APD Chief Medina And Wife In Car Crash While Fleeing Gunfire In City Vehicle; Driver Of Other Car Sent to Hospital In Critical Condition; Chief Medina Likely Violated Numerous Standard Operating Procedures; Mayor Tim Keller Should  Place Medina On Administrative Leave And Request BCSO Or State Police To Investigate Incident

On Saturday, February 17, Albuquerque Police Department Chief Harold Medina and his wife were in an unmarked APD truck when the APD vehicle crashed into a classic Mustang after Medina ran a red light as he tried to avoid gunfire on East Central.  The driver of the Mustang was taken to a hospital in critical condition but according to an APD spokesman the driver is expected to make a full recovery.

REPORTED CAR CRASH AND SHOOTING

APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Medina and his wife were driving to a news conference to be with Mayor Tim Keller sometime before 9:15 a.m. when Medina saw a homeless encampment on Alvarado, north of Central.  The planned news conference was scheduled for 10 a.m. outside Adam Food Market  convenience store known for crime and homelessness at Central and Pennsylvania.  Medina and Keller were going to talk about addressing crime around the store, which has been the site of several homicides, a police shooting and open-air drug use. The news conference was postponed as Keller and APD officials gathered at the site of the crash.

Gallegos said Medina and his wife were driving to the news conference when Medina saw a homeless encampment on Alvarado, north of Central.   Gallegos said it appeared to Medina that the encampment was blocking the sidewalk.  APD and city workers have for the past year have been stepping up enforcement against unhoused encampments.

Gallegos said Medina parked his truck on Alvarado, facing Central,  to call and request that officers remove the encampment. Gallegos reported that Medina was in the process of notifying the commander of the area so they could remove the encampment when 2 people started physically fighting. Gallegos said a fight broke out between 2 men on the sidewalk west of Medina’s truck and one of the men pulled out a gun and fired at least once at the other man. It is unclear if the fight and subsequent shooting was related to an encampment or those living on the streets.

APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said this:

“As [Chief Medina] was turning on his police radio to call it out, he noticed that one of them brandished a gun. One person kicked the other individual and that individual started firing shots in the direction of where the chief was in his truck. … That’s when [Medina’s] wife saw the muzzle of the gun pointed at them… They heard the shot fired [and Chief Medina] stepped on the gas to get out of the situation. … At that point, the chief pulled forward in his vehicle. Another car was coming in a different direction, and they crashed into each other. … Investigators [have] located one bullet casing, which is being tested to determine if the gun has been involved in any other shootings.”

Gallegos said Chief Medina was in the direct line of fire and tried to drive away, but as he took off, he hit a Ford Mustang on the driver’s side door. The Mustang struck a curb and skid down the road. Police say Chief Medina went to the driver’s aid, however, that driver was seriously injured and was taken to UNM Hospital.

According to Gallegos, the driver of the Mustang is currently in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery. ShotSpotter technology detected a single shot and investigators found one bullet casing, which is being tested.

Gallegos said nobody was injured by the gunfire and APD is looking over video footage and interviewing witnesses to find the person who fired the shots. APD says they’re searching for the 2 men involved in the fight in that both men fled the scene

According to APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, APD investigators determined the driver of the Mustang had a green light at the time of the accident. Ostensibly Medina ran a red light and drove into the intersection at Central and Alvarado NE and hit the driver’s side of the  Mustang  with the right front side of his APD  issued truck.  After the crash, the shooter ran and the person who was shot at “stuck around for a little bit” before leaving. He said Medina checked on the other driver and used his radio to call for an ambulance.

Chief Medina and his wife were not hurt in the crash and Gallegos said this:

Chief Medina is okay his wife’s okay. You know it was a scary incident and unfortunately one individual was injured during the car crash so we’re keeping an eye on him and he’s an adult male, we hope he’s okay.”   

Gallegos said Medina took a breathalyzer and drug test after the crash and asked the Superintendent of Police Reform to open an Internal Affairs review because he did not turn on his lapel camera during the incident.

MAYOR KELLER REACTS

At 11:06 am, close to 2 hours after the incident, Mayor Tim Keller posted on his official TWITTER account the following:

“Today @ABQPoliceChief [Medina] was checking on an encampment when a gun was pulled during a fight. He was in a car crash getting out of the line of fire, but thankfully he is okay. I’m grateful four our Chief and officers who put their lives on the line every day to make our city safe.”

11:06 AM Feb 17, 2024 2,833 Views

Mayor Tim Keller reacted to the incident by saying this to the news media:

“[Getting the call about the crash was]  one of those types of calls that I dread. … It always starts with, ‘There’s been an altercation with an officer, there’s been a shooting,’ and then I hear it’s the chief. So that is the worst way I ever want to start the day.  … Fortunately, in this case, I quickly learned he was OK.  … [Chief Medina is] arguably the most important person right now in these times in our city. … [The shooting incident is an example of] why we are never quitting when it comes to trying to make our city safer. … But it’s hard. It is extremely hard. It affects everyone, including our chief of police on a Saturday morning.”

Mayor Tim Keller also commented on Chief’s actions by saying this:

“This is actually him on a Saturday morning, disrupting an altercation, a shooting, trying to do what’s right, trying to make sure that folks are okay after on scene. This is above and beyond what you expect from a chief, and I’m grateful for Harold Medina.  … For us, we need to continue that clarion call for at every single level to do everything we can to make our city safer.  We don’t know any details, but would not be surprised if there was fentanyl, or whatever other illegal substance could have been exchanged. These are the kinds of things that we absolutely have to address. And this is not going to change unless we have major steps that we can take at every level.”

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/abq-police-dept-asks-public-to-avoid-area-of-central/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-police-chief-runs-red-light-while-fleeing-gunfire/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/apd-chief-involved-in-car-crash-shooting/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/law-enforcement-discuss-efforts-to-curb-crime-on-central/

https://www.koat.com/article/police-activity-near-central-and-alvarado/46832937

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/albuquerque-police-chief-involved-in-crash-while-fleeing-gunfire-on-east-central/article_2143cfa8-cdbf-11ee-b8c1-ffa351fe516f.html

https://www.abqraw.com/post/chief-medina-and-his-wife-patrolling-the-war-zone-allegedly-gets-shot-at-crashes-into-classic-musta

https://www.abqraw.com/post/wild-car-crash-and-shootout-happens-down-the-street-before-mayor-keller-s-press-conference-news-con

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The general public can be thankful that Chief Medina and his wife were not seriously injured.  However, the general public should be very concerned about the fate of the injured driver and the extent of personal injury and property damages caused to the driver by Chief Medina.

It was reported that the injured driver had a green light which means Medina ran a red light and was at fault.  From the looks of the news coverage, significant damage was done to the victims Mustang, it is probably totaled and the significant damage was also done to Medina’s vehicle. Medina’s SUV is a department issued vehicle and as such has a high-end value of probably upwards of $75,000 and equipped with law enforcement equipment. Medina’s city vehicle is also likely totaled.

Then there is the matter of the extent of personal injury suffered by driver of the Mustang. It was reported the driver was in “critical condition” and taken to the hospital yet APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos proclaimed the injured driver is expected to have a “speady recovery” without disclosing the actual extent of the victim’s injuries.

Keller totally ignored and did not even mention the innocent driver of the Mustang who was hit by Medina. Keller did not even mention Chief Medina’s wife nor express any concern for her as well.  What is downright embarrassing and pathetic is the lengths to which Mayor Tim Keller went to praise Chief Harold Medina for his actions especially when he said “[Chief Medina is] arguably the most important person right now in these times in our city.”  Medina is only the most important person to Keller within the city because city hall observers keep asking  what does Medina have on Keller?

QUESTIONS BEGGING FOR ANSWERS  

Based on all the news accounts and the comments made by APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, APD Chief Harold Medina has in fact violated one or more of APD’s Standard Operating Procedures that would lead to disciplinary action against any rank-and-file police officer when  violated.  The POSTSCRIPT to this blog article outlines the Standard Operating Procedures Chief Medina likely violated directly or indirectly.

There are any number of questions that need to be answered that relate to Chief Medina’s car crash and violating APD’s standard operating procedures:

  • Why was Medina’s wife going with him at 9:15 am to attend a 10:00 AM news conference with Mayor Keller? Was she approved as an APD ride along for patrols?
  • When Medina decided to investigate the homeless encampment, why did he not engage his vehicle’s emergency lights or siren equipment?
  • Medina admitted he was taking an enforcement action by calling it in but why did he not make any effort to take his wife to a safe and convenient location as required by standard operating procedures before he attempted take action against the encampment?
  • Why did Chief Medina not have his lapel camera on which  he admitted which is serious violation of Standard Operating procedure?
  • Police officers involved in car accidents with their vehicles are required to take breathalyzer and drug test within one hour of the car accident. APD Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Chief Medina took a breathalyzer and drug test after the crash, but he did not say when and where the tests were administered nor what the results were.
  • Will a complete Uniform Incident report be made and release to the public, including interviews of witnesses, and who will prepare it?

COMICAL REQUEST

It is somewhat comical that Superintendent of Police Reform is being asked to open an Internal Affairs on APD Chief Medina. The truth is that is not the Superintendent’s responsibility to do such investigations and the responsibility is to review completed cases. It’s an investigation that should be done by another law enforcement agency such as the Bernalillo County Sherriff’s Office or the NM State Police to ensure complete objectivity and avoid any conflicts of interest.

NO CHIEF IS EXEMPT FROM STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES

No sworn law enforcement officer, including a Police Chief is above enforcement of police standard operating procedures. A chief must follow standard operating procedures and be held accountable for any violations just like he holds all those officers of lesser rank he manages and even disciplines.

This whole crash incident further erodes the credibility of Chief Medina and Mayor Tim Keller whose reputations have already been damaged to a great extent  by the ongoing Federal Investigation of the entire DWI Unit that has been implicated in a bribery and conspiracy scheme involving a prominent DWI defense attorney to dismiss cases.

PLACE MEDINA ON ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE 

Keller does himself no favors as he blindly promotes the merits of an incompetent Chief of Police. Mayor Keller should immediately place APD Chief Harold Medina on Administrative Leave until a complete investigation of the crash and an incident report is prepared. Mayor Keller should also ask the Bernalillo County Sheriff or State Police to investigate and prepare final reports on the car crash.

If Mayor Keller does not act against Medina, the City Council should step in and seek to terminate Chief Medina.

___________________________________________________________

POSTSCRIPT  

Below are the Standard Operating Procedures that were  likely violated in the Medina auto crash:

APD STANARD OPERATING PROCEDURES

It is Standard Operating Procedure 1-6 the deals with the APD “Patrol Ride Along Program”

1-6-4 entitled Rules outlines ride alongs with police.

Eligibility for Participation in the Patrol Ride-Along Program

  1. The Patrol Ride-Along Program is neither a public relations program nor is it intended to satisfy a community member’s curiosity about police work.
  1. Professional Staff members and community members are permitted to participate in patrol ride-alongs for the purpose of meeting their training and educational needs.
  2. A professional staff member or community member who wants to participate in the Patrol Ride-Along Program must be eligible for the Department’s Volunteer Program or Internship Program, consistent with SOP Volunteer and internship Programs …

…  .

Unauthorized Patrol Ride-Along

Officers and PSAs shall abide by the Patrol Ride-Along requirements prior to authorizing any community member or professional staff member to ride along on patrol.

_____________________________________________________________

It is 2-5 of APD Standard Operating Procedures that deal with use of APD issued department vehicles.  Section 2-5-4 specifically deals with General Procedures For Department-Issue Vehicles and provides in part:

       1. When operating a Department-issued vehicle, sworn personnel shall:

A. Have their police radio on and tuned to the proper frequency for their location;

B.  While on-call, carry all necessary equipment for a call-out;

C.   Consistent with SOP Personnel Code of Conduct and SOP Uniforms, have in their possession a jacket or vest that clearly displays the Department insignia, their badge, identification card, handcuffs, body armor, radio, on-body recording device (OBRD), and firearm to effectively perform a police function. …

D. When responding to a felony call with non-sworn personnel as passenger(s), except for approved ride-along, first drop off the passenger(s) at a convenient and safe location, then respond to the call consistent with Department Standard Operating Procedures (SOP);

… .

__________________________________________________________

It is 2-6  of APD Standard Operating Procedures that deals with Use of Emergency Warning Equipment.

Section 2-6-4 entitled Procedures states as follows:

Authority for Code Response.

When sworn personnel respond to an emergency call, or when in pursuit of an individual who has violated or is suspected of violating a law, sworn personnel shall be authorized to exercise the right-of-way privilege , pursuant to the New Mexico state statute on authorized emergency vehicles, if the officer is driving an authorized emergency vehicle and properly using authorized emergency warning equipment.

