Mayor Tim Keller’s Heavy Hand Promotes Development Interests To Detriment Of Established Or Historical Neighborhoods As He Seeks Sweeping Changes To Increase Residential Density; “Safe Outdoor Spaces”, “Casitas” And “Motel Conversions” Are Zoning Abominations The City Council Needs To Reject

On October 18, Mayor Tim Keller declared that the city is in need of between 13,000 and 33,000 housing units to address the city’s short supply of housing and that upwards of 40 new people move into the Albuquerque area every day who are in need of housing, Mayor Tim Keller announced his “Housing Forward Abq” plan.  According to Keller, the city needs to work in close conjunction with the city’s residential and commercial real estate developers to solve the city’s housing shortage crisis.

Keller said the goal of his Housing Forward ABQ plan is for the city to bring 5,000 new housing units to the city by 2025. He is proposing to do so mostly through the redevelopment of hotels, or conversions to permanent housing,  and changing zoning codes to allow for the development of “casitas”.

AMENDING THE INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE

On November 10, the  Keller Administration released what Mayor Keller called “transformative” updates to Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO)  to carry out Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ”.   At Mayor Keller’s request, the legislation is being sponsored by Democrat Isaac Benton, a retired architect, and Republican Trudy Jones, a retired realtor. The bill states the main goal is to lower the cost of construction, thus increasing the supply of multi-family dwellings. The ultimate goal is to increase the city’s housing stock with Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO)  amendments enabling greater density.  The proposed legislation has already been introduced at city council and it was referred to the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) for hearings and to make recommendations to the City Council on the changes

AMENDMENT HIGHLIGHTS

Mayor Keller’s  “Housing Forward ABQ” involves  six major amendments to Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance which is the City’s Zoning laws.  The amendments include:

1) Allow two family dwellings/duplexes in R-1/residential zones, permissively, without a public hearing, citywide. 

2) Allow Accessory Dwelling units (ADUs)/casitas with kitchens in all R-1 residential zones, permissively citywide.

3) Exempt office/hotels that convert to multifamily apartments from having to put in a full kitchen.

4) Eliminate building height limits in R-ML and MX(mixed use zones). This would  affect much of the west side, as well as the rest of the City.

5) Exempt affordable housing from parking requirements.

6) Reduce parking requirements for multi-family/apartments by 75 %.

The first 2  will  allow more, limited developments in areas currently zoned for single-family homes.  Keller wants to open up those areas to multi-family units like duplexes and make it easier for homeowners to build guest housing called “casitas”.

The third proposal will simplify plans to convert hotels into affordable housing. It would loosen restrictions that require each unit to have a stove or oven inside, and city planners said there’s a market for that.

The fourth proposal would get rid of building height restrictions for multi-family developments.  The final two proposals would reduce or eliminate street parking requirements for multi-family and affordable housing developments.

The fifth and Sixth loosen and reduce parking restrictions at affordable housing and apartment complexes.

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/city-leaders-propose-major-changes-to-albuquerques-zoning-laws/

“CASITAS” TO INCREASE DENSITY

The proposed legislation will dramatically increase options in  “R-1” residential zones.  “R-1”zoning  is  single family home lot zoning.   Upwards of 68% of all residential property zoned in the city is zoned R-1 encompassing 23% of the city’s total geographic area. The proposed legislation will allow detached “casitas” up to 750 feet and duplexes on lots in the zone.  This amendment will impact areas zoned for single-family homes by allowing duplexes and  “casitas” accessory dwelling units on lots with sufficient available space.

Right now, the only R-1 properties, or single-family home lots, allowed to build a casita, are downtown and along parts of Central meeting the proper requirements. This proposal would expand that to much of Albuquerque. Maya Sutton, the President of the Inez Neighborhood Association near Pennsylvania and India School, is against a proposed bill that would allow more people in Albuquerque to build a casita on their property.  Sutton had this to say:

“How would people have access? We all have high walls and closed lock gates. We’d have to open those and have people come into the backyards, and what would their address be? How would they get mail and packages? How would police and fire service them if there was an emergency?”

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/proposed-zoning-changes-could-mean-more-casitas-in-albuquerque/

According to Planning Department official Mikaela Renz-Whitmore, the new amendments to the IDO will not override existing special “casita” rules and zoning regulations already in place in areas such as Barelas, High Desert and South Broadway.  Development anywhere in the R-1 zone remains subject to rules about yard size and setbacks.  According to the legislation, it could potentially triple density on the lots and address the zone’s inherent “exclusionary effects.”

EASING RESTRICTIONS FOR DEVELOPERS ON CONVERSIONS

This zoning  change  will make  it easier to  convert commercial office space into residential dwellings and in particular efficiency apartments or  loft apartments  with no bedrooms and  a single  combined living,  cooking  and sleeping area.  Developers converting non-residential buildings to multi-family housing would not have to meet the existing kitchen standard of having a cooking stove, range or oven in each unit. They would only have to provide a microwave, hotplate or warming device. The bill seeks to extend the existing exemption that currently applies only to city-funded projects to developers to replace the standard kitchen oven or stove with a microwave or hot plate when turning hotels or other commercial buildings into permanent housing.

ELIMINATING HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS

The bill a relaxes rules for apartment development and eliminates height limits for mixed-use development and for multi-family housing such as apartments in the highest-density residential zone. Currently, height limits in those areas vary. In the high-density residential zone today, caps range from 48 to 65 feet, though certain types of projects earn bonuses that raise the limit to 77 feet. In mixed-use zones, present limits range from 30 to 75 feet, though they could reach 111 feet with structured parking and other project bonuses.

CHANGING PARKING REQUIREMENTS

The bill will change parking requirements. It will exempt projects where at least 20% of the residential units will be affordable housing from providing off-street parking and reduces current requirements for other multi-family and mixed-use developments by 75%.  Under existing zoning requirements, a multi-family development needs 1-1.8 off-street parking spaces per dwelling unit generally based on the number of bedrooms per apartment.

“MOTEL CONVERSIONS”

Mayor Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ” places great emphasis on “motel conversions”.   “Motel conversions” includes affordable housing where the City’s Family & Community Services Department would acquire and renovate motels to develop low-income affordable housing options. The existing layout of the motels makes it cost-prohibitive to renovate them into living units with full sized kitchens. An Integrated Development Ordinance amendment will provide an exemption for affordable housing projects funded by the city, allowing kitchens to be small, without full-sized ovens and refrigerators. It will require city social services to regularly assist residents.  The homeless or the near homeless would be offered the housing.

“SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES”

Mayor Keller has advocated and in full support of the amendment to the IDO that allows for the land use known as “Safe Outdoor Spaces” to deal with the homeless crisis. “Safe Outdoor Spaces” are city sanctioned homeless encampments located in open space areas that will allow upwards of 50 homeless people to camp, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6-foot fencing and provide for social services.

Under an adopted amendment to the IDO, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed in some non-residential and mixed-use zones and must be at least 330 feet from zones with low-density residential development. The restrictions do not apply to campsites operated by religious institutions. Under the IDO amendments, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed for up to two years with a possible two-year extension.

On September 15, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to repeal “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) by deleting  all references of “Safe Outdoor Spaces” effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city.

On December 5, the City Council voted on a 5-4 to remove all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces within Albuquerque’s zoning code thereby outlawing the land use.  Mayor Tim Keller vetoed the legislation. It was the councils third attempt to reverse its own decision in June to allow Safe Outdoor Spaces with one vote defunding them.

On January 4, the city council attempted to “override” Keller’s veto, but failed to secure the necessary 6 votes.

MAYOR KELLER AND SPONSORING CITY COUNCILORS OUTLINE POSITIONS

In requesting the sponsorship of the legislation, Keller wrote in an October 28 memo to City Council President Isaac  Benton:

“The proposed changes are intended to be transformative, which is fitting for the crisis facing our local government, thousands of families in our community, and our housing partners.”

Democrat City Councilor Isaac Benton said the proposed changes, especially the residential zone changes, will result in public outcry and objections.  Notwithstanding the public’s anticipated objections, Benton said the housing shortages the city is experiencing demands the changes be made and the public will have ample opportunity to comment. Benton said this:

“These are things that have been discussed over the years with regard to housing affordability, so it’s not new. … A lot of cities are doing this — just really taking a look at their low-density zoning and seeing if there are any opportunities there for more density.”

Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones, a cosponsor of the changes to the IDO, said she fully expects the proposals to generate backlash. Notwithstanding, Jones said the city needs to set the stage for more housing development and density in certain places or risk losing new workers and younger generations. Jones said density will promote housing affordability and the city may not want “sprawl” but it should welcome growth and she said this:

“Some of us want to keep our families here, want to keep our children and grandchildren here. … We can’t stay the little town that we were forever.”

The link to quoted news sources is here

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/city-leaders-propose-major-changes-to-albuquerques-zoning-laws/

https://www.abqjournal.com/2548502/keller-seeks-transformative-changes-to-zoning-code.html

ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING COMMISSION HEARING

On December 8,  the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) held a hearing on the on the proposed amendments  to the Integrated Development Ordinance  written by the Keller  Administration and co-sponsored by City Councilors Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones.  The EPC in  an appointed citizen committee of 9  tasked with making a recommendation to the City Council on all land use and zoning matters. The hearing lasted for 5 hours where the general public were given an opportunity voice their support and opposition to the legislation.

Real estate professionals, academics, people who work with low-income and homeless populations voiced support for Mayor Tim Keller’s proposal that will dramatically change the city’s zoning code and neighborhoods.  Those who spoke in favor of the zoning amendments said the amendments were a way to reduce barriers to new housing. One relator said  recent housing cost increases have priced some of her clients out of the market.  The head of the nonprofit Albuquerque Housing Authority spoke in favor of the zoning changes said the housing shortage is resulting in taking months  for people to find a place to use a rental-assistance vouchers.

The zoning change that drew the most attention involved “casitas” which are standalone structures of  up to 750 feet that would be allowed to contracted on existing residential property.  “Casitas” are  currently only allowed in certain areas, as a way to foster multigenerational living, more diversity in established neighborhoods and extra income for residents who may otherwise struggle to afford home ownership.

