuquerque Republican Reps. Bill Rehm and Stefani Lord introduced House Bill 29 for the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee. It would have created the crime of organized retail crime, defined as one or more people taking and concealing merchandise with the intention of depriving the retailer or altering a label or price tag. If the haul was valued between $250 and $500, it would be a misdemeanor. More than $500 would be a felony.
“Criminals know that if they steal under $500, it's a misdemeanor, and so there's not going to be any action taken against them,” Rehm told KOAT. “So they go to one store, they steal under 500, they go to the next store, do the same thing, and then they collect all these items and then start selling them.”
HB 29 died. Lawmakers were preoccupied with passing the governor’s big crime bill, and Rehm’s bill needed work. Police want to reduce the threshold for felony charges. They also want felony charges if thieves steal from multiple stores or if they’re part of an organized group.
During a recent meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce told legislators that organized retail crime endangers customers and employees and drives up costs. The financial impact is nearly $900 million, more than 5,000 lost jobs, and $18 million in lost tax revenues.
Chatter on a neighborhood listserve shows there’s more we can do. One fed-up shopper said she’s started yelling at thieves. Others take pictures and/or write down license plate numbers. It’s a little risky, but we’ve seen this kind group indignation on airlines.
I favor the idea of yelling. I’ll let you know how that goes.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/18/22
And still they died
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
For much of its existence, the state Children, Youth and Families Department has needed reform. After each child died from abuse in hellish situations known to CYFD and law enforcement, we learned and relearned that pay and staffing were low, and turnover and burnout were high.
Meanwhile, New Mexico plummeted in rankings of child well-being.
And still they died: Breandra, Leland, Omaree, Izabellah.
In 2011 New Mexico was second in the rate of children being re-victimized within six months. That year, Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, ordered a hiring freeze that increased workloads for CYFD investigators.
After Omaree’s death in 2013, we heard about CYFD’s chronic understaffing, overworked and underpaid social workers, constant turnover, mismanagement from top to bottom, and poor communications with police. Employees described a cliquish atmosphere with a pecking order that dictated promotions and even office furniture.
Investigators in some counties had 20 to 30 cases per month while the national standard was 12, but managers dismissed employee concerns.
Legislators in 2014 introduced “Omaree’s law,” which defined the specific injuries – burns, bruises, bite marks, and broken bones – that would require CYFD to take custody. Then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, proposed using the courts to force families to use the department’s services. The bills failed, but Martinez did raise pay slightly for caseworkers.
A 2014 Albuquerque Journal investigation found that a quarter of the 79 children who’d died since 2008 had been on CYFD’s radar (Omaree’s case was 18 months old), and New Mexico was still high in repeated re-victimizations. That year, CYFD’s turnover rate was 20%; its backlog of unfinished investigations was nearly 4,000.
More dangerous, child advocates complained, was CYFD’s push to return kids to their parents. Case workers simply have no tools to deal with a mom on meth and her bonehead boyfriend or her so-called friends.
Martinez announced a slate of reforms, and in December 2014 she moved Secretary Monique Jacobson from the Tourism Department to CYFD. Jacobson, a standout in tourism who knew nothing about children in crisis, launched a cheery, $2.7 million public relations campaign to make New Mexico “the best place to be a kid.” CYFD then had funding for home visits to just 4,130 children. And still they died: Antonio, Jeremiah, Victoria.
A 2018 lawsuit against CYFD spotlighted the state’s abysmal foster care system. That year New Mexico had the highest rate of childhood trauma exposure in the country, and turnover of protective service workers topped 26%.
In 2019, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, and CYFD was a priority. She appointed Bay Area child advocate Brian Blalock to turn around the troubled agency, but he proved to be all wrong for CYFD. After he and his deputy secretary left last year, employees described a culture of retaliation and intimidation. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil took over and ordered an outside review of the agency.
And still they died: James, Diana and an unnamed infant.
New Mexico had 23 child abuse deaths in fiscal 2020, compared with 11 in 2019, said the Legislative Finance Committee, and ranked second nationally in revictimization. Our case workers investigate an average of 124 cases a year; the national average is 67, KOAT reported in March. Turnover had reached 48%.
Recently, yet another lawsuit revealed that when four-year-old James was beaten to death, he was well known to CYFD, and the investigator argued to remove him. She said her superiors initially disagreed. After he died they ordered her to fudge her records.