This authority does not:

  1. Relieve the officer who is driving an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of others; or

      2.  Protect the officer from the consequences of reckless disregard for the         safety of others.

 _____________________________________________________________

It is 2-7 of APDs Standard Operating procedures that deals with DAMAGE TO CIVILIAN PROPERTY

Section 2-7-2  entitled Policy provides:

It is the policy of the Department to document when Department personnel damage civilian property …  during the course of their official duties.

…  .

Section 2-7-4 entitled  Procedures provides:

  1. Civilian property may include, but is not limited to:

….

Vehicles

When Department personnel damage civilian property, they shall:

  1. Complete a Uniform Incident Report documenting the damage;
  2. If the primary officer caused the damage, they shall document the information in their Uniform Incident Report. 
  3. If another officer caused the damage, they shall document the information in a Supplemental Report.

…  .

______________________________________________________________________

It is 2-8 of APD’s standard operating procedures that deals with  “USE OF ON-BODY RECORDING DEVICES”

Section 2-8-4 entitled Rules provides as follows:

All uniformed and plainclothes sworn personnel, Police Service Aides (PSA), Crime Scene Specialists (CSS), PTU personnel, and all uniformed personnel shall wear a Department-issued OBRD while on-duty. Exceptions to wearing the OBRD include:

  1. Written approval by the Chief of Police, which will be limited to Department personnel who do not routinely interact with the public and only when those personnel are not engaging in law enforcement or investigative encounters with the public, including any mandatory recording events. Notwithstanding this exception, all Department personnel shall record mandatory recording events.
  2. During training, unless required to wear the OBRD for training purposes;
  3. Bomb Squad personnel, while actively working a scene with suspicious or hazardous items; and
  4. Any duty assignment where sworn personnel do not carry a Department-issued badge and firearm, including restricted duty, administrative assignment, or administrative leave.

____________________________________________________________________

Section 2-8-5 of APD’s standard operating procedures delineates “Mandatory Recordings” by APD sworn personnel and provides as follows:

  1. Department personnel shall activate their OBRD [ON BODY RECORDING DEVICE] for any call for service that involves a law enforcement encounter, for any other law enforcement encounters that involve contact with community members, and for any investigative encounters involving community members.
  2. For all mandatory recording events, Department personnel shall activate their OBRD prior to contact with individuals, except during emergency situations that require immediate action to preserve life or safety. At the first available opportunity, Department personnel shall activate their OBRD immediately.
  3. Examples of mandatory recording events include, but are not limited to: Law enforcement encounters; Traffic crashes;

___________________________________________________________________

Standard Operating Procedure 2-47 deals with “Crashes Involving Department Issued Vehicles”

2-47-4 outlines the following Procedures:

General Procedures for Crashes that Involve Department-Issued Vehicle Department personnel who are Involved in the crash shall:

A. Request Albuquerque Fire Rescue (AFR) for any injuries;

B. Secure the scene to prevent further damage;

C. Preserve evidence;

D. Request that an on-duty supervisor respond to the scene of the crash;

E. Request for an available officer or Police Service Aide (PSA) to be dispatched to investigate the crash and to complete a Uniform Crash Report (UCR) to include the vehicle or unit number on the UCR diagram or narrative;

F. The responding officer or PSA who completes the UCR shall gather sufficient information concerning the cause of the crash to testify at the Crash Review Board (CRB) Hearing, if necessary; and

  1. Request for a supervisor, a Crime Scene Specialist (CSS), or a Police Service Aide (PSA) to photograph the crash.
  2. Photographs shall include close-ups, mid-ranges, and the overall scene.
  3. Photographs shall be tagged into evidence as outlined in SOP Collection, Submission, and Disposition of Evidence and Property (refer to SOP Collection, Submission, and Disposition of Evidence and Property).
  4. Supervisors with Axon training may take the photographs for non-injury crash investigations.

G.  The investigating supervisor shall:

  1. Determine whether the crash involves serious personal injury, death, or substantial damage to any involved Department personnel or the Department-issued vehicle before clearing the scene of the crash;

2. Notify the following personnel to respond to the scene of the crash if it involves life-threatening injuries or death:

i. Internal Affairs Professional Standards (IAPS) Division investigative personnel;

ii . An on-duty CSS; and

iii. The on-call Metro Traffic Division Fatal Traffic Team supervisor.

3. Based on the damage to the Department-issued vehicle and the extent of injuries, determine whether the on-call Metro Traffic Division Fatal Traffic Team will investigate the crash;

4. Ensure that all crashes involving Department-issued vehicles, no matter how minor, are documented in a UCR;

5. Submit an Internal Affairs (IA) database web application entry for vehicle crashes, which includes copies of the completed UCR and City of Albuquerque Substance Abuse Program Post-Accident Decision Making Form;

6.  Forward the completed UCR and the City of Albuquerque Substance Abuse Program Post-Accident Decision Making Forms to the lieutenant or division  head within five (5) calendar days;

7. Examine any damage to Department-issued vehicles and physical evidence present to ensure that there is consistency with the reported circumstances; and

8. Determine whether the Department-issued vehicle is safe enough to remain in service or if the vehicle should be transported to the City of Albuquerque Fleet Management (Pino Yards) at 5501 Pino Ave NE.

9. The on-scene supervisor or investigating officer may allow the involved vehicles to be moved if they impede the safe flow of traffic.

10. The on-scene supervisor or investigating officer may only allow the vehicles to be moved from the scene for non-injury crashes or when moving the vehicles does not significantly impact the investigation.

11. Operations Review Section personnel shall review the UCR and the IA database web application entry for accuracy and to ensure that all required documents are attached to the IA database web application entry.

12.  After reviewing the UCR and the IA database web application entry, the Operations Review Section Fleet Coordinator shall:

Send the IA database web application entry information to IAPS Division personnel; and

Forward the UCR to the Metro Traffic Division Administrative Assistant.

… .

 

Candidate For Bernalillo County District Attorney Matthias Swonger Weighs In On APD-DWI Bribery Scandal; No Candidate For District Attorney Has Called For Grand Jury Investigation Of APD Bribery/Dismissal DWI Scandal; All 3 Likely Waiting For Feds To Indict Ignoring APD Doing Its Own Investigation That Could Be Relied Upon For State Charges

The APD bribery scandal involving the dismissal of 198 DWI Cases by District Attorney Sam Bregman has become an issue in the race for Bernalillo County District Attorney.  Candidates DA Sam Bregman and former US Attorney  Damon Martinez have commented on the scandal. (See related blog article in postscript.) There is a third trial attorney seeking the Democratic nomination for Bernalillo County District Attorney with the Democratic primary to be held on June 4. The third attorney is  Matthias Swonger who is a criminal defense attorney with the New Mexico Public Defender’s Office.

SWONGER WEIGHS IN ON APD DWI BRIBERY SCANDAL

On Sunday, January 28, Matthias Swonger released the following press release for publication on this blog:

The corruption scandal allegedly involving APD DWI officers and a private defense attorney has brought new urgency to the DA race. It is not hyperbolic to say that the public’s already precarious trust in the criminal justice system and legal profession has been severely damaged. The outcome of the DA race will have far reaching consequences for the future of the entire legal community and the community at large.

SAM BREGMAN represents a continuation of the status quo that is unacceptable. Much of his career prior to becoming DA involved defending officers in criminal and misconduct matters, and as DA he has only reduced transparency and accountability by removing the names of officers with credibility issues from the DA’s website. His office apparently failed to rigorously track their cases in a way that would have allowed them to raise the alarm when DWI cases continued to be dismissed due to officer non-appearances. Mr. Bregman’s failure to hold wrongdoers within the system accountable and the fact that the attorney being investigated in the corruption scandal donated one thousand dollars to Mr. Bregman’s campaign raise serious doubts that Mr. Bregman can rise to the task of restoring trust in our criminal justice system.

DAMON MARTINEZ is likewise an out of touch career political insider whose involvement in APD reform efforts as US Attorney and as an employee of APD where he was responsible for writing APD policies, has failed to uncover the corruption at APD. To the extent that Mr. Martinez has articulated a platform for his candidacy, he plans to double down on the failed war on drugs and to seek longer prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses. He is a non-starter for many progressives and people of color because of his role in overseeing a sting operation that primarily targeted racial minorities for low level offenses while he was serving as US Attorney. 

In these difficult times, when our community is shaken by scandal and mistrust of the government and the criminal justice system are understandably rampant, we cannot afford to have either of these individuals represent the interests of the State in criminal proceedings in Bernalillo County.

I’ve spent the past 11 years working as an attorney with the public defender’s office, working on the front lines to bring our impacted communities the justice and support they deserve. Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed the values of our community in action – I know that we all aspire to live in a safe, fair, and inclusive community where everyone is valued and treated fairly. I am the only candidate who is a political outsider, and the only candidate running on a platform of meaningful reform. The issues we face demand fresh ideas and a new leader at the DA’s office who will prioritize the safety and wellbeing of everyone by implementing evidence-based policies that will keep our communities safe and address the underlying causes of crime.  

CHRONOLOGY OF A SCANDAL

On January 19 the FBI raided the homes of three APD officers and the office DWI defense attorney Thomas Clear III who are allegedly involved in a bribery and conspiracy scheme spanning a decade to dismiss DWI cases. Five cops, including one lieutenant, have been implicated. District Attorney Sam Bregman ordered 198 DWI cases dismissed because of the scandal. No criminal charges have been filed and the FBI search warrants remain sealed.

The five APD officers who have been identified at the center of the federal investigation are:

  • Lieutenant Justin Hunt
  • Officer Honorio Alba, Jr.
  • Officer Harvey Johnson
  • Officer Joshua Montano
  • Officer Nelson Ortiz

All 5 police officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the pendency of the federal criminal investigation.

On February 9 it was reported that APD Lt. Justin Hunt resigned from APD. He was one of five officers placed on leave. The police department confirmed Hunt worked in the DWI unit from 2011 to 2014. Review of cases dismissed revealed Hunt’s name came up in 18 DWI cases since 2011 with 15 of those were tossed out.  Court records also show Thomas Clear III, who advertises himself as a criminal defense lawyer, was Hunt’s attorney in a 2014 divorce.

On February 13, it was reported that Internal Affairs Division APD Commander Mark Landavazo was been placed on administrative leave as part of the department’s ongoing investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by DWI officers. Landavazo is the highest-ranking member of APD to be put on leave because of corruption allegations involving the prosecution of DWI cases and focusing on several APD officers and their interaction with staff of defense attorney Tom Clear.  Landavazo has been with APD since 2007, became commander of the Internal Affairs Division in 2021.

On Friday, February 17, it was reported that APD temporarily reassigned an Internal Affairs lieutenant who is being investigated amid an ongoing DWI corruption probe.  APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos did not identify the lieutenant but said he is “not currently accused of participating in the alleged DWI scheme being investigated by the FBI.”  He said APD is looking into allegations against the lieutenant that are somehow tied to the “the conduct of current and former DWI officers.” Gallegos did not elaborate.

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/apd-internal-affairs-lieutenant-under-investigation-related-to-dwi-corruption-probe/article_f1617b5e-cd24-11ee-b271-2b2f3348ba6c.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

On Friday, February 2, APD Chief Harold Medina held a press conference to address the “ongoing administrative investigation” involving  the dismissal of DWI cases and the 5 police officers implicated in the DWI dismissal scheme. Medina said this:

We are looking at everyone in the department who may have had a role in the alleged scheme among DWI officers.”

Medina announced he chose Commander Kyle Hartsock, who oversees APD’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, to head up the investigation into the five officers.  Medina said Hartsock, who previously worked for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, has an “outside perspective with no ties to current or former DWI officers.”  Medina also said he has “hand chosen” the group to investigate made up of Hartsock and Deputy Commanders Josh Hawkes and Ken Johnston and none have any history with the DWI unit.  Medina said Hartsock has daily calls with the FBI and passes along any criminal findings to the federal agency as the internal probe continues.

THE GRAND JURY PROCESS

It is local law enforcement that investigate felony cases and the forward those cases to the District Attorney for review and final determination of charges. In Bernalillo County, criminal felony cases are investigated by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Albuquerque Police Department or the New Mexico State Police. The law enforcement agency collects and gathers evidence, interviews witnesses and prepares final reports. Once those cases are investigated by the law enforcement agency, the final reports are forwarded to the District Attorney for review and a determination of charges.

It is the duty and responsibility of all District Attorneys to schedule criminal cases before the grand juries convened to bring felony indictments. In Bernalillo County, a designated District Judge oversees and convenes grand juries. The legislature provides the funding to convene grand juries.

