How did transparency and open government fare during New Mexico’s 2015 legislative session? Prior to the 2015 session, I urged legislators to consider a variety of reforms. Some of my ideas were discussed and acted upon while others were ignored completely. Change comes slowly in politics and that is doubly true in Santa Fe.
Prior to the session, I argued for a formal institutional process of recording and archiving committee hearings. Gov. Martinez’s office has handled this task with legislators taking varying degrees of umbrage at the Executive Branch’s seeming intrusion on Legislative priorities. Unfortunately, the very fact that the Governor’s office has handled this task became the latest excuse for some legislators to avoid taking it on themselves.
We hope that as Gov. Martinez moves into the latter part of her 2nd term in office (without guarantees that future governors will wish to record and archive committee hearings), that the Legislature will take action to formalize its recording and archiving procedures.
Once again, the National Education Association (NEA) has proven itself to be simply another left-wing special interest group that cares more about obtaining and spending taxpayer money than enacting policies that benefit New Mexico’s children. This is the clear message of the recent article by their president, Betty Patterson.
She spends her first few paragraphs decrying efforts to make New Mexico a “right to work” state. Interestingly, in New Mexico, teachers already have the option to join or pay dues to a union. In other words, teachers in New Mexico government schools currently live under a reasonable approximation of “right to work.” The NEA did actively fight “right to work” but that’s simply because the organization supports all manner of liberal causes regardless of their impact on students.
Recently, Gov. Martinez signed the nation's strongest protections for civil asset forfeiture. The Rio Grande Foundation, ACLU of New Mexico, and Drug Policy Alliance held a press conference on the issue. The full conference can be seen below:
KOB Channel 4 did a story here:
KOAT TV also covered the press conference although they focused heavily on the DUI provisions that have been enacted by some cities and which may or may not conflict with the new legislation.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Micah McCoy, (505) 266-5915 x1003 or mmccoy [at] aclu-nm [dot] org
Paul Gessing, (505) 264-6090, pgessing [at] riograndefoundation [dot] org
Emily Kaltenbach, (505) 920-5259 or ekaltenbach [at] drugpolicy [dot] org
SANTA FE, NM—Today, Governor Susana Martinez signed HB 560 into law, ending the practice of civil asset forfeiture in New Mexico. Civil asset forfeiture, also known as “policing for profit,” allows law enforcement officers to seize personal property without ever charging—much less convicting—a person with a crime. Property seized through this process often finds its way into the department’s own coffers. HB 560, introduced by NM Rep. Zachary Cook and passed unanimously in the legislature, replaces civil asset forfeiture with criminal forfeiture, which requires a conviction of a person as a prerequisite to losing property tied to a crime. The new law means that New Mexico now has the strongest protections against wrongful asset seizures in the country.
“This is a good day for the Bill of Rights,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “For years police could seize people’s cash, cars, and houses without even accusing anyone of a crime. Today, we have ended this unfair practice in New Mexico and replaced it with a model that is just and constitutional.”
“With this law, New Mexico leads the nation in protecting the property rights of innocent Americans,” said Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation. “Convicted criminals will still see the fruits of their crime confiscated by the state, but innocent New Mexicans can now rest easy knowing that their property will never be seized by police without proper due process.”
“New Mexico has succeeded today in reigning in one of the worst excesses of the drug war,” said Emily Kaltenbach, State Director for Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office “Like other drug war programs, civil asset forfeiture is disproportionately used against poor people of color who cannot afford to hire lawyers to get their property back. This law is an important step towards repairing some of the damage the drug war has inflicted upon our society and system of justice.”
“New Mexico has shown that ending policing for profit is a true bipartisan issue with broad public support,” said Lee McGrath, Legislative Counsel for the Institute of Justice. “America is ready to end civil asset forfeiture, a practice which is not in line with our values or constitution. This law shows that we can be tough on crime without stripping property away from innocent Americans.”
Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced in both houses of Congress that would dramatically reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws. The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). In the House, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced an identical version of the FAIR Act.
On April 8, 2015, James Taylor of the Heartland Institute visited Albuquerque to discuss policies that are negatively impacting New Mexicans' access to affordable, reliable energy (especially electricity). You can watch his full presentation below and access his powerpoint slides here:
Observers knew in the wake of November’s elections that the 2015 legislative session would be unlike any they’d seen in their lifetimes. For the first time in 62 years, the House of Representatives would be under Republican control.
Despite this shift to the right, New Mexico’s Senate remained under control of Democrats. This is because the entire Senate is up every four years in presidential election years like 2016. The House on the other hand is up for election every two years.
These are not your run-of-the-mill Democrats. Their Majority Leader, Michael Sanchez, is both a trial lawyer and one of the most partisan legislators in the Senate. There are a handful of moderates sprinkled throughout the body, but they rarely vote as a cohesive group or provide a counter-weight to their powerful Leader.
Before the session, Sanchez professed a desire that the Senate and House be able to work together despite their political differences, saying the Legislature will not “end up like Washington, D.C.” This promise was transparently false as Sanchez immediately opposed adoption of one of Gov. Martinez’s top priorities, a “Right to Work” law and then falsely claimed that Martinez “cynically commissioned a study to ‘prove’ that ‘Right to Work’ creates jobs, economic growth, and more businesses locating in New Mexico, even if this were not true.”
By Paul Gessing | Watchdog Opinion
Open government and transparency have become watchwords in public policy debates nationwide. Indeed, during the New Mexico legislative session, several bills aimed at transparency were considered. And while the session is not yet over and we don’t know which provisions will become law, it is important to step back and consider what transparency means and why it is important.
Real transparency means opening government up to the citizens. Whether that means access to information or access to the political and legislative processes themselves, it is critical that citizens have adequate information to be engaged in an informed manner.
Transparency does not mean subjecting individuals who wish to engage in the political process to undue scrutiny. In other words, transparency is about the government itself, not individuals who donate to causes related to government. That is a critical difference that is often lost.
Prior to the start of New Mexico’s 2015 legislative session, the Rio Grande Foundation urged legislators to consider allowing for remote testimony before legislative committees as a means of opening the political process to new voices outside of close geographical proximity to Santa Fe.
New Mexico is, after all, the fifth-largest U.S. state in land area making it difficult for interested parties to make their way to Santa Fe for committee hearings during legislative sessions.
Since New Mexico adopted its renewable portfolio standard in 2007 under then-Gov. Bill Richardson, electricity prices in New Mexico have exploded. Seven such states with renewable mandates saw their rates soar by an average of 54.2 percent between 2001 and 2010, more than twice the average increase experienced by seven other coal-dependent states without mandates.
As New Mexico continues to struggle economically and rising electricity prices are not helping the situation. But the worst is yet to come. Federal and state policies are poised to push electricity costs even higher.
During the 2015 legislative session, HB 445 which passed the House would have limited New Mexico’s renewable requirement to 15% rather than continuing to implement it on the way to a 20% requirement by 2020.
James M. Taylor is vice president for external relations and senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute. Taylor is the former managing editor (2001-2014) of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly publication devoted to sound science and free-market environmentalism. Taylor writes a weekly column for Forbes which appears on the magazine's Forbes.com Website.
Taylor will be presenting on the myriad forces threatening to drive electricity prices in New Mexico even higher at a Rio Grande Foundation event.
Taylor has presented energy and environment analysis on CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel, MSNBC, PBS News Hour, PBS Frontline, CBS Evening News, ABC World News and other TV and radio outlets across the country. Taylor has also been published in virtually every major newspaper in the country.
Taylor received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College where he studied atmospheric science and majored in government. He received his Juris Doctorate from Syracuse University.