Now the outside investigator’s report is done, but CYFD has refused to release it. It must be pretty alarming, but after decades of bad policy, bad management and underfunding, what else can we expect?
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/11/22
Gas prices don’t slow return of enthusiastic tourists
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Tourists are back.
The parking lot on top of Capulin Peak in northeastern New Mexico was crowded with tourists over the recent holiday weekend, and they all seemed thrilled to be able to pack up the kids and head for the mountains. License plates identified them as Coloradoans and New Mexicans, but the vast majority were Texans, bless them.
After nearly two dreary years of anemic tourism during the pandemic, we were ready to welcome visitors, but then in April and May 20 wildfires torched visitation along with trees. During previous bad fire years, especially the Cerro Grande fire in 2000, national publicity made it sound like the whole state was on fire.
We learned from that experience. The state Tourism Department, along with local communities, have been quick to tell the world that they can still enjoy New Mexico.
In June the department awarded $3.87 million for advertising to 41 local governments and organizations. Through a two-to-one match, the total investment by the department and grant recipients will be a record $5.8 million, up from $5 million last year.
Communities affected by wildfires, including Las Vegas and Ruidoso, were among the beneficiaries.
In June, a month after the McBride Fire was contained, the department and Ruidoso joined to spend $150,000 on promotion in the West Texas market. Trails might be closed, but “there is still such beauty to see here in Ruidoso,” said Ruidoso’s Director of Tourism Elizabeth Ritter.
The McBride Fire burned upwards of 6,000 acres, destroyed more than 200 homes and killed two residents. It was contained by early May. On June 24, the U. S. Forest Service reopened Lincoln National Forest, and the village proclaimed itself “open again for all summer activities!”
Meanwhile, KFDA in Amarillo told viewers that Red River, which draws 250,000 Texans a year, was not affected by the fires, and there was still plenty to do. Angel Fire and Taos have been sending the same messages.
Also on June 24, the Forest Service opened the Santa Fe, Cibola and Carson national forests, and the U.S. Park Service reopened Bandelier National Monument. On June 27, the state reopened the Manzano Mountains, Hyde Memorial, Cimarron Canyon, and Fenton Lake state parks, although Pecos Canyon is still closed. In the village of Pecos are signs everywhere thanking fire fighters.
Before fire season, the Tourism Department dared hope that this year could exceed 2019, but then gas prices shot up and we had a new worry. But what we saw on the road was, damn the gas prices, full speed ahead. It doesn’t hurt that cannabis is now legal.
There are still a few hitches. One hotel posted at its front desk that due to the labor shortage, nobody will get daily cleaning if they stay more than one night. Wait staff are stretched everywhere.
The internet also warns that New Mexico has the nation’s highest crime rate and the highest rate of car thefts.
And the roads could be better, although U. S. Highway 64 east of Raton was shiny and new. As we headed north to visit family, it seemed Colorado’s roads were worse than ours, which surprised me. I was not imagining things. Two studies say New Mexico’s roads are better.
Mission Financial Services, which reports on roads of interest to truckers, rated New Mexico in the middle; Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas fared worse. Arizona and Utah did better. For truck drivers, the quality of infrastructure “plays an essential role in the longevity of the rig and the driver’s safety,” the report said.
The Annual Highway Report from the Reason Foundation ranked New Mexico 27thin cost-effective highway systems. Colorado ranked 37th, and it’s a much smaller state.
We are not last in everything.
On the road, I silently told each carload of visitors: Enjoy New Mexico. Spend money. © 2022
NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/4/22
Post Roe v. Wade, will abortion determine election outcomes?
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Out there in Punditland, the chatter is whether losing the Roe v. Wade protection of abortion rights is a make-or-break issue in mid-term elections. The view so far is that Democrats will treat it as a major issue. Republicans not so much.
Currently, it’s big in New Mexico’s top race.
The governor said: “Make no mistake: this is a war on women. The effort is not to protect life but to diminish it, to control women and relegate them as second-class citizens.”
Surrounded by a group of women, she just signed an executive order that protects access to reproductive healthcare for non-resident women and shields abortion providers from extradition by states with strict abortion laws.
“As long as I am governor, abortion will continue to be legal, safe, and accessible in New Mexico,” she said.
Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti said: “The Governor has taken an extreme position on abortion… in believing that abortion should be unrestricted – all the way up to the moment a child is born.”