There are two major Rules of Criminal Procedure for the District Courts that deal with the convening of grand juries and grand jury investigations.

NM STAT § 31-6-1 (2021)

It is New Mexico statute § 31-6-1 that governs the convening of grand juries. It provides in part:

“The district judge may convene one or more grand juries at any time, without regard to court terms. A grand jury shall serve for a period of no longer than three months. The district judge shall summon and qualify as a panel for grand jury service such number of jurors as he deems necessary. Each grand jury shall be composed of twelve regular jurors and a sufficient number of alternates to insure the continuity of the inquiry and the taking of testimony.”

https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2021/chapter-31/ak[[rticle-6/section-31-6-1/

RULE 5-302.3

Under Article II, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution, a State  District Court can  order a grand jury to convene upon the filing of a “citizens petition” to investigate criminal conduct or malfeasance. It is Rule 5-302.3 of the New Mexico Rules of Criminal Procedure that provides for the convening a citizen grand jury by petition.

Under amended rule 5-302.3, which became effective December 31, 2023,  the district court shall order a grand jury to convene on the filing of a petition to investigate criminal conduct or malfeasance proscribed by state law that is signed by not less than the greater of two-hundred (200) registered voters or two percent (2%) of the registered voters of the county.

The district court must make both a factual determination that a citizen petition to convene a grand jury meets the procedural requirements of Article II, Section 14 and a legal determination that the petition seeks a legitimate inquiry into alleged criminal conduct or malfeasance proscribed by state law.

The petition to convene a grand jury must identify with reasonable specificity the alleged criminal conduct or unlawful malfeasance to be investigated. The district court must determine whether the petition seeks to investigate conduct that lies within the permissible scope of grand jury inquiry. If the petition does not reasonably specify alleged conduct that, if true, would warrant a true bill of indictment, the district court must deny the petition.

On the filing of the petition, the district court shall assign the district attorney or the district attorney’s assistants, unless otherwise disqualified, to assist the district court in notifying the target of the grand jury petition and, if the grand jury is convened, in carrying out the duties of the grand jury.

If a target of the potential grand jury investigation is identifiable in the citizen petition, the prosecuting attorney assisting the district court shall use reasonable diligence to notify the target in writing no later than thirty (30) days before the scheduled hearing on the validity of the petition.

The rule provides for additional requirements of notification.

https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2021/chapter-31/article-6/section-31-6-1/

HISTORY OF SPECIAL GRAND JURY INVESTGATIONS AND CHARGING APD POLICE OFFICERS

In Bernalillo County there is a well-established history of the Bernalillo County District Attorneys requesting grand jury time to conduct special criminal investigations.  Over the years, those investigation have included voter registration and fraud cases, investigation of the Albquerquerqu Air Port observation deck scandal in the 1990’s for violations of city and state purchasing laws and no bid contracts based on a state auditor’s report finding wrong doing, and the investigation of the mishandling of child abuse cases by the Children, Youth and Families Department in the 1980’s. (Former Assistant District  Attorney and Chief Deputy District Attorney Pete Dinelli was involved with the prosecution of  these cases.)

There is also a history of the Bernalillo County District Attorney charging  APD officers with serious crimes. In the 1980’s, three APD officers (Davis, Baily and Hobson)  were indicted for committing robberies and crimes while on duty and patrol and then taking the calls for service.  (Former Assistant District Attorney Pete Dinelli presented evidence against the 3 APD officers in the case to the grand jury.)  In 2015, APD Police Officers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy were  charged with second-degree murder for the killing of homeless Camper James Boyd’s on September 20, 2016.  A Special Prosecutor was appointed. Now District Attorney Sam Bregman defended Keith Sandy and the trial ended with a hung jury and no convictions.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

With the appointment of an APD criminal investigation team, the resignation of Lt. Justin Hunt from APD and the placing of Internal Affairs Commander Mark Landavazo as well an unidentified Lieutenant on administrative leave as part of the department’s ongoing investigation, it safe to assume that the federal investigation is expanding.  There is a real possibility that more police officers will be implicated in the scandal. It is more likely than not that the Federal investigation will lead to more than a few indictments. However, even if the federal investigation ends with federal indictments, there will be the manner of likely state criminal charges that must be dealt with, if at all.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney plays a critical role in the oversight of law enforcement and is considered the chief law enforcement officer of the county. What is  difficult to accept is how APD is conducting its own investigation, cooperating with the federal investigation and turning over whatever it finds to the feds. APD should also be turning over all of the same information and evidence to the Bernalillo County District Attorney. The District Attorney must review and screen all felony criminal cases that have occurred in the county and investigated by all law enforcement agencies, including the Albuquerque Police Department, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department and the New Mexico State Police.

Ultimately, it is the Bernalillo County District Attorney that has the exclusive authority to decide what state charges are to be brought based upon the investigations done by the law enforcement agencies. Crimes committed by law enforcement officers in the county are also prosecuted by the District Attorney.  The problem has always been that District Attorney are always reluctant to investigate and prosecute law enforcement, even for serious felonies, proclaiming conflicts and the need to work with local law enforcement.

Who ever is elected Bernalillo County District Attorney come November 5, they should request the scheduling grand jury time from the District Court to exclusively investigate the Albquerquerqu Police Department and the APD-DWI dismissal bribery scandal. Another area that merits investigation is APD’s chronic overtime pay abuse. There have been no less than 7 audits documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in APD police overtime over the past 8 years with one audit done by none other than former State Auditor Tim Keller. Many of those audits have been forwarded to the Attorney General and nothing ever became of them. Those audits could be relied upon by the District Attorney to bring charges. The grand jury  investigation could be based upon APD’s Internal Affairs Investigation, city and state audits already performed on APD overtime pay abuses with reliance also on  the Federal investigation as well as APD’s own Internal Affairs Investigation and the investigation by the appointed team.

A second option that exists if the District Attorney is reluctant or resists initiating a grand jury investigation is the public could seek the convening of a special grand jury by citizens petition which is far more realistic than people may believe. Ten years ago is was sure public outcry that brought the Department of Justice (DOJ)to Albuquerque to investigate the Albuquerque Police Department and its use of force and deadly force and the rash of police officer involved shootings. The DOJ did and investigation for over a year and found a “culture of aggression” within APD and the investigation resulted in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating implementation of constitutional policing practices.

All three candidates for Bernalillo County District Attorney pontificate just how bad the APD scandal is and how it has undermined the credibility of the APD. The 3 candidates running for District Attorney have yet to state whether or not they are willing to prosecute the state crimes associated with the APD-DWI bribery and conspiracy scandal. No doubt they will give the excuse that they want to wait until the Feds complete its investigation but that should not matter given the fact that APD is doing its own investigation and gathering evidence.  Ostensibly, APD is forwarding what it is finding to  the feds and not the Bernalillo County District Attorney. Not one of the 3 candidates for Bernalillo County District Attorney has actually said what they intend to do to deal with or investigate and perhaps even prosecute APD police offers who have violated New Mexico state law no doubt concerned about the  APD police union and its endorsement.

____________________________________

POSTSCRIPT

The link to a related blog article is here:

Dismissal Of 152 DWI Cases In APD Scandal And Campaign Contribution Become Issues In Bernalillo County District Attorney Race; DWI Victim Rights Advocates Raise The Alarm Over Dismissals; Dismantle and Reconstitute DWI Unit  

 

ABQ City Councilor Louie Sanchez To Introduce Resolution To Terminate APD Chief Harold Medina For Cause; DWI Lieutenant Resigns, Internal Affairs Commander Placed On Administrative Leave; Medina’s Termination First Step In Effort To Restore Public Confidence In APD

Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez has made it known that he intends to introduce a city council resolution to remove and terminate APD Chief Harold Medina for cause. The WHEREAS recital provisions of the Resolution identifies numerous and specific instance of mismanagement of APD by Chief Harold Medina as well as  the ongoing federal investigation of the APD DWI Unit and the bribery and conspiracy scheme with a prominent criminal defense attorney.

Sanchez released to www.PeteDinelli.com the following proposed city council resolution he will sponsor and  introduce at the next city council meeting:

                                                     RESOLUTION

REMOVING POLICE CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA FOR FAILURE TO LEAD THE ALBUQUERQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT

WHEREAS, Harold Medina is the Chief of the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”); and

WHEREAS, when Medina was appointed to his position, it was due to the abrupt departure of the previous Chief; and

WHEREAS, effective leadership of the Albuquerque Police Department is critical to the safety and wellbeing of the residents of the City of Albuquerque; and

WHEREAS, a federal investigation into multiple APD officers has resulted in the dismissal of more than 150 active DWI cases; and

WHEREAS, this investigation appears to show unchecked corruption within the Department; and

WHEREAS, these allegations of widespread corrupt actions by APD officers undermines the confidence of the community in the entire department; and

WHEREAS, the profound lack of leadership, which allowed such corrupt activities to transpire, unfairly tarnishes the reputation of upstanding officers, who through no fault of their own are associated with this terrible behavior; and

WHEREAS, Medina’s mismanagement of the Albuquerque Police Department is evidenced by numerous tragedies and scandals, such as:

  1. A police cadet was killed in a murder-suicide following reports of an affair taking place during her training at the police academy that APD was aware of;
  2. An academy class where seasoned instructors were moved because the son of a deputy chief attending the academy faced termination for untruthfulness;
  3. APD’s Gang Unit was all but dissolved along with critical units such as the Narcotics and Vice units;
  4. Record numbers of officers have resigned or retired, leaving the Department dangerously shorthanded;
  5. Increased officer terminations;
  6. Increased officer-involved shootings at the highest number in decades, if not in APD’s history;
  7. Increased response times for 911 calls with some callers holding for hours while hundreds more calls sit unanswered; and
  8. The highest number of homicides in two recent years with at least 328 people murdered on the streets of the City; and
  9. At least two lawsuits pending against the City and APD, each claiming the wrongful death of family members who suffered from mental illness.

WHEREAS, these tragedies reflect serious failures in leadership and an institution in dire need of intervention; and

WHEREAS, Medina’s conduct is inconsistent with the requirements of his position as Chief of Police and his responsibilities and obligations to the City and its residents; and

WHEREAS, Medina’s conduct threatens the public health, safety, and welfare of the people of the City of Albuquerque; and

WHEREAS, while the City Council has expressed concerns on numerous occasions about the leadership of the Department, there has been no apparent improvement in the administration of APD; and

WHEREAS, Pursuant to Article 5, Section 4(d)(1) of the Charter of the City of Albuquerque, “[t]he Police Chief . . . may be removed for cause by a vote of two-thirds of the entire membership of the Council.”; and

WHEREAS, Chief Harold Medina’s failure to lead the Albuquerque Police Department constitutes cause for removal.

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL, THE GOVERNING BODY OF THE CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE:

SECTION 1. Harold Medina is hereby removed from his position as Chief of the Albuquerque Police Department.

SECTION 2.  SEVERABILITY. If any section, paragraph, sentence, clause, word or phrase of this Resolution is for any reason held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction, such decision shall not affect the validity of the remaining provisions of this Resolution.

The Council hereby declares that it would have passed this Resolution and each section, paragraph, sentence, clause, word or phrase thereof irrespective of any provision being declared unconstitutional or otherwise invalid.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above Resolution is subject to possible additions, deletions,  modifications and amendments as deemed necessary by its sponsor City Councilor Loui Sanchez and other city councilors and  the city council as a whole.

CITY CHARTER PROVISIONS ON THE APPOINTMENT AND REMOVAL BY CITY COUNCIL OF CHIEF OF POLICE

It is article V. Section 4, of the Albuquerque City Charter which outlines the duties and responsibilities of the mayor and the appointment and the removal the Chief Administrative Officer, Deputy Administrative Officers, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief.

Section 4 of the City Charter entitled DUTIES OF THE MAYOR provides as follows .

“The Mayor shall:

 Organize the executive branch of the city;

    (b)   Exercise administrative control and supervision over and appoint directors of all city departments, which appointments shall not require the advice or consent of the Council except as provided in (d) of this Section;

   (c)   Be responsible for the administration and protection of the merit system;

    (d)   With the advice and consent of the Council, appoint the Chief Administrative Officer, any deputy administrative officers, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief. Appointees requiring the advice and consent of the Council shall be presented to the Council for confirmation within 45 days after the Mayor takes office or after a vacant appointed position is filled. When an appointee is presented to and not confirmed by the Council, the Mayor shall, within 60 days thereafter, nominate another person to fill the position, and the Mayor may continue to nominate until confirmation;

1.   The Police Chief or Fire Chief may be removed for cause by a vote of two-thirds of the entire membership of the Council.