The proposed zoning changes also drew strong backlash and sharp criticism .  In particular, homeowners argued the changes deserved far more scrutiny and expressed fears they would alter neighborhood character, block views and increase the number of cars parked on the street.   Several people affiliated with neighborhood associations and coalitions raised concerns, saying they did not know about the significant proposal until reading it in the Albuquerque Journal.  They complained that the public has had little opportunity for comment and said it could detrimentally impact existing homeowners, who needed to be considered.

The EPC voted to delay any action until its January 19 meeting. The panel discussed several minor changes  but made no final decision.  Only councilors can change the bill itself.  Once the EPC votes and proposes changes to the legislation, it will be referred to the City Council’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee which will in turn for on it and then and then refer it to the  full city council for a final vote.

https://www.abqjournal.com/2556236/public-weighs-in-on-mayor-tim-kellers-sweeping-zoning-code-proposal.html

REVISTING THE INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE

It was in 2015 that former Mayor Richard Berry during his second term started the rewrite process of the city’s comprehensive zoning code and comprehensive plan to rewrite the city’s entire zoning code. It was initially referred to as the  ABC-Z comprehensive plan and later renamed the Integrated Development Ordinance (ID0) once it was passed.  In 2015, there were sixty (60) sector development plans which governed new development in specific neighborhoods. Forty (40) of the development plans had their own “distinct zoning guidelines” that were designed to protect many historical areas of the city.

Former Mayor Richard Berry said the adoption of comprehensive plan was a much-needed rewrite of a patchwork of decades-old development guidelines that held the city back from development and improvement.  The enactment of the comprehensive plan was a major priority of Berry before he left office on December 1, 2017. The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the construction and development community, including the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), pulled all stops to get the plan adopted before the October 3, 2017 municipal election.  IDO was enacted with the support of Democrats and Republicans on the City Council despite opposition from the neighborhood interests and associations.

The stated mission of the re write of the comprehensive plan was to bring “clarity and predictability” to the development regulations and to attract more “private sector investment”. The city’s web site on the plan rewrite claimed the key goals include “improve protection for the city’s established neighborhoods and respond to longstanding water and traffic challenges by promoting more sustainable development”. Economic development and job creation was argued as a benefit to rewriting the Comprehensive Plan.

Under the enacted Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) the number of zones went from 250 to fewer than 20, which by any measure was dramatic. Using the words “promoting more sustainable development” means developers want to get their hands-on older neighborhoods and develop them as they see fit with little or no regulation at the lowest  possible cost to make a profit. The IDO also granted wide range authority to the Planning Department to review and unilaterally approve development applications without public input.

https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/1581-impacts-of-gentrification-a-policy-primer/for-students/blog/news.php

The enacted Integrated Development Ordinance has provisions to allow the City Council to adopt major amendments  and make major changes to it. The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the Planning Department’s clear intent to do so when it drafted the IDO.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

 It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, especially established neighborhood associations for historic areas of the city like Barelas and the South Broadway and Martineztown area, that Democrat Isaac Benton and Republican Trudy Jones are carrying the water for Keller and are the sponsors of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ plan legislation amending the IDO.  Both city councilors had a distain for the previous comprehensive zoning code that was replaced by the IDO.   Both voted for the enactment of the IDO in 2017.  Both Benton and Jones have voted for and are in support of “motel conversions” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces”.

Democrat Benton is a retired architect and Republican Jones is a retired real estate agent and both have contempt for many of the sector development plans that placed limitations on developers, especially  in historical areas of the city.

Benton for years has advocated for major changes to ease up on restrictions on secondary dwelling unit in backyards over the objections of his own progressive constituents and the historical areas of the city he represents.  Benton admitted it when he said this:

“We’ve had these arguments over the years with some of my most progressive neighborhoods that don’t even want to have a secondary dwelling unit be allowed in their backyard or back on the alley. … You know, we’ve got to change that discussion. We have to open up for our neighbors, of all walks of life, to be able to live and work here.”

Republican Jones throughout her 16 years on the city council has always been considered in the pockets of the real estate and the development communities over the interests of property owners and neighborhoods. Over the years, she has received literally thousands of dollars in contributions from both the real estate industry and the development industry each time she has run for city council.  She has never gone the “public finance” route and has always privately financed her city council campaigns.  She was also the sponsor of the amendment to the IDO that removed the mandatory requirement for public input for special uses giving more authority to the planning department.

KELLER CATERING TO DEVELOPERS

The IDO was enacted a mere few weeks before Tim Keller was  elected Mayor the first time in 2017. When then New Mexico Auditor Tim Keller was running for Mayor he had nothing to say publicly about the IDO and gave no position on it.  He did proclaim he was the most uniquely qualified to be Mayor despite lacking any experience in municipal affairs and city zoning matters.   The likely reason for not taking a position on the IDO was his sure ignorance of municipal land use planning and zoning matters, something he was never exposed to in his career as a State Senator and State Auditor.

Five years later, Keller as if he has had an some sort of  epiphany and education, proclaims the IDO is outdated. It’s very difficult, if not outright laughable, to take Mayor Tim Keller serious when he proclaimed the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), which lays out highly complicated zoning and subdivision regulations, as being outdated given that it was enacted in 2017 by the city council on an 8-1 vote.

What is really happening with Mayor Tim Keller’s “transformative changes” to  the Integrated Development Ordinance and his  “Housing Forward Abq” plan is that Keller is catering to the development community as he  pretends  to be an expert in the field of housing development and zoning matters.  Keller is relying on the city’s housing crisis and homeless crisis to seek further changes to the city’s zoning code to help the development community and using city funding to do it.

IDO IS AN ABOMINATION THAT SHOULD BE REPEALED

Simply put, the IDO is and has always been an abomination that favors developers and the city’s construction industry. The 2017 rewrite was a rush job.  It took a mere 2 years to rewrite the entire zoning code and it emerged as the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO).  It was in late 2017, just a few weeks before the municipal election and the election of Mayor Tim Keller, that the City Council  rushed to vote for the final adoption of the IDO comprehensive plan on an 8-1 vote.  Outgoing City Councilor Republican Dan Lewis who lost the race for Mayor Tim Keller voted on the IDO refusing to allow the new council take up the IDO.

Critics of the Integrated Development Ordinance said it lacked public discussion and representation from a number of minority voices and minority communities.  They argued that the IDO should be adopted after the 2017 municipal election, but they were ignored by the City Council.

There is no doubt that IDO is now having a long-term impact on the cities older neighborhoods and favors developers. The intent from day one of the Integrated Development Ordinance was the “gutting” of long-standing sector development plans by the development community to repeal those sector development plans designed to protect neighborhoods and their character. The critics of the IDO argued that it made “gentrification” city policy giving developers free reign to do what they wanted and to do it without sufficient oversight.

The City’s development community got all it wanted when the IDO  was first enacted which was to gut as many sector development plans as possible and remove zoning restrictions that protected neighborhoods. The enacted Integrated Development Ordinance has provisions to allow the City Council to adopt major amendments and make major changes to it. The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the Planning Department’s clear intent to do so when it drafted the IDO.

Since the enactment of the Integrated Development Ordinance, at least 250 amendments have been past by the City Council.  Now that the development community has gotten what it wants, we have a Mayor and at least 2 city councilors who think they can salvage the unworkable Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) by amending it repeatedly when repeal is likely in order with the reinstatement of those select  sector development plans that were designed to protect the historical character of neighborhoods.

At a bare minimum, the public should tell city councilors to oppose “CASITAS”, “Motel Conversions”  and “Safe Outdoor Spaces”  and denounce them for the zoning abominations that they are which is a threat to established neighborhoods and historical areas of the city.  The public can email Mayor Keller, Planning Department Officials  and City Councilors at the following email addresses

MAYOR TIM KELLER

mayorkeller@cabq.gov,

tkeller@cabq.gov,

MayorKellerIQ@cabq.gov

PLANNING DEPARTMENT

planningdepartment@cabq.gov

avarela@cabq.gov  (Alan Varela, Director of Planning)

CITY COUNCIL EMAILS

lesanchez@cabq.gov
louiesanchez@allstate.com
bmaceachen@cabq.gov,
ibenton@cabq.gov,
namolina@cabq.gov,
kpena@cabq.gov,
rmhernandez@cabq.gov,
bbassan@cabq.gov,
danlewis@cabq.gov,
galvarez@cabq.gov,
patdavis@cabq.gov,
seanforan@cabq.gov,
tfiebelkorn@cabq.gov,
lrummler@cabq.gov,
trudyjones@cabq.gov,
azizachavez@cabq.gov,
rgrout@cabq.gov,
rrmiller@cabq.gov,
LEWISABQ@GMAIL.COM,
nancymontano@cabq.gov,
cortega@cabq.gov
cmelendrez@cabq.gov

City Council Votes To Unanimously Abolish Citizens’ Police Oversight Board; Creates Advisory Board; Council Snubs APD Forward Coalition; Turn Over Police Misconduct Investigations To Office of Inspector General And City Human Resources

On January 18, the Albuquerque City Council voted unanimously to abolish the Citizens’ Police Oversight Board (CPOB) and substitute it with a much smaller civilian board calling it the “Civilian Police Oversight Advisory  Board with far less authority. The new version of the volunteer board will have less power and fewer members.

The legislation had as co-sponsors Republican City Councilors Renee Grout and Brook Bassan and Democrat City Councilors Isaac Benton and Pat Davis. The sponsors  referred  the action as update legislation.

Sponsoring City Councilors said it is necessary to clarify the volunteer board’s role, particularly in relation to the paid staff who work in the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, including the full-time executive director charged with overseeing investigations into citizen complaints about alleged officer misconduct.

Former CPOA executive director Deirdre Ewing told the council she supported the bill, referring to herself as one of three past directors, two permanent and one interim, who were “run off” by the volunteer board. Ewing said this about the new board:

“It allows the current agency [and]  the professionals who focus on the day-to-day task of investigations that is at the heart of this,  to continue doing their job unimpeded by a board that sometimes gets a little focused on personal issues and vendettas rather than the task at hand. ”

City Councilor Brook Bassan,  a co-sponsor of the update legislation,  cited as reasons for the changes recent turnover in the CPOA’s executive director  and a heavy turnover in the  nine-member board and severe understaffing.  With  recent board resignations,  it is now at just six members.

