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WED: State Legislature confronts gun violence and braces for future with less oil wealth, + More

Snow fell in Santa Fe on Dec. 12, 2022. Inside lawmakers made changes to the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy.
Shaun Griswold
Source New Mexico
Snow at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Dec. 12, 2022. The 2024 legislative session begins next week.

New Mexico Legislature confronts gun violence, braces for future with less oil wealth - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Legislature convenes Tuesday for a rapid-fire 30-day session amid a multibillion-dollar financial surplus and concerns about violent crime, homelessness and childhood wellbeing in an election year for House and Senate legislators.

Lawmakers are searching for new ways to invest a bonanza in state income from oil and gas production — while also planning for an eventual decline in petroleum production.

Legislators and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also are floating ambitious proposals designed to curtail gun violence, expand affordable housing, recycle fracking wastewater and incentivize electric vehicle sales.

Here are a few things to know about the session.


Lawmakers are anticipating a $13 billion windfall in state general fund income that would provide a $3.5 billion surplus over current annual spending obligations. At the same time, legislators are recommending only a 5.9% increase in general fund spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

That is because the state's unprecedented surge in oil production is beginning to level off, as legislators call for greater results from school districts and state agencies.

A new "accountability" trust fund would make as much as $300 million available for pilot programs in public education, childhood well-being, workforce training and more — measuring success before permanent funding is guaranteed.

Major progress in public education has been elusive in recent years as lawmakers increase per-student spending and teacher salaries without also raising average high school graduation rates and academic attainment to national averages. State support for annual school district spending has increased from roughly $2.8 billion in 2019 to $4.1 billion currently.

A budget panel led by state Sen. George Munoz of Gallup also is proposing a new endowment for higher education to sustain the state's recent transition to tuition-free college for New Mexico residents.


Lujan Grisham, a second-term Democrat who leaves office by 2026, has identified affordable housing as a major priority. She is proposing one-time spending of $250 million to expand housing opportunities through down-payment assistance on mortgages.

The state separately would use $40 million to launch a statewide homelessness initiative, and devote $250 million to expand loans for residential and commercial construction and renovation projects, under the governor's proposal.

In November, voters signaled frustration with surging home prices in fast-growing Santa Fe by approving a tax on mansions to pay for affordable-housing initiatives.

A tally of the homeless population in New Mexico one year ago showed an abrupt jump in the number of people living without permanent housing or with no shelter at all.


Proposed solutions to New Mexico's dwindling water supplies and wildfire vulnerabilities also are on the legislative agenda.

The governor has outlined a $500 million plan to develop a strategic new source of water for industrial uses by treating water that originates from the used, salty byproducts of oil and natural gas drilling.

The goal is to reduce demands from fresh water from strained aquifers. But environmentalists fear it only will encourage more petroleum exploration.

Environmentalists are seeking a ban on oil and gas production within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of schools and day care centers across New Mexico, as state regulators explore ways to protect children from pollution.

The state and governor were recently sued by environmental groups over alleged failures to meet constitutional provisions for protecting against oil and gas pollution.

Democratic lawmakers are pursuing tax credits toward the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles — incentives aimed at reducing climate-warming pollution from transportation.

New Mexico regulators recently adopted an accelerated timetable for automakers to nearly phase out deliveries of gas- and diesel-burning cars and trucks — amid concerns about the affordability of electric vehicles in a state with high rates of poverty.

A proposal from Democrats including House Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski would set aside $110 million to help local governments apply and qualify for federal funding toward renewable energy and climate resiliency projects.


Democratic House Speaker Javier Martínez says the scourges of crime, homelessness and drug use are in plain sight across the Albuquerque neighborhood where he grew up. He is hoping for a balanced approach to criminal justice reforms at the Legislature.

"Folks who commit violent crimes, and they're using a gun, should face tough penalties," Martínez said. "At the same time, we've got to keep making the investments that we have been making now for several years into that behavioral-health, drug-addiction treatment as well as violence intervention programs and other strategies to address root causes of crime."

New Mexico may become an early testing ground for a proposal to make assault-style weapons less deadly.

Lujan Grisham wants legislators to consider statewide restrictions that mirror an unconventional proposal from U.S. senators aimed at reducing a shooter's ability to fire off dozens of rounds a second and attach new magazines to keep firing.

The proposed federal GOSAFE Act was named after the internal cycling of high-pressure gas in related firearms and comes from such senators as New Mexico's Martin Heinrich, a Democrat.