The link to review the City Charter is here:

https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/albuquerque/latest/albuqcharter/0-0-0-263

APD INVESTGATION TEAM ANNOUNCED

On Friday, February 2, APD Chief Harold Medina held a press conference to address the “ongoing administrative investigation” involving  the dismissal of DWI cases and the 5 police officers implicated in the DWI dismissal scheme. Medina said  “We are looking at everyone in the department who may have had a role in the alleged scheme among DWI officers.”

Medina announced he chose Commander Kyle Hartsock, who oversees APD’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, to head up the investigation into the five officers.  Medina said Hartsock, who previously worked for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, has an “outside perspective with no ties to current or former DWI officers.”  Medina also said he has “hand chosen” the group to investigate made up of Hartsock and Deputy Commanders Josh Hawkes and Ken Johnston and none have any history with the DWI unit.  Medina said Hartsock has daily calls with the FBI and  passes  along any criminal findings to the federal agency as the internal probe continues.

Commander Kyle Hartsock for his part said this:

“We will ensure that any officer or any personnel belonging to the city of Albuquerque that was either involved in any part of this scheme, or knew about it and didn’t report it, will be held accountable.”

The link to the quoted news source is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/albuquerque-police-outline-history-of-dwi-case-outcomes/article_31716d9c-c06b-11ee-84da-7fbcb7fceffb.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

 DWI LIEUTENANT RESIGNS, INTERNAL AFFAIRS COMMANDER PLACED ON ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE

On February 9 it was reported that APD Lt. Justin Hunt resigned from APD. He was one of five officers placed on leave. The police department confirmed Hunt worked in the DWI unit from 2011 to 2014. Review of cases dismissed revealed Hunt’s name came up in 18 DWI cases since 2011 with 15 of those were tossed out.  Court records also show Thomas Clear III, who advertises himself as a criminal defense lawyer, was Hunt’s attorney in a 2014 divorce.

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-metro/albuquerque-police-lieutenant-resigns-amid-investigation-into-dwi-unit/

On February 13, it was reported that Internal Affairs Division APD Commander Mark Landavazo has been placed on administrative leave as part of the department’s ongoing investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by DWI officers. Landavazo is the highest-ranking member of APD to be put on leave because of corruption allegations involving the prosecution of DWI cases and focusing on several APD officers and their interaction with staff of defense attorney Tom Clear.  Landavazo has been with APD since 2007, became commander of the Internal Affairs Division in 2021.

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/apd-places-internal-affairs-commander-on-leave/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/albuquerque-police-internal-affairs-commander-on-leave-in-dwi-corruption-probe/article_c7f57be8-cad7-11ee-8759-6710784486dd.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

ABQ JOUNRAL SANCHEZ GUEST OPINION COLUMN

On Sunday, February 4, the Albuquerque Journal published the following guest opinion written by City Councilor Louie Sanchez. Sanchez represents District 1, Albuquerque’s Central West Side, on the Albuquerque City Council. The guest column outlines the failed leadership of Chief Harold Medina. It also provides grounds to remove Medina for cause.

Sanchez Column Headline: Lack Of Leadership Has Ruined Moral Within APD

BY LOUIE SANCHEZ, Albuquerque City Councilor

“Recent incidents involving the Albuquerque Police Department since last fall concern not just myself, but all citizens and residents of Albuquerque.

APD’s mismanagement is evidenced by a spectrum of tragedies and scandals. This past fall, a police cadet was killed in a murder-suicide following reports of an affair taking place during her training at the police academy that APD leadership was aware of: An academy class where seasoned instructors were moved because the son of a deputy chief attending the academy faced termination for untruthfulness. Instead, he weaponized the EEOC process at the advice of his father and was reinstated to the academy.

Under current leadership, APD’s Gang Unit was all but dissolved along with such critical units as the Narcotics and Vice units. Record numbers of officers have resigned or retired, leaving the department dangerously shorthanded.

It gets worse. More officer terminations followed with more officer involved shootings — the highest number in decades, if not in APD’s history. Response time for 911 calls increase with some citizens holding for hours while hundreds more sit unanswered.

The city saw the highest number of homicides in two recent years under this mayor and under his current police chief — at least 328 people were murdered on the streets of the city. At least two multi-million-dollar lawsuits are pending against the city and APD, each claiming wrongful death of family members who suffered from mental illness. Such shootings were among the very reason the DOJ came to Albuquerque.

These low-points, now a part of APD’s history, are, as Dr. James Ginger puts it, the result of poor leadership. Now a public corruption investigation by the FBI of APD officers threatens the integrity of entire department.

An immediate consequence of Chief Medina’s failures is the dismissal of over 150 DWI cases. All those offenders now skate on being held accountable for their alleged offenses.

Medina says he knew about their alleged misconduct but if that’s true, why had the DWI unit been praised by him throughout last year? Why did Chief Medina permit this to happen? Why was APD leadership caught off guard? Is it because cronyism thrives under Mayor Keller’s chief of police, or merit and performance are not valued but loyalty is?

I served 26 years with APD and never have I witnessed such failed leadership and integrity issues by any of APD chief of police. Now all APD is being painted with a broad brush of corruption and Mayor Keller and his appointed police chief are the prime examples of what you are not supposed to do as a leader.

Could it be that they are so occupied with patting themselves on the back that they were indifferent to such egregious misconduct in their own ranks? Could it be they are so consumed with spiking the football on their fictional belief that DOJ’s oversight is almost over?

Chief Medina seems to have missed the class on integrity. Lack of leadership and hypocrisy ruins morale. Now we have a city reeling from scandals and tragedies from its police department. These leadership failures are why Dr. James Ginger says he will not release APD from its mandates under the 2014 Court Approved Settlement Agreement.

These failures and tragedies reflect an institution in dire need of intervention. It’s time to recognize that failings of leadership have dire consequences for our city. We must work together to address these concerns and improve our quality of life.

We need to prevent the “Fall of Albuquerque.” We need change. It is time for Medina to resign or be replaced. Our honest, hardworking officers deserve better.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-lack-of-leadership-has-ruined-morale-within-apd/article_6fcc9978-c13c-11ee-beba-273bf33285e0.html

CHORNOLGY OF A SCANDAL

On January 19 the FBI raided the homes of three APD officers and the office   DWI defense attorney Thomas Clear III who are allegedly involved in a bribery and conspiracy scheme spanning a decade to dismiss DWI cases. Five cops, including one lieutenant, have been implicated. District Attorney Sam Bregman ordered 198 DWI cases dismissed because of the scandal. No criminal charges have been filed and the FBI search warrants remain sealed.

The five APD officers who have been identified at the center of the federal investigation are:

  • Lieutenant Justin Hunt
  • Officer Honorio Alba, Jr.
  • Officer Harvey Johnson
  • Officer Joshua Montano
  • Officer Nelson Ortiz

All 5 police officers were placed on paid administrative leave during the pendency of the federal criminal investigation.

During the January 22 city council meeting, the APD bribery scandal was front and center as Albuquerque City Councilors expressed extreme frustration over that lack of transparency over the scandal and the failure of Mayor Tim Keller and his administration to brief them and advise them of the investigation before the FBI executed the search warrants. Several city councilors criticized the mayor’s administration and the police department with councilors going as far as to blame the entire situation on a lack of leadership by Mayor Tim Keller and  APD Chief Harold Medina.  Councilors complained that they were left totally in in the dark about the federal investigation and only learned of it through the news media reports.  Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis summed it up best when he said  this:

“This investigation, it does appear to show some unchecked corruption within the department. And these are allegations that are widespread of actions by Albuquerque police officers. … To be honest, it’s the leadership of Chief Medina, the leadership of the APD brass, leadership of the [Keller] administration. These are the questions that we’re going to continue to ask and continue to talk about.”

On January 23, APD Chief Harold Medina and Mayor Tim Keller made the rounds to the 3 local news stations and gave the Albuquerque Journal exclusive interviews in an effort to explain the federal investigation the best they could and to spin away the criticism and taint of APD corruption leveled against them by the city council and the public. Chief Medina for his part proclaimed that the city council was “out of line” for demanding information and for exercising their oversight authority. Chief Medina called out City Councilor Louie Sanchez and Dan Champine who are retired cops saying they should know better and to not ask questions on pending criminal investigations.  Mayor Keller accuse the City Council of “unethical conduct” when he said “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” that may jeopardize the investigation by simply asking for information they are entitled to have in order to carry out their oversight authority.

On January 25, Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis and City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Dan Champine sent a letter to Chief Harold Medina asking him questions and demanding written answers on APD policies and procedures as they relate to the handling of DWI cases and what contributed to the dismissal of the DWI cases and which lead to the DWI bribery and conspiracy scandal. The City councilors also demanded the Chief Medina show up at the February 5 City Council meeting.

CHIEF MEDINA APPEARS BEFORE CITY COUNCIL, NO CONFIDENCE MOTION NOT CONSISDERED FOR LACK OF A SECOND

On February 5, APD Chief, Harold Medina appeared before the Albuquerque City Council and he answered questions. Initially, Chief Medina resisted appearing before the City Council to answer questions and suggested under advice of the City Attorney that he brief the City Council and answer questions in private and during an executive session of the City Council.

During the city council meeting, APD Chief Harold Medina made it clear he would not answer questions about the ongoing investigation.  As a result, city councilors were relegated to questions about the department’s procedures in confirming police officers were attending court hearings and discipline surrounding officers missing court appearances which is at the center of the FBI investigation. Medina was asked how many missed court hearings is too many before disciplinary action is taken.  Medina said it’s a case-by-case basis, including the reason why the officer didn’t show up. He also said the department currently does not have a database to track how many times an officer misses court appearance.

City Councilor Louie Sanchez took issue with Medina’s answers. He said as a former APD officer, he knows hearing schedules are public record, and anyone can look up when cases are dismissed because an officer was a no-show. City Councilor Louie Sanchez said he did not understand how the police department did not catch what was going on sooner. Sanchez told Medina this:

“Know who’s missing court and who isn’t missing court, it’s not the responsibility of the DA’s office; it’s not the responsibility of the individual. It’s not the responsibility of the citizens out here, it’s your responsibility.”

Medina responded saying APD does no have the manpower to check those appearances.  Medina said this:

“We have never had the staffing to look up every case in newmexicocourts.com. Today for example, there are 547 cases in the system for the Albuquerque Police Department. Historically, we have relied on other entities to relay information to us that an officer has missed court. Given the fact that individuals are not going to be able to do that, we can do it, but it would be very time intense”. 

Medina said APD would need about 20 full time staff to track and manage a database on Court appearance by APD cops. Medina said this :

“As of this moment …  we don’t have agreements with any of the entities [to share the data] that we are working with. We never have had one, this is the way the system has always worked and that is what we are working on right now.”

Those entities include the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. Medina said prosecutors were supposed to send them notifications when an officer missed court.  Medina’s response about the DAs office prompted Councilor Sanchez to read the letter from District Attorney Sam Bregman’s office saying it was never the DA’s job to report officer no-shows. Instead, it was a courtesy.

Other councilors said while it’s obvious something needs to change, but they said they are not sure they had enough information to move forward yet. City Councilor Brook Bassan said this:

“Until the FBI comes back and giving us some solid answers and solid evidence, I am going to refrain from comment or judgment beyond this moment in time.”

City Councilor Dan Champine, who is a former APD officer asked about the status of the DWI unit since this investigation started. Medina said there’s no longer a DWI unit, but APD is still handling DWI cases.

At the conclusion of Medina’s questioning, City Councilor Louie Sanchez moved for a vote of “No Confidence” in  APD Chief Medina but the motion  failed to get a second and therefor it was not discussed or debated.

After the motion “vote of no confidence” failed,  Staci Drangmeister, spokesperson for the mayor’s office  issued the following statement:

“Councilor Sanchez’s failed attempt to call for a vote of no confidence shows just how out of touch he is with our community and the rest of the council. Even worse, he is trying to punish Chief Medina as he is exposing corruption and working with the U.S. Attorney and FBI to support their investigation. Fortunately, the other eight members of the council showed they are interested in finding justice for victims of DWI.”

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/city-council-set-to-talk-about-investigation-into-apd-dwi-officers/

https://www.koat.com/article/police-harold-medina-albuquerque-city-council-meeting/46654024

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/city-council-questions-apd-chief-over-tracking-of-officers-missed-court-appearances/

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

With the appointment of an APD criminal investigation team, the resignation of Lt. Justin Hunt from APD and the placing of Internal Affairs Commander Mark Landavazo on administrative leave as part of the department’s ongoing investigation, it safe to assume that the investigation is expanding.  There is a real possibility that more police officers will be implicated in the scandal. It is more likely than not that the Federal investigation will lead to more than a few indictments. Then there is the matter of APD being under a Federal Consent Decree for the last 9  years and being required to implement 271 reforms. It is likely the scandal will result in  Federal Monitor James Ginger  finding that APD’s compliance levels are no longer near the compliance levels of 95% as he found in his 18th Federal Monitors report leading to great hope that the dismissal of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement was in reach.