Bassan said the new advisory board  is intended to fix a disconnect between what the board should be doing and what it has been doing. Bassan said this:

“Right now, things are not really working as we intended them to work. …  I believe our job is to find that balance of how to make sure the board has the authority to oversee and protect the community, while also not over-reaching with their authority.”

Councilor Isaac Benton, who co-sponsored the proposal, said finding the best setup has been an ongoing challenge, but it is clear that change is necessary. Benton said this:

“This is a tough nut to crack and I think we’ve tried very hard,” he said. “It’s not out of disrespect to any particular board member, present or past, but it hasn’t worked and it does need a revamp.”

Councilor Renee Grout had this to say:

“This ordinance simplifies the role of the CPOA board and also gives a greater role in policy review to our community policing councils.”

City Councilor Pat Davis said the ordinance reflects the evolution that has occurred over the years.   The board’s role is no longer to investigate claims of officer misconduct, but rather to keep an eye on the professional investigators. Davis said this:

“It’s the next generation of what we need it to be.”

PROVSIONS OF NEW CIVILIAN POLICE OVERSIGHT ADVISORY  BOARD

The changes called for in the new bill include:

  1. Adding the term “advisory” to the volunteer board’s name; it would become the Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board.
  2. The Executive Director would no longer report to the board, nor need the board’s approval before making officer disciplinary recommendations to the Albuquerque Police Department administration.
  3. No longer requiring the CPOA executive director to report to the board or get board permission before making officer disciplinary recommendations to APD leadership.
  4. Reducing board membership to five from nine.
  5. Shifts certain responsibilities from the board to either the CPOA executive director or a new independent “contract compliance officer” hired by the City Council; for example, the board would no longer lead the vetting process when hiring a new director nor set the director’s salary.
  6. The legislation also transfers what has been the board’s responsibility for vetting Executive Director applicants and sending a list of three top candidates to the City Council for a final decision  to a new contract employee hired by the City Council.
  7. Alters how CPOA makes policy recommendations to APD; it allows the board to comment on policy proposals that originate with APD, but strikes existing language outlining the board’s process for recommending CPOA-generated policies.
  8. It provides for compensation to board members, including $500 for completing orientation and the initial training and $100 per board meeting.
  9. Requires  the board to consider policy input from the city’s Community Policing Councils.

https://www.abqjournal.com/2565457/proposal-would-abolish-replace-albuquerques-civilian-police-oversight-agency-board.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/2565908/council-votes-to-replace-citizen-police-oversight-board.html

SWIFT ADOPTION RESULTS IN CONDEMNATION

The proposal moved swiftly through the City Council , going from introduction to final vote in two weeks without the normal hearing before a council committee. The council also suspended its own rules in order to take a final vote after having accepted a substitute version of the bill during the meeting.

No current board members spoke during the January 18  meeting as if protesting the council actions.  However  CPOA board member Rashad Raynor said he was “disgusted” by what he saw  as a rushed job process to gut citizen oversight. Raynor said he did not know about the proposed board overhaul until  a month before the bote, noting that it is headed to a full council vote without having gone through the council committee process.

Raynor said  this:

“As much as there’s a lot of talking about wanting to get better, the writing on the wall is we don’t want anything to change. From everything we’ve heard, this [was] a done deal. … They just [had]  to do the vote.”

Raynor  said the councils rush job to abolish the CPOA  should concern the whole community, particularly given the cost of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice-mandated reform effort in Albuquerque, as well as the number of police shootings.  In 2022, Albuquerque Police Department officers shot at 18 people, killing 10, injuring three and missing five.

Bassan disputed charges that it moved to fast, saying the sponsors consulted the necessary people and said this:

“It’s not necessary for us to negotiate the update of this ordinance with the board.”

CITY COUNCIL SNUBS APD FORWARD

One group that the City Council did not consult with and essentially snubbed is the APD Forward Coalition. APD Forward includes 19  organizations who have affiliated with each other in an effort to reform APD and implement the DOJ consent decree terms and reforms. APD Forward is one of the main stakeholders who appears during the court hearings. Members of APD Forward include Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, American Civil Liberties, Bernalillo County Community Health Council, Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, Common Cause New Mexico, Disability Rights New Mexico, Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, Equality New Mexico, La Mesa Presbyterian Church, League of Women Voters of Central New, Mexico New Mexico Conference of Churches, New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, Street Safe New Mexico, the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico.

On January 18, the APD Forward Coalition emailed all 9 City Council requesting that they defer enactment of the new ordinance.  APD Forward Coalition wrote the City Council:

“The APD Forward coalition, representing 19 organizations led by concerned Albuquerque citizens, has been actively engaged with the reform process at the Albuquerque Police Department since we formed in 2014. We believe that voices like ours—voices from across the community that want to see APD become the responsible, community-friendly police department we know it can be—are vital as the City charts it path toward compliance with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement and, more broadly, toward a deeply entrenched culture of constitutional policing at APD.

 We are aware that legislation has been introduced as O-22-67 to amend the Police Oversight Ordinance. We believe that rigorous civilian oversight of policing in Albuquerque is an essential component of long-lasting reform. As such, we hope that any changes contemplated with regard to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency or Civilian Police Oversight Agency Board will be decided upon only after a careful, deliberate process that includes meaningful opportunities for feedback from the community, including individuals and groups who have a strong interest in the police reform process.

 We strongly urge the Council to postpone any final action on O-22-67 until you have been able to seek and receive broad input and feedback from stakeholders in the reform process and from the community at large.”

 Respectfully,

The APD Forward Coalition

The City Council ignored the APD Coalition thereby snubbing it.

THE CPOA AND THE DOJ

On November 14, 2014, the City of Albuquerque and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a Court Approve Settlement (CASA) mandating 271 reforms of the Albuquerque Police Department APD. The settlement was a result of a year’s long investigation of the APD and findings of “excessive use of force” and deadly for and a “culture of aggression.”

The link to the settlement is here:

https://www.cabq.gov/cpoa/documents/465-1-190730-2nd-amended-restated-casa.pdf

A major reform measures mandated the creation of a full time, professional Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA) with a full time Director and investigators and with a 9-member, all-volunteer, civilian Police Oversight Board appointed by the city council. The CPOA board is ultimately responsible for investigations of police misconduct and making recommendations to the Chief of Police for disciplinary actions. The board also reviews investigations and examines APD policy and procedures.

The major goal of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and its board is that it was to be the outside entity watching over the APD department when the Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement is finally dismissed and the Federal Court appointed Independent Federal Monitor is no longer necessary. As it stands, it will likely be another 5 years before the case can be dismissed primarily because of APD’s failures to implement the reforms and met the compliance levels mandated.

Since its inception, the CPOA and it’s all volunteer board has been in a constant state of turmoil. The turmoil has included sharp turnover of board members and understaffing at the agency. At one point there were only two investigators with the agency, leading to a dramatic decline in the number of cases they completed.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Ever since the creation of the Police Oversight Board and the Police Oversight Commission in 2014, both have been plagued by political turmoil, resignations and membership and staffing turnover. Both have been plagued with constant resistance from the Albuquerque Police Department management and all too often completely ignored by the APD Chief and executive staff as well as the Mayor and City Council. From September 1, 2021 to March 1, 2022, the Police Oversight Agency and its civilian police oversight board has seen the resignation of its Executive Director the Chairman of the CPOA board and 3 members of the civilian oversight board.

One of the most scathing letters of a Chairman of the CPOA Board came from Chairman Eric Olivas’ who outlined the numerous problems.  Olivas is a newly elected Bernalillo County Commissioner sworn into office on January 1 to a 4 year term.  The link to his resignation letter is here:

https://www.abqraw.com/post/civilian-police-oversight-agency-board-chairman-eric-olivas-quits-post

The Albuquerque City Council began efforts to try and fix the Police Oversight Agency ordinance by amending the ordinance creating the agency and the board. On February 23, 2022, the Albuquerque City Council voted to defer all action on amending the Civilian Police Oversight Agency Ordinance for two weeks to allow consideration of other changes. Amendments to the CPOA ordinance were eventually enacted  on March 7, 2022. The blunt truth is that the Albquerquerqu City Council was attempting to fix the unfixable.

After the passage of a full 8 years of the court approved settlement agreement as well as the tumultuous history of the Citizen’s Police Oversight Commission that was mandated by the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, it has become painfully obvious that CPOA and its board of voluntary citizens has become so dysfunctional as to be irreparable and irrelevant. It is painfully obvious that changes and  amendments to the CPOA ordinance had no  impact on any of the numerous problems identified of Civilian Police Oversight Agency.

It is personalities and hidden agendas that make both the agency and the civilian volunteer board dysfunctional. Adding to the disfunction is more than a little politics thrown into the mix by the Mayor, the City Council, the Chief and his high command and union opposition to any and all kind of civilian police oversight. The civilian board has never had any ability to persuade APD to change policies or improve their training given the extent the Mayor and APD ignore it and undercut it.

The investigation of police misconduct cases and all use of force cases and serious bodily harm cases should be done by “civilian” personnel investigators not by Internal Affairs nor by the Citizens Police Oversight Agency or the Board. The function and responsibility for investigating police misconduct cases and violations of personnel policy and procedures by sworn police should be assumed by the Office of Inspector General in conjunction with the City Human Resources Department and the Office of Internal Audit where necessary. The Office of Independent Council would make findings and recommendations to the Chief of Police for implementation and imposition of disciplinary action.

Link to former APOA Executive Director Ed Harness’ resignation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvE37sN–dM

Link to Former CPOA Board Chairman Eric Olivas’ resignation letter:

https://www.abqraw.com/post/civilian-police-oversight-agency-board-chairman-eric-olivas-quits-post

APD Changes Use Of Force Policies For Less Lethal Force Options; Don’t Hold Your Breath On Success As APD Continues To Repeat History Despite Reforms And Millions Spent On Training

It was on November 14, 2014 that the City of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the United State Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a stipulated Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) after the DOJ  completed an 18th month investigation of APD.  The DOJ found that APD had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force and that a “culture of aggression” existed within APD. The Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandates 271 police reforms, the appointment of a Federal Monitor and the filing of Independent Monitor’s reports (IMRs) on APD’s progress implementing the reforms.