The state's pretrial detention system also is coming under renewed scrutiny for possible changes. New Mexico's overhauled the system, starting in 2017, to eliminate money-bail and ensure dangerous individuals can be jailed pending trial.

Republicans in the legislative minority, meanwhile, hope to rein in the governor's authority to restrict gun rights under emergency public health orders in response to shootings last in Albuquerque that killed children. They are also calling for an overhaul of the state's foster care and child protective services agency.

The governor's orders restrict people from carrying guns at public parks and playgrounds in the state's largest metro area — alongside gun buyback efforts, monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at hospitals and wastewater testing for indications of illicit drug use at public schools.

There are 14 Republicans in the 42-seat state Senate. House Democrats hold a 45-25 majority over Republicans.

Former Dem. Sheriff Manny Gonzales to challenge Heinrich as a Republican - By Elise Kaplan, City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ.

Former Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales announced Wednesday morning that he will be challenging Senator Martin Heinrich in the race for Senate this year.

Gonzales, who was previously registered as a Democrat, switched his party registration on Dec. 15. He is now running as a Republican. It is the second time he has run for an office outside of Sheriff—in 2021 he ran unsuccessfully for Albuquerque mayor against incumbent Mayor Tim Keller, a fellow Democrat, in the nonpartisan race. He lost that race by 30 percentage points.

Gonzales made his campaign announcement on Fox News. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to a news release posted on his website, Gonzales “saw just what the radicals in charge in Washington D.C. were doing to states like New Mexico” and “saw a radical led government and President who saw fit to open our borders allowing crime to pour into our streets across New Mexico and a U.S. Senator in Martin Heinrich who just sits idly by without a shred of respect for our great state to say enough is enough.”

“If anything, Sen. Heinrich has aided in this lawlessness, and allowed our great state to be riddled with crime and low education outcomes,” the news release states. “Manny switched parties to become a Republican with much appreciation for the common sense Democrats and independents who have supported him in the past.”

In response to Gonzales’ announcement Heinrich’s spokeswoman released a statement saying the Senator is running for re-election “to continue delivering real results for New Mexicans.” Heinrich has been in the U.S. Senate since 2012, and before that he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Albuquerque City Council.

“He remains committed to investing in the brighter future the people of our state deserve,” the statement reads. “That stands in direct contrast to Manny Gonzales, who, like his hero and role model Donald Trump, is running for office to avoid his legal troubles. Hopefully Manny won’t have to fake signatures to get on the ballot this time around.”

When Gonzales ran for mayor against Keller, an investigation by the city’s Office of the Inspector General found a number of the signatures and $5 contributions his campaign submitted to receive $600,000 in public financing were not in fact from the people they claimed to be from.

Gonzales served in the U.S. Marine Corps and in law enforcement for almost three decades. In 2009 he was appointed Sheriff of Bernalillo County when the sitting Sheriff resigned. He was elected in 2014 and served until 2022.

In the summer of 2020 he made national headlines when he appeared at the White House with then-President Donald Trump to announce a law enforcement initiative called “Operation Legend.” That operation entailed federal agents being deployed to Democrat-led cities, including Albuquerque, in response to concerns about crime and backlash to police in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Keller and Heinrich were critical of Gonzales’ decision to stand with Trump, with Heinrich saying “instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque.”

Gonzales’ news release seems to refer to this period, saying that he “implemented comprehensive police reform that did not just follow what the rest of the country was doing due to civil unrest, but reform that served his deputies and the community.”

“This ended up being a balanced and effective approach that would serve citizens efficiently,” the news release said. “Manny has always been a champion for the members of his community and when the political climate across the country got hot, Manny kept his cool which allowed him to be an effective Sheriff.”

More recently Gonzales has been in the news when he and his former undersheriff Rudy Mora were implicated in a cross-country machine gun scheme. They have not been charged.

Federal agents—referring to “MG” and “RM”—say the two signed documents indicating that the weapons would be used for law enforcement demonstrations but they “had no expectation or understanding that such weapons would ever be demonstrated to their respective law enforcement agencies.”

Gonzales and Mora signed more than 100 letters for local gun dealer James Tafoya, the owner of the now-shuttered JCT Firearms, to submit to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives so he could import the guns, according to a federal indictment. Automatic weapons face many restrictions in the United States but they can be imported if the buyer has what is called a “law letter” or “demo letter” from law enforcement saying it will be used for a demonstration.