He slammed the governor for sending a fundraising email less than an hour after the court decision. Of course, Ronchetti wasted no time doing his own fundraising.His latest proposal is for the Legislature to ban abortions after 15 weeks unless it involves rape, incest, or risk to the woman. He considers this “a reasonable proposition” that most New Mexicans would support and “a middle ground” that ends the practice of late-term abortions.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, called the proposal a nonstarter. Sitting next to the governor at the signing, Lopez called for more protections. Last year Lopez sponsored the bill that repealed a 1969 law banning abortion in the state.
How might either candidate fare with voters? A number of polls paint a complex picture.According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% say it should be illegal. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 80% think it should be legal in all or most cases; among Republicans, it’s 38%.
However, the same survey, taken in March, shows that 56% of adults (64% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats) say that the stage of pregnancy should factor into legality. A June poll by Associated Press/NORC found 61% believe abortion should be legal during the first trimester, 34% in the second trimester, and 19% in the third.
Ronchetti insists that his position is more in line with New Mexico values, but a poll, commissioned by New Mexico Political Report, gives the advantage to the governor. In New Mexico, 30% said abortion should always be legal; 25% said it should be legal with some limitations; 29% said it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life; and 13% said it should always be illegal. The poll, released June 22, also found that 53% of New Mexicans support 2021 abortion repeal, while 36% oppose it. Ronchetti is betting that the sentiments around trimesters could weaken the governor’s momentum, so he’s hitting late-term abortions hard.
The stock wisdom is that abortion is not one of those spurs that will carry anyone into the winner’s circle, but this year may be different. Keep in mind that women’s groups felt so strongly about repealing New Mexico’s abortion ban that in 2020 they organized and swept from office five powerful Dems who voted against the repeal in 2019. Last year, New Mexico passed the repeal during a year when only one other state passed abortion rights legislation.
Ronchetti has said the Supreme Court ruling “paves the way for a measured dialogue on the issue of abortion.”
On this subject, we’re far, far beyond “measured dialogue.” It’s one of those volcanic issues in which opinion has hardened like lava. All we can do is vote.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/27/22
Fire report reveals internal culture of pressure to catch up
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In the rush of national news lately, the U. S. Forest Service’s post mortem on the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire didn’t get the attention it deserved.
The agency was frank about what went wrong and what needs to change. The report walks us through exactly happened on April 6, as well as preparations and plans for the prescribed Las Dispensas burn that blew into the state’s biggest ever wildfire. The general tone is one of lessons learned rather than finger pointing. That’s appropriate but doesn’t answer the lingering question of accountability.
In a nutshell: Fire personnel had an approved plan and believed they could suppress a fire if it got out of hand. However, the landscape was far drier than they realized, and they didn’t have enough hands on deck because “competing obligations limit(ed) the ability of the workforce to prioritize and focus on prescribed fire projects.”
In a miscalculation of this magnitude, I always wonder what was going on inside the organization. The agency answers that question too, citing its own increasing goals for prescribed fire along with “unrealistic expectations… to begin catching up after two years of delays.”
Forest Service employees had been sidelined a long time. Thanks to a government shutdown, most were furloughed from December 2018 until February 2019, plus time for shutdown and startup processes. In March 2020, the pandemic sent many home again for more than two years. And from September 2019 through October 2020 the Mexican Spotted Owl injunction prevented mechanical removal and prescribed fires. Together, the events depressed morale and “built a sense of urgency to… catch up.”
Combine that with “a narrow window when the crew was available” and the perception that conditions were amenable, and you get “acceptance of unforeseen risk.”
Forest Service policy doesn’t include a gut check, and apparently some employees had misgivings, but they yielded to pressures to “accomplish the mission.”
There’s more: Forest Service employees were following policy, but the policy was out of sync with changing conditions on the ground. And while the agency has innovative tools for analysis, they aren’t used for prescribed fires, nor are they part of training. In fact, training is “often outdated,” and the agency has too few experts in potential fire behavior and weather patterns.
One of many lessons learned is this: “A clear recognition and acknowledgment of long-term drought and climate factors versus short-term weather events would have led toward better situational awareness of the fire environment and could have led to more favorable outcomes.” Two more: Don’t be overconfident in prescribed burn plans; continue testing and updating while being mindful of failure. And improve communications and feedback among employees.
The agency concludes on a thoughtful note: “Every day we place our fire teams, including our firefighters, burn teams, burn organizations and other personnel, under difficult circumstances and enormous pressure. We ask them to make up ground on long needed… restoration work while barely allowing time to recover from a previously taxing wildland fire response.”