HEARING HELD ON 16TH FEDERAL MONITOR’S REPORT

On December 6, Federal District Court James Browning, who oversees the settlement, held an all-day remote  hearing  to review the report.   The Federal Monitor reported that as of the end of the IMR-16 reporting period, APD’s compliance levels are as follows:

Primary Compliance: 100% (No change)
Secondary Compliance: 99% (No change)
Operational Compliance: 80%. (10% increase from 70%)

Under the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, once APD achieves a 95% compliance rate in the 3 identified compliance levels and maintains it for 2 consecutive years, the case can be dismissed. Originally, APD was to have come into compliance within 4 years and the case was to be dismissed in 2020.

During the December 6 hearing, Federal Monitor James Ginger reported that APD continued  to make impressive gains in the compliance levels over the past year.  This is a complete reversal of  the downward trend found and reported in 3 previous monitor’s  reports.

HITORY REPEATING ITSELF WITH APD OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

At the December 6, 2022 hearing on the 16th Independent Monitor’s reports it was reported that there had  been more APD police officer shootings in 2022  than during any other year before.  In 2022, there had  been 18 APD Police Officer involved shootings,10 of which were fatal.  In 2021 there were 10, four of which were fatal.

A review of shootings by APD police officers  between 2018 and 2022 identified three common circumstances:

  1. When officers are attempting to apprehend violent suspects;
  2. When individuals are experiencing some kind of mental health episode;
  3. When people with little criminal history are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and make bad decisions.

Albuquerque Police Department released data  that shows  there have been 54 police shootings dating back to 2018. Of the cases reviewed, 85% involved people who were armed with a gun or a weapon that appeared to be a firearm.  About 55% of the cases involved people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, while only 2  cases in which intoxication did not play a role. Without toxicology tests, it was unknown whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the remainder of the cases.  Statewide, authorities said the number of shootings in which officers opened fire stands at 50 for the year.

Barron Jones, a member of APD Forward and a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, said that more  transparency is needed to better understand what, if anything, could be done to prevent shooting deaths at the hands of officers. Jones also said that  recent cases underscore the need for a statewide use-of-force policy that includes clear, consistent protocols for deescalating interactions with the public “to avoid these kinds of tragic incidents.”

The last two years have also been two very violent years in the city.  The number of homicides in the city have broken all time records.  In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with  3 declared self defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 115 homicides as of  December 3, 2022. 

The spike  in APD police shooting includes the years when the DOJ  found that APD had a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force with a finding of a culture of aggression.  The increase in APD police officer shootings overshadowed the report on APD’s progress with the reforms and dominated the day long hearing.

The high number of shootings caused DOJ attorneys and community stakeholders to raise concerns during the December 6 hearing  even as APD continues to improve in compliance with the reforms laid out in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the DOJ.  According to the Federal Monitors 16 report, APD is currently at 100% primary compliance, 99% secondary compliance, and 80% operational compliance with the reforms.

APD ANNOUNCES CHANGE IN USE OF FORCE POLICY

On January 26, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) announced changes to its Use of Force policies for the use of less lethal force. Three years ago APD  overhauled its use of force policy as part of the city’s agreement with the Department of Justice over the use of excessive force.  The DOJ has approved APD’s revised nonlethal use of force policy.

Over the next few weeks, the policy will be implemented with formal training programs throughout the department.   APD’s leadership believe that because of the changes, the results will be fewer shootings by officers since they should have a better sense of when they can use less-lethal force rather than deadly force.

The Albuquerque Police Department reported that in November, gun law violations spiked 85% this year alone. The last two years have also been two very violent years for Albuquerque.  The number of homicides in the city have broken all-time records.  In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self-defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 115 homicides as of December 3, 2022.

As reported above,  there have been more APD police officer shootings in 2022 than during any other year before.  In 2022, there were  18 APD Police Officer involved shootings,10 of which were fatal.  In 3 of the  cases people were injured and in 5 of the cases officers missed.  In one case  a man killed himself  before the officer fired. In 2021 there were 10, four of which were fatal.

Under APD’s use of force policies, less lethal options include Tasers, beanbag shotguns, 40-millimeter impact launchers, or canine deployments. APD Officers will begin training on the new policies over the next quarter.

Chief Medina said this about the spike in APD shootings:

“I  recognize there’s community concern. Eighteen officer-involved shootings last year and that’s why we’re trying to make these changes to ensure that the community knows that we’re hearing their concern, we are doing evaluations and we are making adjustments as necessary.”

According to APD,  the change in policy is meant to make it more clear when officers can use non-lethal force. The hope is that this will lower the number of deadly police shootings.  APD leadership said there was a need to be more specific in the policy for when officers can use lower levels of force like tasers or bean bag shotguns.

The updated policy outlines when officers should discharge electronic control weapons and when an officer can use force in dangerous situations. This allows officers to use less lethal force sooner than they were able to under the previous policy.

The new “use of force policies” were the result of an extensive process that involved review by the DOJ and the Independent Monitoring Team overseeing the reform effort. It took months to fully negotiate the new policies.  The changes to the policies took effect in 2020.  However, within 6 to 8 months after implementation,  APD leaders began to see the need for revisions.

Deputy Chief of Compliance Cori Lowe in an interview with Albuquerque  Journal editors and reporters said this:

“We started noticing different areas of improvement based off of force review boards, based off of discipline that we started seeing coming out and just basic trend data …  Specifically because of the [increase in officer involved shootings], you saw us really try to react as much as we could, because we started recognizing that there were significant areas that we needed to make more clear.”

Lowe  said despite the lengthy process that went into the prior policies there were things they did not recognize   until officers actually  started trying to follow them in the field.  For example, Lowe said officers were confused about when they could tase a person since the word “use” seemed to include pointing a Taser at someone as well as discharging it. Deputy Lowe said this:

“I think a lot of times until you put these in practice, and you kind of take a look at it, you may not recognize it. … What we did is we went through there and we put discharge throughout. … So officers are very clear that they can use a Taser when there’s an act of resistance or the totality of circumstances that bring it through.”

The  changes include outlining when officers should discharge their Tasers and when they should use them as a “show of force” to encourage compliance and replacing the words “immediate threat” with “imminent threat.” Lowe said this:

“An immediate threat is an immediate threat to an officer or another individual that can be delivered without delay and requires an instant response by an officer to stop the threat or control of a situation. … Imminent is a dangerous or threatening situation which is about to occur or take place and is perceived to be unfolding.”

Both Lowe and APD  Chief Harold Medina stressed that the new policies ask officers to evaluate the totality of the circumstances surrounding whether they should use less-lethal force, and not just whether the person is actively resisting or a threat in the moment.   APD Chief Harold Medina for his part  said de-escalation continues to be a priority and he said this:

“Our goal with these changes is to make sure that if de-escalation is not possible, we exhaust every tool available to apprehend offenders, only using a firearm as a last resort. … Police officers sometimes issue orders that they’re going to do something but there isn’t always the clarity that they’re authorized to do it yet … I think it’s important to recognize that these officers are in a situation where they’re giving orders and they’re prepared to do something and they’re following a script in their mind to give orders, give orders but there is a lot of unclarity amongst officers in general in situations like that , whether less lethal is authorized or not.”

Superintendent of Police Reform Victor E. Valdez had this to say:

“We wanted officers to be clear on when they could use less lethal force. … We found officers should be able to use less lethal force sooner than they were (formerly) able to under the previous policy. These revisions allow better protection to both the public and the officers when confronted with a violent individual.”

ACLU REACTS

The ACLU, which has been vocal about the department’s excessive use of force, released a statement on APD’s policy change.

Barron Jones, Sr. Policy Strategist at ACLU-NM said this in a statement:

“This is a positive step in reducing the deadly force used by law enforcement officers against the Albuquerque community. The city must continue to ramp up alternative responses to reduce interactions between police and those living with mental health and substance abuse disorders and other quality of life issues.”

The links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-department-revises-non-lethal-use-of-force-policy/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-police-revises-its-non-lethal-use-of-force-policy/

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567967/apd-changes-use-of-force-policies-to-bring-clarity-to-less-lethal-options.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/2555721/rise-in-police-shootings-worry-apd-reformers.ht

https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/albuquerque-marks-record-number-police-shootings-2022-93084096

https://apnews.com/article/new-mexico-albuquerque-b83fb2458aa1f1dcf2e05409dfd10913

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

There is no doubt that the community should be absolutely alarmed over the fact that there has been a spike in police officer involved shootings given the fact such shootings, and accompanying litigation and judgements against the city, is what brought the Department of Justice to the City in 2013 in the first place. When it comes to APD Police Officer Involved shootings, history is repeating itself despite millions spent and implementation of the settlement reforms.

What is equally alarming is the city for the last 5 years has broken the record of number of homicides each year.  Crime rates in the city are also high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021.  These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities.

All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft.  The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.

https://www.volunteerworld.com/en/review/travellers-worldwide

It’s because of the city’s overall crime rates that no one should be surprised that there have been more police officer involved shootings this past year.  The reality is that the city can expect the trend of police officer involve shootings to continue even if APD achieves 100% compliance of all 271 mandated police reforms under the settlement.

Only time will tell if APD’s changes in its use of force policies for less lethal force options will be successful. Given APD’s ability to repeat its history, the implementation of the DOJ reforms and the millions spent over the last 8 years, no one should hold their breath hoping that police shootings will go down. This is the new reality of APD.

ABQ Journal Dinelli Guest Column: “ENACT OMNIBUS CRIME AND GUN LAW PACKAGE”

On January 31, the Albuquerque Journal published the below 550-word guest column:

WE NEED TO ENACT OMNIBUS CRIME AND GUN LAW PACKAGE

BY PETE DINELLI / FORMER ALBUQUERQUE CITY COUNCILOR AND CHIEF PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER
PUBLISHED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 31ST, 2023 AT 12:02AM
UPDATED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 31ST, 2023 AT 12:15AM 

“In an effort at “bipartisanship,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held a high-level news conference with top Democratic and Republican legislators to ask for enactment of a wide range of “solutions” to deal with the state’s violent crime. The governor’s efforts at “bipartisanship” are commendable but her approach is piecemeal at best.

Enactment of an “Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act” is needed to deal with the state’s violent crime. The act would address the two major areas of crime and punishment and gun control.