Tafoya has been charged with conspiracy to violate federal gun laws, unlawful importation of a firearm and making false statements in firearms records in the case.

Three others: Matthew Hall, a former chief of police in Coats, North Carolina; James Sawyer, chief of police in Ray, North Dakota; and Larry Vickers, a firearms dealer and gun enthusiast are also facing charges. The case is being tried in Federal Court in Maryland.

Republican Ben Luna, who describes himself as an “entrepreneur, independent citizen journalist, and American patriot who aims to return America to the founding principles which created the greatest and freest nation,” is also running for Senate. Luna is in Alamogordo.

Blood tests offered in New Mexico amid query into 'forever chemical' contamination at military bases - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Hundreds of residents and personnel stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in eastern New Mexico will be able to have their blood tested as state officials expand their investigation into contamination from a group of compounds known as "forever chemicals."

The New Mexico Environment Department announced Tuesday that it is searching for a contractor that can conduct the tests in the spring. The idea is to host two events where up to 500 adult volunteers living within a few miles of Cannon Air Force Base will have a small amount of blood drawn and tested for PFAS.

Surveys also will be done to determine any potential exposure for those living near the base.

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to cancer and other health problems in humans. They are called "forever chemicals" because they don't degrade in the environment and remain in the bloodstream.

The chemicals have been detected at hundreds of military installations across the United States, resulting in what will be billions of dollars in cleanup costs. New Mexico officials said contamination at Cannon and at Holloman Air Force Base in southern New Mexico already has cost the state over $8 million in site assessment, cleanup, litigation and other costs.

The Air Force has spent more than $67 million on its response to PFAS contamination at Cannon so far.

State Environment Secretary James Kenney said PFAS chemicals are used in so many consumer products that it's likely most New Mexicans will have some amount in their blood. Those who live near military bases may be at higher risk, he said.

"This data will help us quantify if there are greater risks and inform how we better protect New Mexicans," Kenney said in a statement.

In early 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first federal limits on forever chemicals in drinking water, limiting them to the lowest level that tests can detect. New Mexico had previously petitioned the agency to treat PFAS as hazardous.

The state of New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Defense have been at odds over responsibilities for mitigating PFAS contamination at installations including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases.

Near Cannon, the Highland Dairy in Clovis euthanized more than 3,000 cows in 2022 after confirmation of PFAS contamination in the herd — and the milk the cows produced.

Officials at Cannon held a meeting in November to update the public on their efforts. They are in the process of determining the nature and extent of contamination on and off the base. The work has included soil and water samples as well as the installation of monitoring wells. Plans also call for eventually building a treatment plant.

Last year, the New Mexico Environment Department also offered to test for PFAS in private domestic wells across the state. Results from that sampling effort, done with the help of the U.S. Geological Survey, showed that PFAS compounds were not detected in the majority of wells tested.

N.M. lawmaker wants drug prices made public - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

A New Mexico lawmaker wants companies who make and sell prescription drugs to be more open about how much money they’re making.

Ahead of the upcoming legislative session, Rep. Pamelya Herndon (D-Albuquerque) prefiled House Bill 33, which would create the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act.

If passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, HB 33 would require drug makers and distributors to turn in data every year to the state showing the costs of their most expensive drugs, profits from those products and how much patients ultimately pay out of pocket.

The legislation would put these new reporting requirements on an array of private companies in the healthcare industry. Specifically it would target drug manufacturers, pharmacy services administrative organizations, health insurance companies and pharmacy benefits managers.

All the data would have to be turned in to the state’s insurance regulator, the New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance. If any of the companies fail to hand over the data, they could face a penalty or fines from the state.

With the data in hand, the bill would require the superintendent to collect and publish the information every year, post the annual reports on their website and hold an annual public meeting about the report’s contents.

Herndon is asking for a $100,000 appropriation from the state’s general fund to be directed to the office of the Superintendent to implement the program.

While the bill makes the superintendent’s reports public, it would also require some confidentiality to keep secret the underlying data from the health companies.

Herndon did not respond to a text message and phone call seeking comment on the bill.

The New Mexico legislative 30-day session begins on Jan. 16.

New Mexico man pleads guilty in drive-by shootings on homes of Democratic lawmakers - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

One of three defendants has pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of state and local lawmakers in Albuquerque after the 2022 election, according to federal court filings made public Tuesday.

Jose Louise Trujillo pleaded guilty at a Monday hearing to charges of conspiracy, election interference, illegal use of a firearm and fentanyl possession with the intent to distribute. Federal and local prosecutors allege that the attacks were orchestrated by former Republican candidate Solomon Peña with the involvement of Trujillo and a third man. Peña maintains his innocence.