The Resolution to terminate Chief Medina is a natural extension and exercise of the Albuquerque City Council’s oversight authority over APD as well as the Chief of Police.  Ever since this scandal broken on January 19 with the execution of the search warrants, APD Chief Harold  Medina has been in full “politcal  spin cycle” mode of “pivot, deflect, take credit and lay blame”.  Medina has blamed the District Attorney’s Office for not giving APD notice of officers failing to appear as well as blaming the Public Defender’s office for being aware of what attorney Clear was doing. Medina takes credit for the investigation and taking action to hold people accountable for the corruption when it was in fact the federal investigation that forced his hand after he allowed the problem to fester.

It was sure arrogance by Chief Medina proclaiming that the city council was “out of line” for demanding information and exercising their oversight authority. It is Medina who showed contempt and insubordination to the elected city council by calling out the 2 city councilors who are retired cops saying they should know better and to not ask questions of the Chief on pending criminal investigations.

It was appalling when Mayor Keller accused the City Council of “unethical conduct” by saying “it’s marginally unethical for them to air these concerns” that may jeopardize the investigation by simply asking for information they are entitled to have in order to carry out their oversight duties and responsibilities over APD.

Keller and Medina have made more than a few stunning admissions. They admit that the APD bribery and conspiracy scheme went on the entire 6 years they have been in charge of APD, but they never detected what was going on.

Both admitted that only after they found out the FBI was investigating APD, the decision was made to initiate a city criminal and internal affairs investigation and to proclaim cooperation with the FBI. Medina admitted that he knew about the corruption as far back as December 2022 when APD first received a complaint related to the department’s DWI unit yet he waited and essentially did nothing for a full year.

Keller’s admissions come from a person who was first elected as the white knight” state auditor who stopped “waste, fraud and abuse” and held people accountable for government corruption. Medina’s admissions come from a chief who claims he has never looked the other way at police corruption. Both have looked the other way on documented corruption involving overtime pay abuses by police officers. There have been 7 audits in eight years documenting the corruption, waste, fraud and abuse in police overtime.

APD’s reputation has been trashed to a major extent by the scandal. APD will be viewed by many as having another bastion of “dirty and corrupt cops” who have brought dishonor to their department and the department’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness and Respect.” The whole scandal places an ethical stain on the department that may never be removed. This is before any charges have been filed, before anyone is fired from APD and before we ever know who is responsible.

QUESTIONS NEEDING ANSWERING

The public must demand that there be a thorough investigation of the police officers involved in the crimes and the APD command staff who should have known what was going on.  Once the Resolution is introduced, City Council President Dan Lewis should refer it to the Committee of the Whole.  The City Council should call upon the City’s Internal Audit Department as well as the City’s General Council to investigate what has happened and present their findings. A series of hearing should be held to allow the city council conduct open, public hearings and be briefed on what is going on in general terms on what’s being done.

It is clear that he Albuquerque City Council should demand a full audit of APD by the Internal Audit Department or the Inspector General and of overtime paid to the police officers implicated. There are at least 3 unanswered questions that must be addressed by the investigation:

  1. Did APD Chief Harold Medina, the Deputy Chiefs or Commanders, Lieutenants or Sergeants withhold information about the DWI Unit from the Federal Court monitor believing they could contain the scandal and resolve it on their own? Full compliance and dismissal of the Department of Justice Court Approved Settlement  Agreement (CAS)  will likely be affected by the scandal. What is downright pathetic is how hundreds of DWI cases were dismissed and went totally undetected by the Federal Monitor.  It’s hard to believe that no one reported the problem to the monitor and his auditing team.
  2. Exactly what remuneration was paid by the defense attorney to the cops to get the cases dismissed? Was it cash or some other benefit paid, such as airline tickets, high end tickets to sporting events or entertainment event tickets or lavish trips?
  3. The police union contract mandates the payment of a minimum of two hours overtime pay at “time and a half” for schedule court appearances. Did the accused police officers claim time and a half for court appearances that they never attended, or agreed not to attend, as they were paid by the defense attorney?

CONCLUSION

Mayor Tim Keller and Chief Medina must be held accountable and responsible for what has happened. Until Mayor Keller and his administration, and for that matter the City Council, take aggressive action to deal with this latest APD crisis, APD’s professed values of “Pride, Integrity, Fairness And Respect” are meaningless words on a wall. The first step to restore APD’s reputation and some level of public trust in APD  is the immediate termination of Chief Harold Medina by the Albuquerque City Council.

2024 Legislative Update: 7 Day Firearm Sale Waiting Period Passes Both House and Senate And Heads To Governor For Signature To Become Law; Other Senate And House Legislative Action Noted; Time Is Running Out

On February 12, the New Mexico State Senate passed House Bill 129, Firearm Sale Waiting Period Crimes, on a 36-32 vote. The bill would require a seven-day waiting period for gun purchases, with a few exceptions. The House voted to accept amendments added by the NM Senate and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure has now been forwarded to the Governor Office where Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign it.

Supporters of the bill argued that it closes a loophole that allows firearms to be sold before the buyer’s background check comes back, and could provide a “cool-off” period for people in emotional distress. New Mexico would join several other states that have also adopted waiting periods, although the length varies greatly.

Adopting Senate amendments to the bill was the last major hurdle to the bill’s passage. The House passed the Senate amendments on a 36-32 vote.  The bill’s most significant change since the House voted in favor of the measure on February 2 is that the waiting period was cut in half from 14 days to 7 days.

Both the Senate and the Senate Judiciary Committee added several amendments carving out exceptions to the waiting period. Law enforcement agencies and people with federal firearm licenses or concealed carry licenses would be exempt from the waiting period. People selling a gun to an immediate family member or a law enforcement officer selling to another officer would also be excluded.

Changes were made to the bill’s secondary waiting period. That period is triggered if a background check isn’t returned within seven days. In the original legislation, if a background check hadn’t been returned within 30 days, the seller could release the firearm to the customer. That number was cut down to 20 days. If the background check is returned after the seven-day waiting period but within those 20 days, it can immediately pass to the buyer.

Several Republican representatives voiced objections to the bill itself. Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said she was concerned about the effect of a delay on gun shows. Others expressed dismay that an amendment that would allow people with an order of protection against another person to bypass the waiting period failed in the Senate.

Some representatives argue there should have been more exemptions. State Rep. Stefani Lord said this:

“But the biggest thing for me on top of everything else Mr. Speaker … [is]  the fact that they didn’t allow the exemption for survivors of domestic violence. I think if you come in and have a restraining order, you are scared for your life, you are not living with this person, you are afraid they are going to kill you, you don’t have the opportunity to bypass that.” 

Thus far, the 7 day waiting period is the only gun control measure supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that has passed. Other bills  making their way through the Legislature include a bill to keep guns out of polling places which has passed the Senate floor in late January and has passed the House Judiciary Committee. It needs to pass the House floor before being signed into law. A bill to increase the penalty for felons in possession of firearms passed the House floor on Saturday and is now referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/bill-to-impose-waiting-period-for-gun-sales-in-nm-heads-to-governors-desk/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/gun-bill-headed-to-governor-includes-7-day-waiting-period/article_bf40c77e-ca22-11ee-8e0e-df3aa5da01c7.html#:~:text=A%20bill%20that%20would%20require,for%20people%20in%20emotional%20distress.

MEASURES PASSED IN SENATE

On February 12, the Senate passed the following House and Senate Bills:

House Bills 2 and 3, the General Appropriation Act of 2024, passed on 31-10 bipartisan vote. The  $10.22 billion budget sets aside dollars for state government to operate in fiscal year 2025, including for education, public safety, the environment and health care. It’s a $36.1 million increase from the House version of the budget.

House Bill 252, Adjust Income Tax Brackets, passed the Senate on 26-13 vote.   Tax credits and changes included in the tax package including are clean energy credits and reduced personal income tax.  There is no increase to the alcohol excise tax for alcohol treatment and addiction services with tax having  failed

House Bill 193, Law Enforcement Retention Disbursements, passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote. This bill will  change the Law Enforcement Retention Fund for better recruitment  and retention of  law enforcement officers. Lawmakers removed the $1 million appropriation originally included in the bill because it is part of the budget that passed. The House Bill passed  the Senate with no changes and it  it now goes to the governor for her signature to become law.

Senate Bill 146, Hospital Acceptance of Health Plans, passed the Senate on a 21-16 vote. This bill would require county hospitals and contracting hospitals to provide affordable payment plans under certain circumstances, such as if a provider is the only one in the county who can provide life-saving treatment or if the patient is uninsured. The bill now goes to the House for further consideration which is not likely given that only 2 and a half days remain in the session

MEASURES PASSED IN THE HOUSE

On February 12, the House passed the following House and Senate Bills

House Bill 182, Election changes, passed the House on a  38-28 vote. This bill aims to target the effect of artificial intelligence on elections. The bill would require a disclaimer for campaign materials made using “materially deceptive media.” That includes images, video or audio made using artificial intelligence that show a candidate saying or doing things they didn’t actually do,  often referred to as  a “deepfake”,  that is distributed without that person’s consent.  Violating the disclosure requirements would be a misdemeanor; a second offense would be a fourth-degree felony.

House Bill 190, Public Private Partnership Agreements, passed the House on a  56-9 vote. The bill would allow for public and private partnership agreements on certain infrastructure projects, including broadband, electric vehicle charging stations and road construction. Several representatives said the partnerships could fast-track work on construction projects. Rep. Matthew McQueen, R-Galisteo, introduced two amendments. Although one failed, another, which would prohibit public officials who received campaign donations from a private company from participating in the process, was successful,  avoiding a “pay to play” schemes.

House Bill 165, Pharmacy Provider Reimbursement, passed the House on a 66-0 vote. The bill would allow independent and local pharmacies to reap the same reimbursement rates as corporate pharmacies from Medicaid managed care organizations. Proponents say it would put small pharmacies on the same playing field as Walmart, CVS and other big box pharmacies. Several representatives shared stories about small pharmacies closing in their communities.

House Bill 303, TANF Funds Workforce Pilot Program, passed the House on a 41-13 vote.  The bill would offer stipends for program costs and living expenses to people enrolled in accredited workforce training programs. Participants would be eligible for stipends up to $1,000 per month for up to a year. The adult education pilot program would last for three years with annual reporting to the legislative finance committee.

House Bill 181, Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Act Changes, passed the House on a 61-1 vote. This bill would expand the Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association Act, which was intended to protect consumers if their insurance provider goes into debt. The changes would expand membership to include people using health maintenance organizations to cover their health care.

House Bill 186, Car Crash Reporting Damage Amount, passed the House on a 62-0 vote. Car accidents would only have to be reported to the New Mexico Department of Transportation if $1,000 worth of property damage occurred. Currently, the threshold for a written report, which was last changed in 1991, is $500.

House Bill 239, Cannabis as Prison Contraband, passed the House on a 57-4 vote. The bill would add cannabis to a list of prohibited contraband in correctional facilities. If cannabis is not prescription or isn’t brought into the facility through “regular channels,” it could be a felony crime to possess in New Mexico jails or prisons.

House Bill 130, Cloud Seeding Pilot Program, passed the House on a 61-6 vote.  The bill would create a 3-year “cloud seeding” program – a weather modification program with the goal of increasing precipitation. The Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District, would oversee the project, which aims to address drought, increase water supply and mitigate the effects of climate change in the state, according to the fiscal impact report. The proposed budget  sets aside $1 million to the program.

Senate Bill 159, Higher Education Trust Fund, passed the House on a 43-18 vote. The bill would create a trust fund to cover tuition and financial aid programs for students at higher education institutions in the state.

Senate Bill 137, School Board Training, passed the House on a 42-17 vote. The bill would require new school board members to go through ten hours of training in ethics and school personnel, public school finance, open meetings and public records, governance and supervision and student achievement and support services. It would also prohibit new school boards from terminating superintendents, or extending their contracts, shortly after the election or appointment of a new school board.  All candidates for school boards would be required to report $1,000 or higher campaign contributions. Currently, only candidates in large school districts – 12,000 or more students – that have contributions and spending above $500 have to report those donations to the Secretary of State.