Crime and punishment

The comprehensive act would include the following measures:

  • Make organized retail crime a specific offense punishable by felony charges when value of goods stolen exceeds certain threshold.
  • Make possession of a handgun by someone who commits a crime an aggravated third-degree felony mandating a 6-year minimum sentence.
  • Increasing firearm and lethal weapon enhancement penalties for brandishing a lethal weapon in the commission of a noncapital felony from three years to 10 years.
  • Make it a third-degree felony for failure to secure a firearm mandating a three-year sentence. Gun owners would have to keep their firearms in a locked container and make them inaccessible to anyone but the owner or authorized users.
  • Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area a second-degree felony mandating a 9-year sentence.
  • Allow firearm offenses used in a drug crime to be charged separately.
  • Review additional bail bond reforms and statutorily empower judges with far more discretionary authority to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime reported incidents without shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.

Gun control

The act would include the following gun control measures:

  • Prohibit possession and sale of assault weapon-style weapons such as AR-15-style rifles and pistols with magazines of 10 rounds or more.
  • Prohibit the sale of “ghost guns” parts.
  • Prohibit possession of semi-automatic firearm converters.
  • Limit all retail gun purchases of all types of guns per person to one gun per month.
  • Institute mandatory extended waiting period to a full month for gun purchases.
  • Prohibit the straw purchase of guns for someone who isn’t legally able to make the purchase themselves.
  • Ban the sale in New Mexico of “bump-fire stocks” and other accessories.
  • Allow crime victims to sue gun manufacturers for damages.
  • Require the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold.
  • Implement in New Mexico mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
  • Expand gun ownership age limitation to 19 for rifles and shotguns.
  • Expand the prohibition of deadly weapons from a school campus to school zones.
  • Cases of juveniles arrested in possession of a weapon are to be referred the district attorney for automatic prosecution as an adult for sentencing.
  • Make it a third-degree felony if a person recklessly stores a firearm and a minor gains access to it to threaten or harms someone.
  • Mandate public school systems and higher education institutions to “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, security measures, including metal detectors at single entrances designated and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers.

The Omnibus Violent Crime and Gun Control Act must include funding for the criminal justice system. This would include funding district attorney offices, the public defender’s office, the courts and the Corrections Department.”

The link to the Albuquerque guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2569022/we-need-to-enact-omnibus-crime-and-gun-law-package.html

The link to the related Dinelli blog article published om January 30 is here:

2023 NM LEGISLATURE UPDATE: Gov. MLG Says “Pretty Please” To Enact “Rebuttable Presumption” And Piece Meal Approach To Combat Violent Crime; DA Bregman Needs To Fix His Own Office’s “Process”; Enact An “Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control” Act

2023 NM LEGISLATURE UPDATE: Gov. MLG Says “Pretty Please” To Enact “Rebuttable Presumption” And Piece Meal Approach To Combat Violent Crime; DA Bregman Needs To Fix His Own Office’s “Process”; Enact An “Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control” Act

On January 25, in an effort at “bipartisanship”, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham held a high-level news conference with top Democratic and Republican legislators.  She called upon them to support a wide range of “solutions” to deal with the state’s violent crime in the form of legislation she wants enacted during the 2023 legislative session.  She had  Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina and her newly appointed Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman attend the meeting for good measure and show.

The “public safety agenda” Governor Lujan Grisham  asked the legislators to enact includes stiffer criminal penalties for organized retail crime and a measure to ban the purchase and delivery of different types of semi-automatic firearms.  The top priorities the Governor outlined include:

  • Enact Senate Bill 123 to establish “rebuttable presumption” for pretrial detention hearings in cases of defendants accused of certain violent crimes.
  • Funnel additional $100 million to existing fund to support hiring and recruitment efforts for law enforcement agencies statewide.
  • Close loophole on “straw” purchases of guns that end up in the hands of convicted felons.
  • Make organized retail crime a specific offense punishable by felony charges when value of goods stolen exceeds certain threshold.
  • Enact House Bill 9 that create criminal penalties for failing to keep firearms safely out of children’s reach.

Governor Lujan Grisham told legislators that previous communication breakdowns between different law enforcement agencies in Bernalillo County hampered efforts to crack down on crime.  However, she expressed optimism that those issues have been resolved with a new leadership team that includes new Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen.  She also vowed to continue focusing on ways to reduce crime and she said this:

“It won’t always be easy and it won’t always be pretty, but we’re going to work together until we solve these issues.”

House Republican Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, was 1 of the only 3 House Republicans who attended the January 25 news conference. Lane said New Mexicans are tired of political posturing and he expressed a willingness to work with the governor on bills dealing with retail crime, pretrial detention and keeping guns out of felons’ hands.  Lane also  said Republicans would likely oppose other gun-related legislation. Lane said this:

“We believe strongly in the Second Amendment, so some of those are going to be challenging for us.”

NEW MEXICO’S HIGH CRIME

The backdrop to the Governor’s public safety agenda is New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s high crime rates.  Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) compiles data from police agencies across the nation.  The data from 2021,  with 2022  data yet to be released,  showed New Mexico had the nation’s second highest rate of total crimes against persons.

Links to quoted and relied upon news sources are here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567672/governor-calls-for-bipartisanship-step-by-step-approach-to-deal-with-nms-high-violent-crime-rate.html

https://apnews.com/article/new-mexico-state-government-michelle-lujan-grisham-albuquerque-crime-554450b5d88bd59a3e1f9c9259159cf3

The FBI  numbers  show New Mexico’s per-population kidnapping and abduction rate was the highest in the nation. New Mexico’s firearm ownership and fatality rate is among the nation’s highest. In 2016 over 37% of adults in the state lived in a household with a firearm which is 5% higher than the national average according to the think tank Rand Corp.

In 2021 New Mexico law enforcement reported over 28,000 crimes against persons. That includes crimes such as murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping.  Given New Mexico’s population, the state’s crime rate against persons per population is the second highest in the nation. FBI data shows for every 100,000 people in New Mexico, law enforcement reported 2,189 crimes against persons in 2021. The only state with a higher rate was Arkansas, which reported 2,276 crimes per 100,000 people.

New Mexico law enforcement agencies reported nearly 25,500 instances of assault in 2021. That’s 1,872 more than the state reported in 2020. New Mexico law enforcement also reported more homicides in 2021 than the year before. Across New Mexico, police reported 193 homicides to the FBI in 2021. That’s 67 more than in 2020.  Not at all surprising is that the majority of the state’s reported homicides were in Albuquerque.

New Mexico isn’t at the top of the list in all crime categories. While New Mexico law enforcement reported 1,663 instances of sex offenses in 2021, 6  other states had higher rates of sex offenses per population. That includes states like Alaska, Utah, and Montana.

New Mexico law enforcement reported 822 kidnappings and abductions to the FBI in 2021. That puts New Mexico at the top of the list regarding kidnappings and abductions per 100,000 people. Kansas, Colorado, and Utah also rank high on the list of kidnappings and abductions per population.

The link to quoted news source material is here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/fbi-data-new-mexico-ranked-1st-in-nation-for-kidnapping/#:~:text=That%20includes%20crimes%20such%20as,in%202021%2C%20FBI%20data%20shows.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there were a total of 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearm-related injuries.  This figure is up significantly from the 481 firearm-related deaths in 2020. Of the 562 state residents who died in 2021 due to firearms, 319 cases, were classified as suicides and 243 were classified as homicides. In New Mexico, the rate of 14.9 firearm-related deaths per every 100,000 residents in 2010 nearly doubled over the last decade and there were 23 such deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2020.

ALBUQUERQUE AT FOREFRONT OF CRIME WAVE

Albuquerque is at the forefront of New Mexico’s high violent crime rate.  According to legislative data released, the city had about half of the state’s violent crime in 2022 but has just 25% or so of its total population.  The Albuquerque Police Department reported that in November, gun law violations spiked 85% this year alone. The last two years have also been two very violent years for Albuquerque.  The number of homicides in the city have broken all-time records.  In 2021, there were 117 homicides, with 3 declared self-defense reducing homicide number to 114. In 2022, there were 121 homicides, a historical high.  

It has been reported that there have been more APD police officer shootings in 2022 than during any other year before.  In 2022, there were 18 APD Police Officer involved shootings,10 of which were fatal.  In 2021 there were 10, four of which were fatal.

Crime rates in Albuquerque are high across the board. According to the Albuquerque Police’s annual report on crime, there were 46,391 property crimes and 15,765 violent crimes recorded in 2021.  These numbers place Albuquerque among America’s most dangerous cities.

All residents are at increased risk of experiencing aggravated robbery, auto theft, and petty theft.  The chances of becoming a victim of property crime in Albuquerque are 1 in 20, an alarmingly high statistic. Simple assault, aggravated assault, auto theft, and larceny are just some of the most common criminal offenses in Albuquerque. Burglary and sex offense rates In Albuquerque are also higher than the national average.

Links to quoted news sources are:

https://www.volunteerworld.com/en/review/travellers-worldwide

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/new-mexico-lawmakers-to-propose-gun-safety-bills/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/apd-stats-show-increase-in-shootings-with-police/

https://www.abqjournal.com/2556861/gun-safety-bills-could-spark-debate-at-roundhouse-amid-rise-in-firearm.html

There are a number of the Governor’s public safety agenda proposals that will likely be absolute no starters.  That includes “rebuttable presumption” to keep defendants behind bars until trial and certain gun control laws.

REBUTABLE PRESUMPTION AND PRETRIAL DETENTION

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is for a second time  advocating major changes to the state’s  criminal justice pretrial detention system  in the form of enacting “rebuttable presumption” to make it easier to hold defendants accused of violent crimes until trial.  The legislation would create a “rebuttable presumption” of dangerousness for defendants charged with violent crimes and that they be held without bond pending trial.

District Attorneys throughout the state have argued the changes to the bail bond laws, as well as rules imposed by the New Mexico Supreme Court, make it way too difficult for them to do their jobs and prove to a judge that a defendant poses a threat to the public justifying that a violent felon be denied bail and be held in custody pending trial. As crime rates increased judges were accused of allowing “catch and release of violent felons”.