Prescribed fire is still an important tool for land managers, but they must get better at all the other aspects of fire management.
As for accountability, nobody will go to jail. Yes, the judgment and execution were poor, and the resulting destruction is horrifying and heartbreaking. But nobody lied, falsified data or acted with hurtful intentions, and they will have to live with the memory for the rest of their lives. The feds usually handle these things by exiling these folks to some distant post with different duties.
Much remains to sort out, namely what FEMA can do, what the governor has demanded, and what the president has promised. Lawyers are sharpening their pencils.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/20/22
Years of bilingual and multicultural education programs still fall short
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Bilingual education is something we should ace in New Mexico, right? A June 16 report from the Legislative Finance Committee’s program evaluators informs us that we’re falling short. The 61-page report explains in detail that:
• Enrollment in bilingual and multicultural education programs is declining, even though funding per student is higher than ever and the number of English learners (students who don’t grow up speaking English) is increasing.
• The programs aren’t performing well. Language proficiency is disappointing.
• The state Public Education Department has conducted only one site visit in the last three years.
• The pandemic has had an outsized impact on both English learners and on PED.
• New Mexico has a severe shortage of bilingual teachers, and yet only one in five bilingual endorsed teachers teaches in bilingual programs.
• Research consistently shows far better results for English learners in dual language programs than from English-only instruction.
The report is dense with education jargon and short on whys. It documents an increase in English learners while noting that more didn’t participate in bilingual programs than the 44,525 kids who did. Why?
Participation of Native American students declined by 13% over the last five years. Just 22% were enrolled in Native American language programs at 102 schools. And yet the Legislature, looking over its shoulder at the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, has increased funding to at-risk students, which includes Native Americans, from $71 million in 2006 to $255 million in fiscal 2020. Adjusted for inflation, this is a 183% increase.
This problem spans several administrations. In 2004 the LFC reported the State Bilingual Multicultural Program had become convoluted and confusing to administer, participation was declining, spending couldn’t be tracked, and some students were incorrectly identified as English learners. In 2011 the LFC said PED was visiting and auditing programs but completing so few audits that it would only reach districts and charters every 17 years.
Lawmakers provided more money to expand programs, but between FY13 and FY20 participating schools decreased from 496 to 429.
The pandemic, of course, is a factor. Disruption of in-person learning hit English learners harder because they have less access to the internet and were no longer surrounded by English speakers.
The LFC has a lengthy list of recommendations for PED, and site visits are high on the list. The LFC’s own visits to schools found that teachers want PED to visit and offer suggestions and technical help.
PED hasn’t been sitting on its hands. It too was battered by the pandemic, and it’s struggled with turnover and short staffing. In 2017 its Language and Culture Division was without a director for eight months. Its vacancy rate has been as high as 56%. Why? We don’t know.
One of the report’s biggest surprises is that only 806 of 4,055 bilingual endorsed teachers are involved in bilingual education. The biggest surprise is why: They lack good instructional materials and professional development. Another old problem.
Districts have watered down subject matter for English learners, which limits a teacher’s options, or teachers have to translate existing materials, a time sink administrators don’t acknowledge. For years districts have treated teaching materials for English learners as an extra.
This minor oversight has big costs.
PED Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, on the job a year, will add the study to his to-do list. However, he recently announced that health issues will sideline him, and he will hand off some duties. The governor has promised a new management structure to accommodate Steinhaus, and we wish him the best.
The department faces staggering demands amidst this restructuring. With each new leader hopes soar, but I sometimes wonder if any mortal can lead this department.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/13/22
Ronchetti race shows Trump loyalty is a smaller factor in New Mexico
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
In the brutal Republican primary for governor, candidate Rebecca Dow assumed she could damage Mark Ronchetti’s chances by saying he wasn’t a Trump supporter. In reality, she damaged her own chances and improved Ronchetti’s.
Ronchetti swept 58% of the vote in a five-way race despite opponents’ accusations about his loyalties.
It goes back to his 2020 campaign for U.S. Senate. Ronchetti said during a climate symposium at UNM: “I’m a Christian conservative who used to be a Republican until the orange one. I’m afraid that has taken a part of my soul, and that’s not coming back.”
At the time, Ronchetti said he was joking; his campaign manager said Ronchetti did support then-President Donald Trump. Ronchetti’s 2020 primary opponent Gavin Clarkson scoffed at the explanation, telling New Mexico Political Report, “Support for Trump is a baseline qualification for the GOP.”