The attacks on the homes of four Democratic officials, including the current state House speaker, took place in December 2022 and January 2023 amid a surge of threats and acts of intimidation against elections workers and public officials across the country after former President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Trujillo, 22, is due to be sentenced in April. His attorney, John Anderson, declined to comment on the plea agreement beyond what is in the court records.

Alexander Uballez, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, has said the shootings targeted the homes of two county commissioners shortly after and because of their certification of the 2022 election, in which Peña lost his bid to serve in the state legislature. No one was injured, but in one case bullets passed through the bedroom of a state senator's 10-year-old daughter.

Trujillo will remain in custody pending sentencing, Uballez and FBI special agent in charge Raul Bujanda said Tuesday in a statement, which also outlined accusations that Trujillo was paid by Peña in efforts to pressure Bernalillo County commissioners to refuse to certify local election results.

Demetrio Trujillo, Jose's father, also faces federal charges alleging that he and and his son helped Peña obtain vehicles and firearms and that they also fired on victims' homes.

Peña and Demetrio Trujillo, who maintains his innocence, are scheduled to stand trial in June.

Jose Trujillo was arrested in January on an outstanding warrant. According to authorities, in his car with him he had more than 800 fentanyl pills and two firearms, leading to a break in the investigation as officers traced at least one gun to bullet casings found at one of the shootings.

Following the shootings, New Mexico state lawmakers enacted legislation that provides felony sanctions for intimidation of election regulators and allows some public officials and political candidates to keep their home address off government websites.

As the Senate tries to strike a border deal with Mayorkas, House GOP launches effort to impeach him - By Lisa Mascaro and Rebecca Santana, Associated Press

Marching ahead with impeachment plans, House Republicans have set their sights on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who they intend to prove is "derelict in his duty" over handling the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaker Mike Johnson gave his nod to Wednesday's hearing at the Homeland Security Committee, which launches Mayorkas impeachment proceedings at a peculiar political moment: On one side of the Capitol, a bipartisan group of senators has been engaged in almost daily negotiations with Mayorkas over a landmark border security package. On the other, the House wants to remove him from office.

At a new year's press conference, Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, stood with Johnson near the border, blamed Mayorkas for the record number of migrant crossings and vowed, "Accountability is coming, I promise."

The House panel has been circling Mayorkas all year, at times expected to lurch ahead with impeachment proceedings against him as the border crossings hit record highs, topping 10,000 on some days. The number has recently dipped.

But impeaching a Cabinet secretary is rare, having only happened once before in the nation's history, when the House impeached Defense Secretary William Belknap in 1876 over bribery. Going after an official for a policy dispute, in this instance over the claim that Mayorkas is not upholding immigration laws, is unprecedented.

Green's committee conducted a multi-part investigation into Mayorkas and the department but kicked the process into high gear when hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene pushed forward the impeachment resolution after Johnson won the speaker's gavel following the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker.

With the House GOP's impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, over his son Hunter Biden's business dealings, lumbering along as lawmakers work to dig up information, the Republicans are sharpening their focus on the border crossings and the probe of Mayorkas.

"I believe Secretary Mayorkas is an abject failure," Johnson said over the weekend on CBS. "And I think there must be accountability for that."

It remains to be seen if the House investigation will convince lawmakers that Mayorkas' conduct rises to the level of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" the Constitution specifies for impeachment.

Many Republicans prefer a return to Donald Trump-era immigration policies, and they blame Biden for taking actions early in his presidency to stop construction of the border wall and end the COVID-19 era restrictions that prevented many migrants from entering the U.S. Both policies had been championed by the former president, who is now the GOP front-runner for the party's 2024 presidential nomination.

"The evidence documented throughout this report will demonstrate that Mayorkas has been, and continues to be, derelict in the solemn duty to secure the nation's borders," the panel's initial report said.

Green, the chair of the committee, has echoed a baseless racist conspiracy idea known as the "great replacement theory" when he argued recently that Mayorkas' "intent" by removing fewer migrants than Trump did was to "fundamentally change the population of the United States, and I believe to empower the Democrat party in perpetuity."

Late Monday, Green said what's happening on the two sides of the Capitol are "separate," adding negotiations between Mayorkas and the senators "will go on and hopefully they'll come to an agreement."