Over the last 6 years, prosecutors, law enforcement and elected officials have repeatedly slammed  judges and the court system for letting out until trial those accused of violent felonies, particularly when they re-offend. Judges are bound by the Code of Judicial conduct and no judge can comment and defend themselves on any pending case or even make any kind of an attempt to publicly defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1318399/da-to-unveil-new-pretrial-detention-proposal-ex-some-defendants-would-have-to-prove-they-should-be-released-pending-trial.

The aim of rebuttable presumption proposals is to make it easier for more defendants to be held in custody before they’ve been convicted and to keep them from committing new crimes. Proponents of rebuttable presumption say it will reduce violent crime.  Opponents of rebuttable presumption say courts can already keep a defendant behind bars and that reputable presumption shifts the burden of proof to defendants and violates the basic constitutional right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

DA SAM BREGMAN SHOULD FIX HIS OWN OFFICE’S “PROCESS”

During the January 25 news conference, Governor appointed Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman for his part threw his support behind a bill proposed by Senator Linda Lopez and Representative Meredith Dixon, both Albuquerque Democrats, that would shift the burden in pretrial detention hearings from prosecutors to defense attorneys in certain types of cases, including murder and sexual abuse of children. This coming from former high-profile defense attorney Sam Bregman who for decades made a lucrative living defending defendants who were released pending trial, including one former APD police  SWAT officer who was charged with killing homeless camper James Boyd.

Bregman cited internal data from the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office showing that about 21% of the roughly 2,845 defendants released after pretrial detention motions were denied under the current system since 2017 were charged with new offenses while their original case was still pending. Bregman said this:

“What we need to is not point the finger at judges, but fix the process.”

At least Governor appointed Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman is not pointing fingers at the courts as being the cause of our high crime rates which is something his predecessor Raúl Torrez did for the 6 years to embellish his reputation  so he could run for Attorney General.  District Attorney Sam Bregman would be wise to concentrate on fixing the “process” as he put it within his own office.

DA Bregman needs to deal with the “S… Show” left to him by his predecessor Raúl Torrez. It’s Bregman’s office now, given to him by the Governor,  and he needs to deal with its problems first before trying to “fix the process”. What Bregman did not point to is that the Bernalillo County District Attorneys’ Office has a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries. A report prepared by the Second Judicial District for the New Mexico Supreme Court showed in part how overcharging and a failure to screen cases by the District Attorney’s Office was contributing to the high mistrial and acquittal rates.

As of November 21, 2022, according to the New Mexico State Government Sunshine Portal, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has a $30,350,800 million operating budget with an adjusted operating budget of $36,680,800 which includes all sources of financing including federal grants.  The office is budgeted for 337 full time positions. The office is suppose to employ 102 attorneys who are “at will” but only has  81 filled positions with 21 vacant positions.  The 255 other “classified” employees of the office consisting of paralegals, administrative assistants, victim advocates, investigators, IT managers and personnel and finance division personnel who can only be terminated for cause under the state personnel rules and regulations.  276 of the positions are “active” meaning filled. The office has an alarming 61 vacancies. The number of vacancies in the office is larger than most other District Attorney’s offices in the state.

The New Mexico legislature needs to do its “due diligence” during its hearings on the the budget for the Bernalillo County District attorneys office and confront District Attorney Sam Bregman and  get to the bottom of why there are so many vacancies and if the funding is appropriate.

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/da-wants-nm-supreme-court-to-review-grand-jury-changes/5012558/?cat=500

LFC REPORT DISCREDITS REBUTABLE PRESUMPTION

Many legislators remain very skeptical of rebuttable presumption. Las Cruces area Democrat Senator Joseph, a highly respected and seasoned trial attorney and the Chairman of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believes the current system is largely working as intended under a 2016 bail reform constitutional amendment.  Cervantes described a rebuttable presumption  as a “unconstitutional shortcut.” Cervantes also attended the January 5  news conference and said not all of New Mexico is beset by crime.  He cited Sunland Park as one of the state’s safest communities and said this:

“We operate under the same laws as the rest of the state, and we have entirely different outcomes.”

It was last year on January 20, 2022 the powerful Legislative Finance Committee released a 14-page memo analysis of the proposed “rebuttable presumption of violence” legislation for  pretrial detention. The report was also a status update on crime in Bernalillo County, law enforcement and bail reform.

LFC analysts found that low arrest, prosecution and conviction rates have more to do with rising violent crime rates than releasing defendants who are awaiting trial. The LFC report called into serious question if violent crime will be brought down by using a violent criminal charge to determine whether to keep someone accused of a crime in jail pending trial.

According to the LFC report, rebuttable presumption is “a values-based approach, not an evidence-based one.” The LFC report said  that while crime rates have increased, arrests and convictions have not. It goes on to say the promise of “swift and certain” justice has a more significant impact on crime rates that rebuttable presumption does not.

The LFC memo states in pertinent part:

“Research shows the certainty of being caught is a more powerful deterrent to crime than severity of punishment. … For the criminal justice system, this means it is important to prioritize solving crimes and securing convictions, particularly for serious offenses… Neither arrests nor convictions have tracked fluctuations in felony crimes, and in 2020 when felonies began to rise, accountability for those crimes fell.


“Albuquerque’s violent crime rate rose by 85% from 2012 to 2017 and has since remained stuck at a persistently high level. … Over the same time period, arrests for violent offenses rose by only 20%, resulting in a widening accountability gap for the most serious offenses. Closing this gap should be the key legal goal for APD and the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.”

The LFC memo states that the percentage of cases that ended with a conviction in 2011 was 80% compared to 59% in 2020. The LFC memo did say the conviction rate deduction could be partly explained by the implementation of case deadlines or bail reform, which resulted in fewer plea deals since people were not being held in jail and had less incentive to enter a plea in a case. According to the report:

“Low conviction rates compromise the certainty of justice and suggest law enforcement agencies and prosecutors need collaborative strategies to improve communication and to build better cases and bring them to swift resolution.

CHIEF JUSTICE URGES LAWMAKERS TO BALANCE PUBLIC SAFETY WITH RIGHTS OF THE ACCUSED

On January 25, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon cautioned the legislators  on the need to balance the rights of accused persons while protecting the public safety. She noted New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that largely abolished the system of money bail bonds. She said the old bond system resulted in most criminal defendants being free until trial.

Justice Bacon said told legislators this:

“We all feel deep sorrow and fear when we read about a senseless death and other tragedies as a result of crime, … Yet we must remember why our Constitution protects the rights of every person, including those accused of crime. … With the elimination of money bail, judges now have the ability to assess dangerousness. … In Bernalillo County, this has resulted in the detention of over 3,000 defendants pending trial – something that could not happen before with the bail bond system.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567402/chief-justice-tells-lawmakers-to-balance-public-safety-with-rights-of-the-accused.html

GUN CONTROL MEASURES SUPPORTED BY GOVERNOR

No legislation generates heated discussion by the legislature more than gun control legislation.  Republican lawmakers strenuously oppose any and all gun control bills.

Governor Lujan Grisham announced in her January 17 “State of the State” address she is supporting enactment of gun control measures.  She has announced support of the following 4-gun control measures in this year’s 2023  sixty  day legislative session:

  • Banning the sale of AR-15-style rifles.
  • Allowing crime victims to sue gun manufacturers.
  • Making it a crime to fail to properly secure a firearm that’s accessible to an unsupervised minor.
  • Closing a loophole in state law to allow prosecution when a person buys a gun for a someone who isn’t legally able to make the purchase themselves, a transaction known as a straw purchase.

GUN CONTROL BILLS INTRODUCED

Lawmakers were allowed to prefile legislation starting January 3 for the 60-day legislative session, which got underway on January 17. Unlike the shorter 30-day sessions held during even-numbered years, bills dealing with any type of subject issue can be proposed without approval from the governor during the longer 60-day sessions.  Thus far the following 6 measures have been introduced:

House Bill 9: Create the crime of negligently making a firearm accessible to a minor.

House Bill 50: Prohibit magazines with more than 10 rounds.

House Bill 72: Prohibit possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly.

House Bill 100: Establish a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm.

House Bill 101: Prohibit possession of assault weapons – such as certain semiautomatic rifles and pistols – and magazines of 10 rounds or more.

Senate Bill 44: Prohibit carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling place during an election.

Senate Bill 116: Raise the minimum age to 21 for purchasing an automatic or semiautomatic firearm.

The links to quoted news source material are here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567672/governor-calls-for-bipartisanship-step-by-step-approach-to-deal-with-nms-high-violent-crime-rate.html

https://www.volunteerworld.com/en/review/travellers-worldwide

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/new-mexico-lawmakers-to-propose-gun-safety-bills/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/apd-stats-show-increase-in-shootings-with-police/

https://www.abqjournal.com/2556861/gun-safety-bills-could-spark-debate-at-roundhouse-amid-rise-in-firearm.html

 ENACT “OMNIBUS VIOLENT  CRIME AND GUN CONTROL” ACT

The biggest problem with the Governor’s agenda to deal with crime as well as the legislation that has already been introduced is that it is a “piecemeal approach” which is essentially a vicious cycle of going around and around proposing the same solutions to address crime and getting nowhere fast.

What the Governor and the New Mexico Legislature should seriously consider is a more comprehensive approach to gun violence and  control and enact an “Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act”.  Such an act by enacting sweeping legislation to deal with gun control, gun violence and violent crime in the state.

The act would incorporate the legislation the Governor has endorsed with a very modified version of the “rebuttable presumption” standard without shifting the burden of proof to the defendant.  The legislature  should empower judges with far more  discretionary authority to hold and jail those pending trial who they feel pose a threat to the public.

ENHANCEMENT CRIMINAL SENTENCINGS

The following increases in enhancements should be included in the Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act:

  1. Increase the firearm enhancement penalties provided for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a noncapital felony from 3 years to 10 years for a first offense and for a second or subsequent noncapital felony in which a firearm is brandished 12 years.
  2. Create a new category of enhanced sentencing for use of a lethal weapon or deadly weapon other than a firearm where there is blandishment of a deadly weapon, defined as an item or object used to inflict mortal or great bodily harm, in the commission of a noncapital felony with enhanced sentences of 5 years for a first offense and for second or subsequent noncapital felony in which a lethal weapon other than a firearm is brandished 8 years.
  3. Enact legislation making it a 4th degree felony punishable up to 18 months in jail for failure to secure a firearm. Gun owners would have to keep their firearms in a locked container or otherwise make them inaccessible to anyone but the owner or other authorized users.
  4. Increase the penalty of shooting randomly into a crowded area from a petty misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony.
  5. Allow firearms used in a drug crime to be charged as a separate crime.
  6. Make organized retail crime a specific offense punishable by felony charges when value of goods stolen exceeds certain threshold.

GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION

The Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act should include the following gun control legislation:

  1. Prohibit in New Mexico the sale of “ghost guns” parts. Ghost guns are guns that are manufactured and sold in parts without any serial numbers to be assembled by the purchaser and that can be sold to anyone.
  2. Ban the sale of AR-15-style rifles in the state.
  3. Prohibit the sale of gun magazines with more than 10 rounds. (House Bill 50)
  4. Prohibit possession of assault weapons, such as certain semiautomatic rifles and pistols, and magazines of 10 rounds or more and making it a 4th degree felony for the first offense and a 3rd degree felony for a second offense.  (House Bill 10)
  5. Prohibit possession of semiautomatic firearm converter that allows the weapon to fire more rapidly. (House Bill 72)
  6. Prohibit carrying a firearm within 100 feet of a polling place during an election. (Senate Bill 44)
  7. Establish a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm. (House Bill 100.)
  8. Close the  loophole in state law to allow prosecution when a person buys a gun for a someone who isn’t legally able to make the purchase themselves, a transaction known as a straw purchase.
  9. Allow crime victims to sue gun manufacturers for damages.
  10. Require in New Mexico the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold as is required for all operable vehicles bought and driven in New Mexico.
  11. Review additional bail bond reforms and statutorily empower judges with more discretionary authority to hold and jail those pending trial who have prior violent crime charges and reported incidents.
  12. Institute mandatory extended waiting periods to a month for all sales and gun purchases.
  13. Implement in New Mexico mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.
  14. Ban the sale in New Mexico of “bump-fire stocks” and other accessories.
  15. Provide more resources and treatment for people with mental illness.
  16. Limit gun purchases to one gun per month to reduce trafficking and straw purchases.
  17. Call for a constitutional amendment to repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote and no doubt generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.

KEEPING FIREARMS OUT OF THE HANDS OF CHILDREN

Given the severe increase of murders of children at the hands of children, the Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act needs to include provisions directed at keeping firearms out of the hands of children and holding adults owner of guns responsible for their guns. Provisions that should be considered are as follows:

  1. Currently, you must be at least 19 years old to legally possess a handgun in New Mexico and there is no minimum age to possess rifles and shotguns. Expand the age limitation of 19 to rifles and shotguns. (Senate Bill 116)
  2. Currently, the unlawful possession of a handgun by someone under age 19 is a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of from 6 months to one year in jail. It should be classified as an aggravated fourth-degree felony mandating a 2-year minimum sentence.
  3. Expand the prohibition of deadly weapons from a school campus to school zones.
  4. The case of any juvenile arrested possession of a weapon and charged by law enforcement are to be referred the District Attorney for automatic prosecution.
  5. Make it a felony, in certain circumstances, if a person recklessly stores a firearm and a minor gains access to it to threaten or harm someone. If a firearm is accessed by a minor and used in the commission of a crime resulting in great bodily harm or death, the person responsible for storing the firearm could be charged with an aggravated fourth-degree felony, carrying a 24 month prison sentence. If a firearm were accessed by a minor and used in the commission of a lesser crime, the person responsible for keeping or storing the firearm could have been charged with a 4th degree felony punishable by up to a 18 months in jail.
  6. Mandate public school systems and higher education institutions to “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, security measures, including metal detectors at single entrances designated and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers. Legislative funding needs to be provided to accomplish the requirement.

ADEAQUATE FUNDING FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

The Governor’s proposal to funnel additional $100 million to the  existing fund to support hiring and recruitment efforts for law enforcement agencies statewide is a good start as to law enforcement.  The Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act must also include adequate funding for the criminal justice system in general. This would include funding the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Courts and the Corrections Department.

FINAL COMMENTARY

The Governor’s continued support of Rebuttable Presumption for pretrial detention in all likelihood is a real waste time and she needs to turn her attention elsewhere.  Her January 25 effort at bipartisanship came across as her saying to legislative leaders “pretty please” given how swiftly it was rejected last year.

The other legislative measures being supported by the Governor are first good steps in the right direction to help curb gun violence, but in all likelihood do not even come close to what is actually needed to have an impact on preventing gun violence.   A far more comprehensive approach is what is needed in the form of an Omnibus Violent Crime And Gun Control Act to deal with crime in New Mexico and funding.

2023 NM LEGISLATURE UPDATE: Two Bills Increasing Minimum Wage Introduced;  New Mexico’s Unemployment Rate At 3.9%, A 15 Year Low; Making  Minimum Wage A Living Wage Democrat Core Value; Tie  Increases To Cost Of Living Index To Ensure Stability And Living Wage 

The New Mexico minimum wage was last changed in 2008, when it was raised $5.50 from $6.50 to $12.00. Effective January 1, 2023 New Mexico’s state minimum wage rate is now $12.00 per hour. It was increased to $12 an hour under the final step-up mandated by a 2019 bill enacted by the New Mexico legislature.  New Mexico’s minimum wage  is greater than the Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25.  The minimum wage for tipped employees is $3.00 per hour. If the tips plus the hourly rate do not equal at least $12 per hour, the employer must make up the difference.

LOCAL MINIMUM WAGES

In recent years several cities and municipalities in New Mexico have established their own minimum wage rates. Here is a list of the current rates along with future increases:

  • Albuquerque: $12.00,tipped wage is 7.20.
  • Santa Fe: $12.95
  • Santa Fe county: $12.95, tipped wage is 3.69
  • Las Cruces: $12.00, tipped wage is 4.78

All New Mexico employers must display an approved New Mexico minimum wage poster in a prominent place to inform employees about the minimum wage and their worker’s rights under New Mexico labor law.

MIMIMUM WAGE EXEMPTIONS

New Mexico employers may not pay you under $12.00 per hour unless you or your occupation are specifically exempt from the minimum wage under state or federal law.

There are 3 major categories of exemptions:

  1. FARM WORKERS, SEASONAL WORKERS, OTHER EXEMPT JOBS

The  Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has declared certain jobs, including farm workers, seasonal workers, newspaper deliverers, “informal” worker, such as  babysitters,  and a variety of others exempt from both state and federal minimum wage law.  These exemptions are intended to allow certain types of business to hire workers for temporary or high-volume positions that they otherwise could not afford to fill, thus helping the economy by creating more jobs.

  1. TIPPED EMPLOYEES

Any worker who earns regular tips , specified as earning at least $30 in tips a month by the FLSA,  is eligible for a special tipped minimum wage rate. Employers are permitted to pay tipped employees an hourly cash wage of as little as $2.13 an hour,  however, if this wage and the tips earned during that hour do not add up to at least the applicable minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference in cash. Thus, tipped employees are guaranteed to earn at least minimum wage, and can earn more then minimum wage in tips.

  1. MINORS AND YOUNG WORKERS

The “Youth Minimum Wage Program” allows young workers under the age of 20 to be paid a special minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment with any employer. After the first 90 days have passed, or when the employee turns 20, whichever comes first, the employee must be given a raise to the full minimum wage. This exemption is designed to serve as a “training program” for young workers, although many workers and organizations see it as unnecessary and unfair.

Links to relied upon and quoted source material are here:

https://www.minimum-wage.org/new-mexico

https://www.minimum-wage.org/articles/minimum-wage-exemptions

BILLS INTRODUCED INCREASING NEW MEXICO MIMIMUM WAGE

There are two bills that have been introduced so far in the 2023 New Mexico legislature to once again increase New Mexico’s minimum wage.

HOUSE BILL 28

House Bill 28  is sponsored by Albuquerque area Democrat  Representative Miguel Garcia  would tie the minimum wage increases to the cost of living index as set forth by the US Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index.  It would require annual increases to the minimum wage tied to inflation.  Under an amended version of  Bill 28 the inflation-related adjustments would take effect every January, starting next year, and could boost the minimum wage to $15.55 per hour by 2034.   The indexing provision was initially included in the 2019 bill  but was removed as part of a final-hour compromise during the legislative session.

On January 23, a hearing was held by the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee on Bill 23.  Representative  Garcia told the committee his bill was  “ a win-win solution for both our workers and our businesses. ” Garcia claimed it would benefit workers while also providing certainty for employers by avoiding big wage spikes mandated by lawmakers. After more than three hours of discussion, the  measure was approved on a party-line 7-4 vote.  The 7  Democratic committee members voted  in favor and the 4 Republicans voted  in opposition.

House Bill 28  now advances to its second assigned committee, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

House Bill 25

On January 23,  a hearing was held on House Bill 25 by the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee.  House Bill 25  is sponsored by Los Alamos area  Democrat Representative Christine Chandler.  It  would also tie hikes to the Consumer Price Index. It would first increase the current   $12 an hour minimum wage to $16 beginning next January 1st.

House Bill 25 is also  tied to  future increases to inflation  starting next year.  Chandler said the proposal was based on New Mexico cost-of-living data and aimed at updating the minimum wage amid a labor market that’s changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chandler said during Tuesday’s hearing, while adding that ominous predictions about the impact of the 2019 legislation have not proven accurate. Chandler said that ominous predictions about the impact of the 2019 legislation have not proven accurate.

Representative  Christine Chandler  agreed to revise House Bill 25  after both Democrats and Republicans expressed concern about the size of the proposed jump to $16 an hour.  The $16 an hour wage   would have made New Mexico’s minimum wage among the nation’s highest. California is set to have the highest minimum wage in 2023 at $15.50 an hour.  Under the amended  House Bill 25, the minimum wage would jump to $13.50 per hour starting in 2024, then again to $15.50 an hour in 2025, with future increases tied to inflation.  House Bill 25 was not voted on by the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee and remains in committee for future hearings.