Recently, Ronchetti said again that he was joking and that he never left the Republican Party. Blogger Nick Wilbur, of The Conservative New Mexican, has written that “the remark has continued to haunt Ronchetti,” but I think it haunted him right into a landslide win in the primary, while Dow, who repeatedly flaunted her loyalty to Trump, had a dismal showing.
There has been a shift in The Force, Obi Wan.
In Ronchetti’s 2020 run for office, his first, he lost to Ben Ray Lujan by only six points, but he got 18,000 more votes than Trump in New Mexico. So Ronchetti on his own had greater momentum two years ago than a sitting president. Wilbur observed, “Ronchetti very well may have beaten Ben Ray Lujan in the 2020 U.S. Senate race if Trump weren’t on the top of the ballot.”
A recent CBS poll found that 52% of Republicans want to see their candidates support Trump, which means 48% don’t. That’s a striking divide. Gavin Clarkson’s 2020 assertion about loyalty to Trump no longer holds. It’s the reason the Albuquerque Journal, whose editorials tilt conservative, refused to endorse Dow but editorialized that Ronchetti’s opponents “appeared more extreme on key issues.”
Similarly, the Journal declined to endorse Greg Zanetti, calling his belief in Trump’s stolen-election rhetoric a red flag. In the CBS poll, 56% of Republicans said they don’t want to hear about the 2020 election. And 40% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats don’t believe there was widespread voter fraud, so campaigning on election fraud isn’t likely to be productive. As a prominent New Mexico Republican recently said, “Not all of us are talking about stolen elections.”
During a televised debate, Ronchetti dodged that question.
Ronchetti will have to walk a thin line with New Mexico Republicans, but in the coming race against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Rs are willing to overlook vagaries in his Trump support. All of this challenges current, widely repeated punditry about how Lujan Grisham faces headwinds because the party in the White House has lost every New Mexico governor’s race since 1990.
The state’s Republicans think they can hang Joe Biden around the governor’s neck and win. Democrats are equally convinced they can hang Donald Trump around Ronchetti’s neck and win. Which is the bigger liability?
Pundits also fail to weigh the impacts of the impending Roe v. Wade decision, the uproar over gun laws, or the Jan. 6 hearings.
Public memory is short, but Roe isn’t going away. Neither are Uvalde and Buffalo. Republican leaders are ignoring the Jan. 6 hearings, but the CBS poll says 48% of Republicans think it’s important to find out what happened on Jan. 6
. Here’s the sad part. The vast majority of New Mexicans already know how they’ll vote. Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti will spend an obscene amount of money convincing a sliver of undecided voters.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6/6/22
Adversaries join to solve a complex, dangerous problem
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
For years, a yellow sign in Carlsbad warned tourists and locals: “US 285 SOUTH SUBJECT TO SINKHOLE 1000 FEET AHEAD.”
The sign’s absence is a tale of Democrats and Republicans, local and state governments, new and old technologies coming together to solve a problem. Imagine that.
In 2008 subsidence at two brine wells in Eddy County created giant sinkholes. They led the state to a third well in Carlsbad and a disaster in the making.
The oil industry pumps fresh water through subsurface layers of salt to create brine, which it uses in drilling. In Carlsbad the process, over 30 years, had created a cavity at the intersection of U.S. 285 and U.S. 62/180. Its imminent collapse would affect the highways, a rail line, an irrigation canal, a mobile home park, a church, and a feed store. Damages could total $1 billion.
Faced with demands to remediate and three lawsuits, the well operator filed for bankruptcy. The state took over the site and contracted with an engineering firm for monitoring and a remediation plan. After 2009 the firm’s increasingly sophisticated systems could warn of changes in the cavity or nearby buildings. The remediation plan was unveiled in September 2018.
The cavity was 720 feet long, 450 feet wide and 200 feet deep. It’s about 425 feet below the surface. The plan was to inject grout (a mixture of cement, processed clay and water) while extracting brine water. The tricky part was maintaining pressure to keep the cavity’s roof from collapsing.
However challenging it was to fill this hole, it was nothing compared to finding the money to pay for it.
Initially, the Great Recession saw budget cuts throughout state government.