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/mondays-capitol-recap-heading-into-final-phase-of-the-legislature/article_7ec251ba-ca11-11ee-88d9-eb540be37d8a.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

COMMENTARY AND ANALYS

The 2024 New Mexico legislative session ends on February 15 at noon. There are 394 separate House Bills, 317 separate Senate Bills, 18 Senate Joint Resolutions, 15 House Joint Resolutions, 56 House Memorials and 12 Senate Memorials for a whopping 780 bills and memorials that were introduced for consideration. Before any bill can become law, it must go through the committee process of each chamber, and if amended referred back to the originating chamber to approve changes, and be enacted by both chambers and even then, it could be vetoed by the governor. Needless to say time is running out on the passage of most if not all of the remaining legislation that has passed only one chamber.

A listing and the status of all the legislation here:

https://nmbilltracker.com/allbills

The link to the blog article on the passage of the 2024-2025 budget is here:

2024 NM Legislative Update: Senate Passes Budget With 31-10 Bipartisan Vote; Goes Back To House For Concurrence; Always “Saving For Rainy Day” While Simply Ignoring Present Day Demands; Session Ends February 15 At Noon

2024 NM Legislative Update: Senate Passes Budget With 31-10 Bipartisan Vote; Goes Back To House For Concurrence; Always “Saving For Rainy Day” While Simply Ignoring Present Day Demands; Session Ends February 15 At Noon

On January 31, halfway through the session, the New Mexico House of Representatives voted 53-16 to send its nearly $10.2 billion 2024-2025 budget spending plan to the New Mexico Senate for approval and further amendments.

On February 11, the Senate Finance Committee approved House Bill 2 which is the $10.22 billion state budget enacted by the House passing the measure on a 9-0 vote with two committee members absent. It was then sent to the full Senate for final approval.  Among the items included in the budget approved by the Finance Committee is the allocation of $220 million from the general fund for road maintenance and beautification. Along with Senate Bill 300, which would add about $527 million, to the total of new money for the two items could be $747.8 million, which would be a record high.  Other items the amended House Bill 2 include:

  • Increase the amount seniors and disabled veterans can receive per month in SNAP benefits from $25 to $100.
  • Contribute about $25 million that would go toward police and corrections recruitment and retention, $20 million for state and local volunteer fire department recruitments and $11 million for emergency medical services.
  • Impact school meals, adding $20 million and making it a recurring expense

On February 12, the full New Mexico Senate passed House Bill  2 on a  31-10 bi-partisan vote. House Bill  2 creates a $10.18 billion 2024-2025 Fiscal Year state budget. It is a 6.5% increase in recurring funds from last year’s  2023-2024 fiscal year.  Senate amendments added $31.6 million to the House version of the budget that passed. Including the “feed bill”, an administrative measure to fund the Legislature, the drafted budget sits at just more than $10.22 billion. That’s nearly 7%, or $653 million more, than fiscal year 2024.

The bill contains 30% to be held in reserves for future possible deficits for when there is an expected downturn in oil and gas revenues which funds 40% of the state budget.  Some Senators argued that the state should have used some of the extra funds for projects now instead of placing them in reserves to cushion for future possible deficits.

BI-PARTISAN SUPPORT

The proposed spending plan receive bi partisan support  from Democrats and Republicans, even from those who have not voted for proposed budgets multiple times in the past. Many senators said there are protections in the latest budget, such as those affecting trust funds and reserves, which will help protect New Mexico when the currently booming oil and gas industry faces a downturn. Oil and gas dollars fund a significant portion of the state’s general fund.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said he felt more could have been spent on current needs and objected that the budget takes money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Block Grant. Ortiz y Pino said this:

“If we spent a little more investing in now, we might not have so many needs in the future. … On the other hand, this is where we’ve got to budget before us, it’s the expense of a lot of things that I think are valuable. … We could have used that TANF Block Grant money, which is 100%  federal money coming to the state for candidate recipients which could have used that, to expand the benefits and make life a little more bearable for the poorest among us.”

Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, said that he would rather that some of the budget be saved rather than spent.

“I think this is a good budget and I think we should pass this budget,” Burt said. “I’m gonna vote for this budget. I haven’t for the last four or five years, and it has some problems, but I’m gonna vote for it… But until we also get serious about  down the road, we’ve got to look further than the next few years.”

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, said this:

“I think what you have is a budget that’s workable. Could be better and we can argue that until the cows come home, but we got a budget that’s workable.”

EDUCATION FUNDING

The largest slice of the general fund would go to public schools, which are slated to receive about $4.3 billion next fiscal year. That includes more than $94 million to give a flat 3% raise to all public school employees, an amount that was trimmed by a Senate Finance Committee. Before public school employees were looking at a total average of 4% raises.  The version the budget approved by the  Senate includes $30 million for summer reading intervention programs, $14 million for early literacy and reading support and $5 million to train secondary educators in the science of reading.

PUBLIC SAFETY FUNDING

Public Safety also receive a significant increase in overall funding. State police officers would get a raise under the spending plan, becoming the highest-paid law enforcement agency in the state. Exact raises for individuals vary depending on their experience and position. The Senate Finance Committee amended the budget to include $25 million for recruitment of local law enforcement and correctional agencies.

TRUST FUNDS FOR THE FUTURE

Upon passage by the Senate, Democratic leadership issued the following statement on the budget:

“This budget transfers over a billion dollars from the general fund to a series of endowments and expendable trusts to support future spending on things like housing, conservation, water, and workforce development. If you include the higher education trust fund currently working its way through the process, then the legislature is ensuring that over $2 billion of the $3.47 billion in new money is secured to address future liabilities of the state. With additional legislation being worked on, we’re also looking at never having to bond capital ever again. We are truly securing our fiscal future for generations to come.” 

Senators boasted of the trust funds included in their approved budget saying the trust funds are way to safeguard dollars when oil and gas aren’t bringing in booming revenues for the state. The budget would send $1.3 billion from the general fund to endowments and expendable trusts. General fund reserves are  32% of recurring appropriations.

Not all lawmakers agreed with setting aside so much money for the future in trust funds.  During floor debate, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, asked if lawmakers are so afraid for the future that they’re putting aside dollars for then and not today. He questioned how many children in New Mexico are in unsafe and unhealthy positions, and how many state agencies, such as the Supreme Court and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission,  are underfunded. Soules said this:

We have billions in savings and investments. But we have needs now.”

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque said there may be fewer future needs if lawmakers invest more dollars today rather than saving so much. He said more investment in housing is needed as well as into the CYFD or early childhood education.

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said the state is fully funded to keep going the free breakfast and lunch program the Legislature passed last year. He said he remembers when lawmakers had to take money away from school districts that were doing well in the past because of budget limitations. He said he hopes lawmakers won’t have to ever do that again.

Senator Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, said more discussion is needed on how the state can become more independent from oil and gas revenues. Tallman said this:

“I really don’t know what we’re going to be doing to diversify our economy, which is one of the most important issues we should be dealing with at the moment.”

Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo, agreed that booming oil and gas revenue won’t always be available to the state. He said lawmakers need to look at some of the less exciting factors of the budget, like retirement, to preserve the long-term future of New Mexico. Burt  said this: .

“We’ll never be able to cover everybody’s bases completely. …  We do absolutely the best we possibly can.”

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Other  budget highlights include the following major appropriations:

  • $1.2 billion for natural resources, housing and innovation
  • $24 million to judicial branch agencies
  • $7 million to support victim advocates, sexual assault victims and supplement federal grants for crime victims
  • $11.7 million for the New Mexico Department of Health
  • $1.96 billion to the Health Care Authority Department and $180 million for Medicaid
  • $3 million for tribal health councils
  • $19.6 million to expand Pre-K
  • $4.43 billion in recurring funds for public schools
  • $50 million to the tribal Educational Trust Fund
  • $20 million to pilot and evaluate evidence-based strategies to improve the Children, Youth and Families Department
  • The Higher Education Department will receive $1.3 billion in recurring funds
  • $100 million to develop a strong workforce
  • $10 billion to establish a new Green Bank
  • $300 million in the Lands of  Enchantment Legacy Fund for water conservation, outdoor recreation, agriculture, and wildlife protection
  • $150 million to the Department of Transportation for major infrastructure, maintenance and road improvements

The link to the quoted news source are here:

https://nmpoliticalreport.com/nmleg/senate-passes-budget-goes-back-to-house-for-concurrence/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/budget-clears-state-senate-with-bipartisan-support/article_43c4fdde-c9f2-11ee-b9a4-87c26fe38e60.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/over-10-billion-proposed-house-budget-bill-passes-senate-committee/article_76385efe-c921-11ee-8094-6b77577abcc7.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The Senate approved $2 billion of the $3.47 billion in new money  be placed in reserve funds and trust funds, representing a whopping  58% of the surplus funds. It’s very disappointing that the New Mexico State Senate is reluctant to take bold an aggressive action to address the state’s present and urgent needs and is  always “saving for a rainy day” while simply ignoring present day demands.   Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said it best when he asked if lawmakers are so afraid for the future that they’re putting aside dollars for then and not today. He questioned how many children in New Mexico are in unsafe and unhealthy positions, and how many state agencies, such as the Supreme Court and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, are underfunded. Soules said this:

“We have billions in savings and investments. But we have needs now.”

The 2024 New Mexico legislative ends on February 15 at noon. Talk about cutting it close. Two and a half days is not much time for the House to approve the budget as amended by the Senate.   It now goes back to the House to deal with changes made on the Senate side before it can be sent to the governor for line-item veto’s, if any, and signing it into law.

 

2024 New Mexico Legislative Update: Mad Dash To February 15 Adjournment Deadline; Legislation That Has Passed House Or Senate; Most Measures Will Fail To Pass Both Chambers To Become Law As Time Runs Out

The 2024 New Mexico legislative session began on January 16 and it ends on February 15 at noon.  The 2024 legislative session is a 30-day short session dedicated to financial matters where much of the session is devoted to exclusively approving the state’s annual budget. There are 394 separate House Bills, 317 separate Senate Bills, 18 Senate Joint Resolutions, 15 House Joint Resolutions, 56 House Memorials and 12 Senate Memorials for a whopping 780 bills and memorials that have been introduced for consideration. Before any bill can become law, it must go through the committee process of each chamber, and if amended referred back to the originating chamber to approve changes, and be enacted by both chambers and even then, it could be vetoed by the governor.

A listing and the status of all the legislation here:

https://nmbilltracker.com/allbills

Both the New Mexico House and Senate were in recess on Sunday, February 11. This blog article highlights and reports on the progress made with legislation as of Monday, February 12.

PASSES TO BECOME LAW

On Wednesday, January 7, House Bill 171 was the first bill to pass both chambers of the New Mexico 2024 legislative session. House Bill 171 as amended is entitled the School Graduation Amendments and it passed the Senate on a 40-0 vote. The bill would update the state’s graduation requirements for its high schoolers, allowing for more student choice while keeping the number of mandated units at 24. House Bill 171 is a renewed version of a bill from last year’s legislative session that passed both the House and Senate but ultimately was vetoed by governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.

On February 9, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law House Bill 171.  which overhauls and codifies into law  the state’s high school graduation requirements.   New Mexico’s updated high school graduation requirements are as follows:

  • Four units of English, the last of which could be more flexible, such as journalism course
  • Four units of math, two of which must generally be Algebra I and Geometry, but the rest of which appear to be flexible and could be fulfilled by such courses as financial literacy
  • Three units of science, two of which must have a laboratory component and the other which can be more geared toward things such as work-based learning
  • Four units of social science, which include U.S. history and geography, government, economics and financial literacy, and world history and geography. The final unit is also flexible and can include such things as psychology or ethnic studies
  • Five and a half units of electives, which vary wildly, and also can include financial literacy courses as well as computer science and career-technical education courses
  • Two courses set by the local school district or governing board
  • One unit of physical education, which can include courses in things such as dance and marching band
  •  Half a unit in health

The link to the quoted news source is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/for-the-second-time-a-bill-to-update-new-mexicos-graduation-requirements-is-headed-to/article_457dd9bc-c61d-11ee-84fa-270e68360ca7.html

The biggest changes to know about are that students will still need to earn 24 credits, but Algebra II will no longer be required but schools must still offer it. Students will now have to complete four full years of social studies classes, and that must include some personal financial literacy coursework. A semester of health with lessons on sexual abuse, assault, and prevention is now required. Career technical classes can count toward English, math, and science credits, and local school districts will get to decide on two graduation requirements for their students.

The link to the quoted news sources are here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/new-mexico-governor-signs-off-on-new-high-school-graduation-requirements/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/this-modernizes-graduation-requirements-governor-signs-first-major-bill-of-the-session-into-law/article_7370168a-c7aa-11ee-9e21-8b766e5a72f3.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

2024-2025 BUDGET ENACTMENT STILL PENDING

House Bill 2 and House Bill 3 were combined to form the State Budget. On January 31, halfway through the session, the New Mexico House of Representatives voted 53-16 to send its nearly $10.2 billion 2024-2025 budget spending plan to the New Mexico Senate for approval and further amendments.