Chandler said  the increase would be based on what is now considered a living wage in New Mexico.  Chandler said this:

“I think it’s a very reasonable bill. … A minimum wage bill for some reason, that perplexes me, seems to take on a life of its own. Battle lines are drawn that I think are unnecessary. I think we all have the same goal of wanting workers who work full-time, 40 hours a week to be able to pay for their basic necessities and I think that’s our goal and we’re towards getting that to happen and I think it will happen this year. … We have been trying to get workers to come into the state, so what we have done is create competitive advantage for the state of New Mexico and sent the message that this is a desirable place for people to come back

https://www.ksfr.org/government/2023-01-12/nm-lawmakers-to-consider-minimum-wage-hike

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/new-mexico-lawmaker-proposes-16-minimum-wage/

USUAL SUSPECTS OPPOSE AND SUPPORT

Not at all surprising, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce is opposed to increasing the minimum wage.   Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, believes drastically raising the state’s minimum wage will have negative consequences for the economy. He believes higher wages will force businesses to reevaluate how many employees they can afford as well as what kind of workers they hire. Black argues that businesses understand the pressure to increase wages, but said he is  hopeful state lawmakers will invite businesses leaders to the negotiating table. He says the best policies are often compromises both sides aren’t totally happy with. Black says many businesses are already struggling to keep up with the current increases. Chandler’s proposal would signal an overall $8 increase in just 5 years.

Black said this:

“It would really, really exacerbate youth unemployment. … If you raise that wage from $12 an hour to $16 an hour, they’re not going to hire the teenager who has no experience, they’re going to hire somebody else. That puts that teenager in a disadvantage going forward because their work experience now was pushed off for years. … Those employers that can restructure their business model will, those that can’t, won’t be able to, they’ll have to find cost-cutting other ways, or they won’t be able to continue to operate. … There’s a diversity of opinions from all perspectives. … I think there’s willingness to have that conversation, but $16 an hour is frankly a non-starter for the business community.”

The link to the quoted news source is here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/new-mexico-lawmaker-proposes-16-minimum-wage/

Lobbyists from the New Mexico Chile Association, the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the state’s Cattle Growers’ Association all testified against the legislation, saying it would place an additional burden on employers and lead to higher prices for consumers.

Some of the comments in opposition to the legislation were emotional and highly personal.  George Gundrey, owner of the Tomasita’s restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, called the proposed  minimum wage increase an “attack on our family-owned businesses” that would ensure New Mexico remains a high-poverty state.

Republican lawmakers carried on a full throttle  attack on the legislation calling it misguided.   Clovis area Republican Representative Andrea Reeb said this:

“To me, this is actually a tax hike and it’s going to raise the cost of food.”

Labor union leaders and representatives from groups that advocate for workers and immigrants spoke in favor of the bills.  They describe  them as essential to ensure low-income workers and families can afford to pay their bills.

GOVERNOR “MUM” ON PASSAGE

In 2019, Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the 2019 bill increasing New Mexico’s minimum wage from  $6.50 to $12.00 delivering on a 2018 campaign promise to increase the state’s minimum wage.  The Governor has not said whether she would support additional minimum wage hikes.  Last month the Governor’s spokeswoman said the Democratic governor would balance supporting workers with creating a “business-friendly climate” in the state.

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567498/minimum-wage-bills-spark-fierce-debate-ex-committe-advances-one-prop.html

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/new-mexico-lawmaker-proposes-16-minimum-wage/

NEW MEXICO’S POVERTY RATE

In 2021, New Mexico  had a poverty rate in 2021 of 19.1%.  This is the third highest in the country and well above the national poverty rate of 13.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The rate is even higher for New Mexico’s children. 28% of children under age 5 live in poverty and 25% of children under age 18 live in poverty. The 2021 Kids Count Data Book for New Mexico shows that 76% of fourth graders and 79% of eighth graders are not proficient in reading, more than 25% of high school students do not graduate on time, and nearly 12% of teenagers are neither in school nor working. Among adults, 29% read at the level of a 5- to 7-year-old.

https://www.abqjournal.com/2518875/low-literacy-linked-to-new-mexicos-poverty.html#:~:text=A%20lack%20of%20education%20can,people%20with%20a%20bachelor’s%20degree.

MINIMUM WAGE VERSUS LIVING WAGE AND POVERTY LEVELS

“Minimum wages have been defined asthe minimum amount of remuneration that an employer is required to pay wage earners for the work performed during a given period, which cannot be reduced by collective agreement or an individual contract’ ”.

https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/wages/minimum-wages/definition/WCMS_439072/lang–en/index.htm

A living wage is defined as follows:

“The remuneration received for a standard workweek by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing, and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events.”

https://www.globallivingwage.org/about/what-is-a-living-wage/

The United Sates 2023 poverty guidelines  in effect as of January 19, 2023  for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia  are as follows:

Persons in family/household                    Poverty guideline

       1                                                                    $14,580

       2                                                                     $19,720

       3                                                                     $24,860

       4                                                                     $30,000

       5                                                                    $35,140

       6                                                                     $40,280

       7                                                                      $45,420

       8                                                                      $50,560

The standard or universal work week for hourly paid employees is 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with 52 work weeks in a year for a total 2,080 hours of work a year.  To place New Mexico’s minimum wage in perspective, a person who  is the  sole wage earner for a family of 3 who is paid the $12.00 minimum wage an hour currently in New Mexico would therefore be paid $24,960 a year  or a mere $100 above the poverty level for a family of 3. This does not take into account inflation on goods and services, living costs for food and housing.

NEW MEXICO UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS TO 3.9%

On January 24, 2023  the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions announced that New Mexico’s unemployment rate continues to drop.  According to data released by the department, New Mexico’s the unemployment rate came in at 3.9% in December.  This is a 15 year low and the lowest rate in 2022.  According to Workforce Solutions data,  the last time New Mexico’s unemployment rate stood at 3.9% was  in April 2008. New Mexico’s unemployment rate continues to trend closer to the national average, which was 3.5% last month and had tied for a 53-year low, according to federal data.

The state’s unemployment rate measures the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed and is actively applying for work.  The state’s unemployment rate  dropped each month or remained the same with the exception of October, when the rate had climbed to 4.3% from 4.2% the previous month. The Department of Workforce Solutions data shows December’s unemployment rate is a drop from 4.1% in November and from a high of 5.9% at the beginning of the year.

December’s unemployment number is very different from the rates in 2020  when unemployment had hit a record high during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Ostensibly that was caused the pandemic when many businesses were closed and people were force out of jobs. At the time, the unemployment rate had reached a high of 9.8% in May 2020.

According to the Department of Workforce Solutions, the  year over year data shows  that some sectors are recovering. Mining and logging  grew by 1,800 jobs. Manufacturing added 700 jobs year over year and construction added 2,500 jobs. Large increases have also come in education and health services.  In the last year, that sector grew by about 6,200 jobs, or 4.4%, the data shows. Leisure and hospitality also grew by about 5,000 jobs – a trend that held for much of last year.

“Non-seasonally adjusted rates for unemployment show that more dense counties which  include  Santa Fe, Doña Ana and Bernalillo,  tend to trend lower than in less populated counties.

Bernalillo County. …  had an unemployment rate of 3% last month, the data shows, while Santa Fe County dropped to 2.8%. Doña Ana County saw its unemployment rate drop from 4% in November to 3.7% in December.

In Eddy and Lea counties, where oil and gas drilling operations reign supreme, the unemployment rate stood at 2.5% and 3.7%, respectively.

Luna County had the highest unemployment rate in the state last month at 11.6%, an increase from 11.1% in November. The lowest rate was in Los Alamos County at 1.5%, according to the data.”

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her par  called the unemployment rate a good sign for New Mexico.  She said this:

“It’s crystal clear — our economic investments are working and jobs are growing”. 

The link to quoted news source material is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567415/new-mexicos-unemployment-rate-hits-lowest-level-since-april-2008.html

https://www.krqe.com/news/unemployment/unemployment-rate-in-new-mexico-drops/#:~:text=NEW%20MEXICO%20(KRQE)%20%E2%80%93%20New,of%20Workforce%20Solutions%20(NMDWS).

NEW MEXICO’S CHANGING WORKFORCE

Reilly White is an associate professor with the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management.  Recently he was interviewed by the Albuquerque Journal and he said New Mexico’s  unemployment rate has followed the same trend as that seen at the national level, for the most part coming in lower each month.

White he said the “nature of the workforce is changing” in New Mexico.  He noted that there are fewer government workers compared to a decade ago and an increase in workers in other areas such as education. That drop in government workers, along with the loss of workers in other industries, coincides with New Mexico’s low labor force participation rate and which stood at 55.7% in December.  White said this about the drop in the state’s workforce numbers:

“This is due to a number of factors, especially increased retirements. …  Despite the oil boom bringing in record revenues to state coffers, employment in the cyclical mining and logging sector is 27% lower than at the end of 2014.”

Governor . Michelle Lujan Grisham called the unemployment rate a good sign for New Mexico.  She said this:

“It’s crystal clear — our economic investments are working and jobs are growing”. 

https://www.abqjournal.com/2567415/new-mexicos-unemployment-rate-hits-lowest-level-since-april-2008.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The New Mexico legislature and the business community needs to come to the realization that New Mexico’s workforce is changing dramatically. With that change must come changes and yes increases to the minimum wage in order to get the state’s  minimum wage to a “living wage” and to make the state competitive.

Simply put, the minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage. A living wage  should be the ultimate goal. Over the years, several attempts to tie the state’s minimum wage to the cost of living index have failed in the state legislature.  The result was that increases in the minimum wages never occurred for a decade and the minimum wage remained stagnant at a mere $7.50 an hour.

Over too many years, several attempts to tie the state’s minimum wage to the cost of living index have failed in the state legislature with Republicans resisting any and all efforts to increase the minimum wage.  Simply put, Republicans believe there should be no government mandated minimum wage and that market forces and profits should dictate the minimum wage.  Republicans  will never support increasing the minimum wage at any time no matter the business conditions.

A Democrat Core Value for decades on the National and State level, and in campaigning, has been to increase the minimum wage in order to make it a living wage.  Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 edge in the Senate and this year’s session is a 60 day session. Democrats would be damn fools not to increase the minimum wage while they have the distinct  advantage.  Tying increases of the minimum wage to cost of living increases is more than a reasonable approach.