In 2016 Democrats questioned Gov. Susana Martinez’s support of well-fix bills. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the well’s owners were big contributors to her 2010 and 2014 campaigns, and Dems accused her of trying to relieve them of responsibility for damage. Martinez’s spokesman dismissed the accusation as “a ridiculous notion.” But Deb Haaland, then state Democratic Party chairwoman, countered, “Companies should be responsible.”
In 2017 and 2018 area legislators again carried bills. I took Democratic legislators to task for ignoring the urgency of the bills and jawboning about who’s at fault, who’s responsible, and who should pay.
The late, grandfatherly Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, said, “This is a ticking time bomb. Delay is not an option.”
John Heaton, chairman of the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Advisory Authority, pleaded, “We’re racing against time and gravity.”
Others pointed out that industry for years had paid into various remediation accounts.
Two cabinet secretaries in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration said they couldn’t help because the remediation project would wipe out their budgets. Republican State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn argued that the Oil and Gas Reclamation Fund wasn’t meant for such projects and should be used to plug some 600 abandoned wells.
Lawmakers finally coughed up $43 million for the project, and Carlsbad and Eddy County chipped in.
Work began in 2019 and soon the southern portion of the site was stabilized, but the larger northern portion would be more difficult. Work halted in July 2020 when money began to run out. In October 2021, with more money, operations resumed.
On June 1, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the project was completed at a total cost of $80 million – $67.4 million from the state and $12.6 million from Eddy County and Carlsbad. “This is what good, collaborative government in action looks like,” she said in a news release.
We can’t claim an absence of politics. Lujan Grisham is running for office. Some of the same people praising her help will return to bashing her mask mandates.
But a new orange sign has replaced the old yellow one. It announces that the Carlsbad brine well remediation project was completed June 2022.
© 2022 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5/30/22
Finding common ground in gun debates starts with listening
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
What if we could turn down the temperature on gun debates and focus on kids in schools and how to keep them safe?
After Uvalde’s slaughter of innocents and before the next disaster, can we think about solutions?
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed “hardening” the schools. We had that debate here during a legislative session. The conclusion at the time was that we couldn’t afford it, but it’s worth rethinking.
When I look at schools, especially elementary schools, the first word that comes to mind is “cheap.” Our schools were built by the low bidders to meet minimum standards, and most schools are old. They’re also designed to be accessible, so anybody can walk in the door – parents, volunteers, gang members, quarreling moms and dads embroiled in custody battles. Isn’t it possible to redesign the entrances without busting the budget?
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce called for better security, more police presence, metal detectors, and one-point secure entrances.
Some schools have police or security guards, but it’s tough for rural areas where law enforcement is already shorthanded and budgets are tight. Uvalde had a school cop who wasn’t there.
Abbott also wants more attention to mental health issues. Academic experts say expanded mental health services could help, especially if they reach young people, who are currently underserved, and if they identify youth at risk of lashing out. Blaming mental health issues, however, is an old talking point that never turns into action.
All of this comes down to money. What, exactly, are we willing to fund?
New Mexico Democrats have introduced a number of gun bills.
This year a measure would have banned gun magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. It drew public opposition in a committee hearing, and it died after committee members found technical problems. It will probably be back.
Another unsuccessful bill, prompted by an Albuquerque school shooting, would have held gun owners accountable if children get their hands on the weapon. Brian Colón and Raúl Torrez, candidates for attorney general, both support such a bill.
In 2020, the governor signed a red-flag bill. It allows law enforcement to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms if they appear to pose a threat to themselves or others. This bill provoked a storm of protest, and 27 counties approved Second Amendment sanctuaries, but the five counties in support have 53% of the state’s population.
One reason it passed was that Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who had previously opposing gun-control measures, voted for it. Why? He was threatened by a constituent.
“If that can happen to me, if I’m treated that way, imagine how other people are treated,” he said at the time.
In a statement that year, he said, “If you are a stable person who doesn’t pose a threat to others this law won’t affect you. School safety is a priority for me, and every child getting dropped off at school should know that we are putting safeguards in place to assure them that they will return home safely with their parents.”
Red-flag laws may become less controversial. Currently, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, have a bill to give states incentives to pass red-flag laws. Graham has said the bill would provide due process for those who might lose their weapons. In 2019 two new laws required people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a protective order in a domestic abuse case to surrender their weapons and mandated a federal background check for most gun buyers in the state.
Notice that the Dems put their proposals into bills that sometimes pass. Republicans talk but don’t draft a bill with cost estimates. This would be a good time for reasonable minds on both sides to identify what they have in common and write legislation.