On February 11, the Senate Finance Committee approved House Bill 2 which is the $10.22 billion state budget enacted by the House passing the measure on a 9-0 vote with two committee members absent. It now goes to the full Senate for approval.  Among the items included in the budget approved by the Finance Committee is the allocation of $220 million from the general fund for road maintenance and beautification. Along with Senate Bill 300, which would add about $527 million, to the total of new money for the two items could be $747.8 million, which would be a record high.  Other items the amended House Bill 2 include:

  • Increase the amount seniors and disabled veterans can receive per month in SNAP benefits from $25 to $100.
  • Contribute about $25 million that would go toward police and corrections recruitment and retention, $20 million for state and local volunteer fire department recruitments and $11 million for emergency medical services.
  • Impact school meals, adding $20 million and making it a recurring expense

The link to the quoted news source is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/over-10-billion-proposed-house-budget-bill-passes-senate-committee/article_76385efe-c921-11ee-8094-6b77577abcc7.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

SENATE PASSED LEGISLATION

As of February 12, the following  bills that have been enacted by the New Mexico Senate:

House Bill 129 establishing a 7 day waiting period on the purchase of a gun.  On February 10, the Senate passed House Bill 129 on a 23-18 vote after several Republican amendments aimed at carving out exemptions for military members and people who have orders of protection against another person. House Bill 129 has been amended three times. The waiting period was introduced as 14 days but was changed to 7 days. Also, if the required background check hasn’t been completed within 20 days, the gun seller can transfer the firearm to the buyer.   Supporters of the bill said it would help curb suicides and other acts of violence. Other states have also adopted similar waiting periods for firearm purchases. The bill goes back to the House for approval.

The links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/legislature/gun-purchase-waiting-period-bill-passes-new-mexico-senate/

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/state-lawmakers-debate-gun-control-proposals/

Firearm waiting period bill passes Senate

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/senate-passes-bill-for-7-day-waiting-period-on-gun-buys/article_900d7b6a-c896-11ee-841a-a32daf248ee1.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

House Bill 141, Supreme Court Justice Salary Increase, passed the Senate on a 33-6 vote.  This bill, which already was  passed by the House, would set the pay of Supreme Court justices at $232,600. A $6.1 million appropriation from the general fund would fund the pay increases. The bill now goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham now, and she’s rejected similar requests in the past. Bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said he’s adjusted the bill this year removing state salary increases that match federal ones, hoping the third time’s a charm to get this passed.

Senate Bill 3 known as the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act passed the Senate on February 9 on a 25-15 vote. The bill moves to the House with only six days left in the session. If passed, it will require employees and employers to pay into a state fund that would allow workers to take paid time off when a child is born, for a family emergency, or another kind of medical crisis. Changes discussed centered around the length of time off workers could take. For maternity and paternity leave, employees can take up to 12 weeks off, but a floor amendment shortened the leave period for medical reasons down to nine weeks. The amendment also changed the leave from calendar year to application year to ensure that employees can’t take more than 12 weeks off in a year. Another change on the Senate floor was adding a required 20-day notice when possible. The Seante also expanded the time employees have to pay into this fund before they can apply for paid time off. The original bill only required 90 days but that was expanded to six months, a move that was popular with small business owners. Small business owners argue this bill would be a financial burden on employers and limit the ability of business owners to help out their employees on their own terms.

The links to quoted news sources are here:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/senate-floor-debates-paid-family-and-medical-leave-act/

https://www.abqjournal.com/business/amended-paid-family-and-medical-leave-act-passes-senate/article_fb77a8c4-c7da-11ee-a024-cfb0aad7231a.html

Senate Bill B15, Health Care Consolidation Oversight Act passed the Senate on a  27-15 vote.  This bill would allow the Office of Superintendent of Insurance to determine whether proposed hospital consolidations or mergers could negatively impact health care, excluding state- and university-owned facilities, for the next year. The legislation held an emergency clause but failed to get the two-thirds floor support necessary for the clause that grants immediate effect, if signed by the governor, to get through.

Senate Bill 17, Health Care Delivery and Access Act, passed the Senate on a 40-0 vote. This bill would impose assessments on most hospitals in the state and reimburse hospitals with the revenue generated.

Senate Bill 21, amended, Local Firefighter Recruitment, passed the Senate on a 36-0 vote. This bill would appropriate $35 million to a new program the legislation would create within the Department of Finance and Administration focused on firefighter recruitment.

Senate Bill 37 (committee substitution) Meat Inspection Act passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote. This bill would create a new office — the Office of Meat and Poultry Inspection Director — and give the New Mexico Livestock Board the authority to “ensure the safety and quality of meat and poultry” for consumption, according to the bill’s fiscal impact report. It would also require NMLB to inspect approved meat slaughtering, processing or manufacturing facilities.

Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, has passed one Senate Committee and would create an Office of Housing that would be attached to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. The governor would appoint the office’s director, who would oversee studies on housing issues and work with government agencies and private developers to plan and fund projects.  The office will require three or four full-time employees, which will be funded from the Governor’s office budget. The office would be tasked with working hand in hand with the quasi-governmental New Mexico Mortgage Finance (MFA) Authority and other organizations. But according to the the legislative analysis, the Mortgage Finance Authority has raised concerns about overlap with the MFA noting the office would duplicate much of the work it already does,” the report said. On February 8, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham showed up in a Senate committee to push personally for the bill to create a state housing office. The Senate Committee voted 5-4 to advance the bill to the Senate Finance Committee with no recommendation, instead of the more common “do pass” recommendation.

The link to the quoted news source is here:

Housing bill backed by governor barely survives committee hearing

Senate Bill 88, Electronic Driver’s License Credentials passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote. This bill would allow the Motor Vehicle Division to give out electronic driver’s licenses.

Senate Bill 106, Declaration of Independence Anniversary,  passed the Senate 38-1 vote.  This bill would set aside $150,000 for a state semi quincentennial commission to plan and put on celebrations for the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which is July 4, 2026.

Senate Bill 108, amended, Distribution to Election Fund, passed the Senate ona a 41-0 vote. This bill would create a new distribution from the tax administration suspense fund to the state election fund, with a maximum transfer amount of $15 million.

Senate Bill 116, the Tobacco Fund is not a Reserve Fund passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote.  The tobacco settlement permanent fund would be removed from the general fund reserves by this bill. The fund was created in 2000 as part of an agreement between the state and big tobacco companies, according to the New Mexico State Investment Council. The bill’s fiscal impact report states removing the fund would allow it to “be invested with higher return targets.”

Senate Bill 127, known as the Professional Psychologist Act Changes passed the Senate on a 36-0 vote. The bill would give licensed psychologists with a special type of certification to prescribe and administer injections for psychotropic drugs as well as intramuscular and subcutaneous injections. It would also change the structure of the Board of Psychologist Examiners and the committee which reviews complaints against prescribing psychologists.

Senate Bill 129, Cybersecurity Act Changes, passed the Senate on a 37-0 vote. This bill would amend the Cybersecurity Act, including adopting more cybersecurity rules and standards.

Senate Bill 128, amended, State Fire Retirement, passed the Senate on a 37-0 vote. This bill would add state fire members to a renamed coverage plan and increase service credit by 20% for state fire members in service on or before June 30, 2013.

Senate Bill 135, Step Therapy Guidelines, passed the Senate on a  38-2 vote. This bill addresses step therapy and prior authorization. It would regulate how insurers can require patients to use preferred or less expensive medications before moving on to non-preferred or more expensive medication, regardless of health insurance. The bill sponsors say this would make medicine more accessible.

Senate Bill 241, Aging Department Background Checks, passed the Senate on a  32-6 vote.  This bill would require employees and volunteers with the Aging and Long-Term Services Department working in adult protective services, the long-term care ombudsman program and consumer and elder rights to undergo criminal history records checks. Selected applicants would also have to undergo background checks.

Senate Bill 142, Behavioral Health Facility Notification, passed the Senate on a 39-0 vote.  This legislation would not allow residential behavioral health facilities to admit patients without trying to get family contact information for patients, so patients could notify their family of admission.

Senate Bill 151, committee substitute, Premium Tax to Emergency Services Fund, passed the Senate on a 35-0 vote. This bill would send an additional $11 million to the Emergency Medical Services Fund.

Senate Bill 148, Tax and Fee Admin Fees, passed the Senate on a  34-0 vote. This bill would remove administrative costs and fees withheld by the Taxation and Revenue Department for administration of local government revenues by fiscal year 2029. The fees would continue on certain distributions.

Senate Bill 161, committee substitute, Acute Care Facilities Subsidies, passed the Senate on a 37-0 vote.  This bill would appropriate $50 million to provide subsidies for 12 hospitals in rural parts of the state.

Senate Bill 169, Conservation Fund Changes. This bill would set aside $10 million for the supplemental land and water conservation fund, which is handled by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Senate Bill 175, Law Enforcement Fund Distributions, passed the Senate on a 39-0 vote. This bill aims to recruit and retain law enforcement officers, correctional officers, and probation and parole officers. Bill sponsor Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, said there’s around $25 million drafted in the budget for this, which is about $10 million less than the request in the bill initially.

Senate Bill176, Athletic Competition Act Changes, passed the Senate on a 20-16 vote. This bill would change the Professional Athletic Competition Act to add fighter weight classes and increase annual licensing fees for certain license types. It also would redefine some media terms.

Senate Bill 190, DWI Act, passed the Senate on a 26-8 vote.  This bipartisan legislation would add new DWI sections to the Motor Vehicle Code, including addressing penalties, fines and jail sentences. Senators talked about the nearly 100-page bill for over an hour on the floor, and some lawmakers on both sides of the aisles voted against it.

Senate Bill 201, Transportation Regulation, passed the Senate on a 35-0 vote.This bill would clarify transportation duties the New Mexico Department of Transportation holds, removing outdated technical language and making technical corrections.

Senate Bill 204, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Abq.), would make it a fourth-degree felony to carry a gun in a park or on a playground. There would be exceptions for law enforcement while on official duty. The bill is one of several gun-related bills under discussion at the Roundhouse. Others, like a waiting period for gun purchases, have received a fair bit of debate already. But the proposal to keep guns out of parks is just now being scheduled for initial debate in the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee with only a handful of days left in the lawmaking session.

Senate Bill 216, NMFA Affordable Housing Projects, passed the Senate on a 34-0 vote.  This bill  amends  the Finance Authority Act to provide financing for affordable housing projects and amend the local government planning fund to provide financing in order to develop affordable housing plans and flood maps.

Senate Bill 217, Severance Tax Bond Fund Distributions, passed the Senate on 34-0 vote.  The bill would provide for a minimum distribution from the severance tax bonding fund to the severance tax permanent fund every year for nine years.

Senate Bill 236, Metro Development GRT Increments, passed the Senate on a  20-9 vote . This effort would impact the procedure for determining gross receipts tax increments paying for metropolitan redevelopment area projects, including allowing new, approved construction in determining the gross receipts tax base.

Senate Bill 239, Lottery Scholarship Changes, passed the Senate on a  30-5 vote.  This bill would change the definition of a full-time student who’s eligible for the lottery scholarship and count summer semesters.

Senate Bill 300, Transportation Project Bonds,  passed the Senate on a 37-0 vote. This bill would allow for up to $205.8 million in bonding capacity from the severance tax bonding fund and $247 million in state transportation bonds to support certain road projects.

Senate Joint Memorial 2, amended, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Task Force, passed the Senate on a 30-0 vote.  This joint memorial would codify the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relative’s task force.

Senate Joint Resolution 16, County Official Salaries, passed the Senate on a  37-0 vote.  This joint resolution proposes to amend the state Constitution to remove the cap on county officers’ salaries. If it gets through the House side of the Roundhouse, it goes to voters in the November 2024 election or, if applicable, the next special election.

House Bill 41 known as the Clean Transportation Fuel Standards Act passed the Senate Conservation Committee on February 9  on a party-line 6-3 vote, with Democrats supporting its passage. HB 41 has already passed the House of Representatives on a 36-33 vote and it now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill is intended to lower the carbon intensity of transportation fuels through the use of a carbon credit market. One of the main reasons people have cited for opposing the clean transportation fuels standards is the potential impact to prices at the pump since the states that have enacted clean transportation fuel standards tend to have higher gas prices. Bill sponsor Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said the potential benefits of the bill is cleaner air and reduced respiratory illness and she also said the bill would spur economic development. Ortez said this:

“There’s been lots of fear-mongering around the gas prices.”

Robin Vercruse, the executive director of the Low Carbon Fuels Coalition refuted the claim that the bill would spur Eco comic development and said this:

“This claim … is contrary to basic economic theory in supposing that market competition will actually raise prices. …  The compliance cost, in this case the cost of credits in the program, will be passed directly to consumers. Theoretical studies reflect that assumption when they assign a cost per gallon. But here’s the thing: Real world data shows that is not the case. If the cost is passed directly to consumers, gas prices would rise and fall based on credit prices. However, there has been no correlation between credit prices in these programs and gasoline prices. That means these programs do not work in the real world as speculative studies would suppose.”

The link to the quoted news source is here:

Clean Transportation Fuel Standards bill clears Senate committee

FAILED IN SENATE

Senate Bill 145, the Public Bodies and Federal Immigration Violation failed in the Senate on a 21-18 vote. This bill would have prohibited governments in New Mexico from entering or renewing agreements to detain people for federal civil immigration violations, including with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Senate Bill 146, Hospital Acceptance of Health Plans, was tabled by the full Senate on February 11. The bill would require county and contracting hospitals to accept certain qualified health plans available through the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange and provide affordable payment plans to uninsured patients.

The link to the quoted news source is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/over-10-billion-proposed-house-budget-bill-passes-senate-committee/article_76385efe-c921-11ee-8094-6b77577abcc7.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

Senate Joint Resolution 5, Public Employees Retiree Health Care Fund, failed in the Senate 14-25.  This joint resolution would have proposed to amend the state Constitution to prohibit the expenditure of retiree health care fund trust dollars for any purpose except the benefit of the trust beneficiaries.

HOUSE  PASSED LEGISLATION

The following legislation has passed the New Mexico House of Representatives as of February 12. It includes bills that have already been enacted by the Senate and those House Bills that will be forwarded to the Senate for action:

House Bill 2 and House Bill 3 were combined to form the State Budget. On January 31, halfway through the session, the New Mexico House of Representatives voted 53-16 to send its nearly $10.2 billion 2024-2025 budget spending plan to the New Mexico Senate for approval and perhaps further amendments.

Senate Bill 153, Early Childhood Fund Transfers, passed the House on a 52-14 vote. The bill would increase the distribution of the early childhood education and care program fund for programs such as child care assistance, doula and lactation support home visits and pre-K. The distributions from the fund would increase by $95 million.

Senate Bill 5, Firearms near polling places, passed the  House Judiciary Committee on a  7-4 vote.  The bill, which passed on the Senate floor last would prohibit guns within 100 feet of polling places, with some exceptions. It needs to pass the House floor before heading to the governor’s desk.

House Bill  7, Healthcare Affordability Fund Distribution,  passed the House on a  51-14 vote. The bill would earmark revenue from health insurance premium surtaxes for the health care affordability fund, rather than the general fund. The fund was established in 2021 with the goal of reducing health insurance and medical expenses. Currently, bill sponsor Reena Szczepanski said there is about $108 million in the fund balance.

House Bill 28, Public Project Revolving Fund Projects,  passed the House on a 65-0 vote.  If passed, the New Mexico Finance Authority would be able to offer loans from the “public project revolving loan fund” to schools, civic organizations, tribes and other state and local government entities. An amendment added some public and charter schools to the list of entities that would be able to apply for loans with the NMFA. The number is capped at 100.

House Bill 29, Public Project Fund Appropriations, passed the House on a 63-0 vote.  The bill would appropriate $13 million from the public project revolving loan fund to the drinking water state revolving loan fund, the local government planning fund and the cultural affairs facilities infrastructure fund in amounts of $6 million, $2 million and $5 million, respectively.

House Bill 33, committee substitute, amended, Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act, passed the House on a 67-0 vote.  Drug manufacturers would be required to report certain information, including the annual price increase, manufacturing and marketing costs and revenue from product sales, for prescription drugs that cost more than $400 for a 30-day supply. The data, which would be reported to the New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance, would be used to create policy recommendations to lower drug costs in the future, House Bill 33 is sponsored by a handful of Democratic lawmakers.

House Bill 48, Oil and Gas Future Royalty Rate, passed the House on a 39-28 vote. Royalty rates for state trust land leases to oil and gas producers would be increased. Currently, the rates range from about 18% to 20%. The bill would raise that cap to 25% for prime real estate in the Permian Basin and other high-producing areas, matching Texas’ maximum royalty rate percentage.

House Bill 98, Accounts for Disabled Eligibility, passed the House on a 62-0 vote. This bill would increase the number of people with disabilities eligible for a type of federal savings account, which is tax advantaged. The proposed changes to “achieving a better life experience” account eligibility would allow people who became disabled before the age of 46 to qualify. Currently, the age is 26. Bill sponsor Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said this change would help “catch” more veterans in the program.  Thomson said the change aligns with federal policy changes.

House Bill 134, Tribal Education Trust Fund, passed the House on a 68-0 vote.

This bill would create a trust fund to build education capacity for Native American students, including developing culturally relevant curricula and bolstering Native language programs. The current draft of the state budget bill sets aside $50 million for the fund, but sponsor Lente says the aim is to double that.

House Bill 141, Supreme Court Salary Increases, passed the House on a 52-0 vote.   This bill would increase pay for Supreme Court justices to $232,600. As of July 2023, the justices were paid $191,700 according to the 2023 Judicial Compensation Commission report. That leaves New Mexico at 29th for state supreme court justice pay, the report says.

House Bill 148, Water Project Fund Projects, passed the House on a 64-0 vote. The annual authorization bill would allow the New Mexico Finance Authority to offer loans or grants to public groups for approved water projects. More than 50 public entities already have qualifying projects. If the bill passes, the Water Trust Board will decide which projects will get funding.

House Bill 102, Magistrate as Court of Record, passed the House on a  35-27 vote. Magistrate courts would be required to record all proceedings as a “court of record” so that if an appeal is brought, the Court of Appeals can use those recordings as an appellate record. There are limited cases when the courts would not be required to act as a court of record. Any excess money would return back to the fund

House Bill 196, the Government Accountability Trust Fund, passed the house on a 39-28 vote.  This would create the government results and opportunity expendable trust and the government results and opportunity program fund. The legislation would change the overflow mechanism of the general fund operating reserve to direct dollars into the trust fund.

Bill sponsor Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, has said this is a way to protect New Mexico when oil and gas dollars aren’t booming like they are now. Pilot projects could get funding floated over several years as other funding sources are identified for the future. The accountability part of the bill includes provisions to track and report the efficacy of such projects. There is funding attached to the bill included in HB2, the budget bill.  There was some controversy over changes between the original and committee substitute. Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said some of the “guardrails” for funding had been removed between versions. Other representatives justified the changes, saying some provisions were “unmanageable” for certain entities.

House Bill 207, Public School Capital Outlay Grants, passed the House on 64-1 vote.  The bill would change one word in the law creating the Public-School Capital Outlay Fund. In the existing law, it states the fund “may be expended annually” for grants to school districts and charter schools to make lease payments. The bill would change “may” to “shall,” making the assistance “mandatory rather than discretionary.”

House Bill 211, Water Project Prioritization, passed the House on a 67-0 vote.   The bill would change the Water Project Finance Act to allow funds to head to wastewater projects. The bill’s fiscal impact report noted there was “significant demand” for wastewater project grants, and less demands for other projects like Endangered Species Act programs.

House Bill 232, Infrastructure Planning and Development Division, passed the house on a 65-0 vote.  The bill would create a new division in the New Mexico Finance Authority called the Infrastructure Planning and Development Division. The division would take over certain functions of the Local Government Division of the MFA, including the rural equity ombudsman role and handling infrastructure capital improvement plans for local governments.

House Bill 252 committee substitute, Adjust Income Tax Bracket (House tax package) is the tax omnibus bill and it passed the House on a 48-to-21 vote.  The House’s tax omnibus bill includes changes to the income tax structure as well as a handful of tax credits and deductions for certain New Mexicans.

The bill would reduce income taxes for all New Mexicans, with the largest cuts headed to the lowest tax brackets. A competing floor substitute, which proposed a flat 1% personal income tax regardless of income, failed on the floor. The tax omnibus includes a number of tax changes, including energy storage tax deductions, personal income tax restructuring by increasing the amount of tax brackets, adjusting tax rates, and changing income ranges within each bracket, rural healthcare practitioner tax credit, fire recovery tax credits, corporate income tax changes, angel investment tax credit, capital gains deduction, Medicaid home modification gross receipts tax deduction and childcare provider GRT deduction.

Tax omnibus passes House

House Bill 236, Public Safety Retirees Returning to Work, passed the House on a 56-7 vote.  This bill mirrors a Senate version.  The public safety measure would allow government retirees to return to work in public safety fields, including corrections, police, detention, courthouse security, EMT, paramedics and firefighters. They would be able to return for a period of 36 months while still receiving a pension payment.

House Bill 253, the Capital Outlay Changes, passed the House on a 63-0 vote. The bill would make changes to the state’s capital outlay program. Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said the changes would make the program more “sustainable.” A “nonreverting fund” to be known as the capital development and reserve fund would be created by the bill and managed by the State Investment Council. Money in the fund would be available to the Legislature to go towards capital projects costing less than $5 million, and for the planning and design of more costly projects.

House Bill 270, Higher Ed Tech Enhancement Fund Provisions, passed the House on a 62-1 vote. This bill primarily would clarify the requirements for the tech enhancement fund for research institutions in the state, stating that the below colleges are, in fact, eligible to receive funding awards. The University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and Navajo Technical University would be able to use technology enhancement fund dollars to match federal and private grants. An amendment removed a $70 million appropriation attached to the original bill.

House Bill 271, Public Finance Accountability Act, passed the House on a 63-0 vote. This bill would codify requirements that capital outlay grant recipients conduct annual audits and make the audits public records. If the audit show “material weaknesses or significant deficiencies,” according to the bill’s fiscal impact report, funds wouldn’t be distributed until the grant recipient fixes the problems.

House Bill 298, Service Members Suicide Prevention, passed the House on a  59-1 vote.  The bill would require the Veterans Services Department to raise suicide awareness for service members and increase prevention resources for active-duty service members and veterans as well as their families.

House Bill 302, Department of Defense Military Recommendations, passed the House on a 65-0 vote . Child care programs certified by the U.S. Department of Defense would not be required to meet additional state licensing requirements.

House Bill 308, General Obligation Bonds, passed the House on a 67-0 vote.  The bill proposed $289.6 million in general obligation bonds, $30.4 million of which would head to senior citizen facilities around the state, $19 million to libraries, $229.6 million for education projects and $10 million for the state Department of Information Technology to improve its public safety radio communications system.

HB316, Felon in Possession of Firearm Penalty, passed the House on a  53-11 vote. The measure would increase penalties for felons found in possession of a firearm. People with felony convictions would face five years in prison if found with a gun or destructive device. A repeat offense could lead to nine years behind bars.

Links to quoted news sources are here:

https://nmbilltracker.com/allbills

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/legislature/roundhouse-roundup-guns-on-playgrounds-drug-price-transparency/

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/capitol-recap-here-s-what-happened-at-the-legislature-on-friday/article_87ecc59c-c7a3-11ee-9bf7-b7fe94f0f0da.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/capitol-recap-heres-what-happened-at-the-legislature-on-wednesday/article_6057708e-c61a-11ee-84c3-a387919b874a.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/capitol-recap-here-s-what-happened-at-the-legislature-on-thursday/article_8d94a148-c6dd-11ee-9a5a-b7db8854180d.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/capitol-recap-despite-snow-statehouse-still-buzzing/article_373b3c18-c88f-11ee-9f2c-dfb6ca413793.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

With a mere 3 days left in the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers are having longer days and nights, packed schedules and marathon sessions getting bills through the House and Senate committees and ultimately voting on the chamber floors. Legislation that will likely consume a large percentage of the remaining time is the final enactment of the budget and all the gun control legislation that is still pending and awaiting committee hearings.

It’s clear that the overwhelming majority of the 780 bills and memorials introduced will not make it out of any committees nor be enacted by both chambers by the February 15 at 12:00 noon when the session comes to an end. By and large the entire 2024 thirty day legislative session will go down as accomplishing very little. The biggest news thus far that has come out of the session are the changes made to high school graduation requirements and the fact that the Governor’s gun control package went virtually no where except perhaps the 7 day waiting period and no guns allowed at polling places.

Simply put, trying to squeeze in so much work into a 30 session is crazy and no way to do business.  Too much time is spent on feel good public relations such as introducing family members, watching performances, reciting long memorials, recognizing local sporting teams,  dance groups and organizations, and  singing birthday songs to each other and generally lounging around and talking about other things unrelated to the work at hand.

Thirty day sessions should be a thing of the pass as should be 60 days sessions and a full time, pay legislature with much longer sessions is long overdue but that will likely never happen given the desire to hold on to the quant notion of having a citizen’s part time legislature.