Ahead of the hearing, the Homeland Security Department released a memo noting that Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor, and the bipartisan group of senators are working hard to try to find "real solutions" to fix broken immigration laws while the House majority is wasting time on "baseless and pointless political attacks" by trying to impeach him.

Sen. James Lankford, the chief GOP negotiator of the border package, who has been in almost daily negotiations involving Mayorkas, said he understands his colleagues' frustrations. But he encouraged them to focus as he has on legislation to force Biden's hand.

"Mayorkas is gearing up President Biden's policies — that's what a secretary is going to do," Lankford told reporters at the Capitol. "So you can swap secretaries, the policies are going to be exactly the same."

Lankford is briefing House and Senate GOP lawmakers privately Wednesday on the border talks, which hit a setback this week. Senators struggled with certain differences, particularly over parole programs to allow immigrants who claim asylum entry into the U.S. as they await court proceedings to determine their eligibility to remain. Reaching a border deal is key to a broader funding package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs.

Over the course of the talks, Mayorkas and Lankford have grown to trust each other as the Cabinet secretary has tried to advocate for an immigration system that brings "order and humaneness," according to one person familiar with the talks who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

But any goodwill for Mayorkas has not spread to the House, where Republicans are readying their effort to remove him from office. The House Homeland Security Committee plans to hold hearings throughout January with the end goal of impeaching Mayorkas.

As the House proceeds with its various impeachment probes, not all Republicans have been eager for the undertakings.

When Greene forced a snap vote on impeaching Mayorkas in November, eight Republicans voted to put off the final vote by sending it to a committee. And some GOP senators have been caught in a political bind as they try to support, but also distance themselves from, their hard-right colleagues.

While a group of GOP senators Tuesday was calling for a "no confidence" vote on Mayorkas, top Republican leaders have been cool to the impeachment exercises, showing the difficult road ahead.

If the House agrees to impeach Mayorkas, the case would go to trial in the Senate, where it takes a super-majority to convict. In the Grant-era, even Defense Secretary Belknap was acquitted in the Senate trial.

"Does his handling of that meet the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanors'? That's a question we'll have to get answered," said Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking GOP leader in the Senate. "They have a right to look at it. We'll see where it goes from there."


Associated Press writers Stephen Groves and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

GE business to fill order for turbines to power Western Hemisphere's largest wind project - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A business to be spun off by General Electric will build hundreds of turbines for what will be the largest wind project in the Western Hemisphere, part of a massive equipment order and long-term service agreement with the global renewable-energy giant Pattern Energy.

GE Vernova officials announced the agreement Tuesday, saying it is the largest onshore wind turbine order received by the company, both in quantity and in the amount of electricity that the 674 turbines will eventually generate when the SunZia Wind Project comes online in 2026.

Construction already is underway on the SunZia wind farm and an associated multibillion-dollar transmission line that will funnel power to populated markets in the western United States. Pattern Energy just weeks ago announced that it had closed on $11 billion in financing for the projects.

Backers see SunZia — described as an energy infrastructure undertaking larger than that of the Hoover Dam — as a pivotal project. The venture has attracted significant financial capital and stands to boost the percentage of the nation's electricity that comes from renewable sources amid escalating state and federal energy mandates.

Still, some Native American tribes and environmentalists worry about the location of a 50-mile (80-kilometer) segment of the transmission line where it will pass through Arizona's San Pedro Valley. The federal government already had approved the siting, but tribal leaders said there should have been more consultation.

In December, the U.S. Energy Department reported that the private sector over the past three years has announced investments of more than $180 billion in new or expanded clean energy manufacturing projects across the nation, including spending on development of larger, higher capacity wind turbines. GE has been among the companies to take advantage of tax credits included in the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

However, after years of record growth, the industry group American Clean Power expects less land-based wind to be added in the U.S. by year's end — about enough to power 2.7 million to 3 million homes.

While companies are taking advantage of government incentives now, it can take years to bring projects online, the industry group said.

The SunZia Wind Project will span three counties in rural New Mexico. Crews already are constructing the concrete platforms that will support the turbines, and developers expect the first turbines to rise this autumn.

Pattern Energy CEO Hunter Armistead said the project will serve as a backbone for a cleaner, more reliable grid for customers across the western U.S. The company already has signed long-term power purchase agreements with Shell Energy North America and the University of California for a portion of the electricity that will be generated.

"Construction is in full swing on SunZia, using American-made turbine components and creating thousands of good-paying new jobs — a big win for the growing clean energy economy," Armistead said in a statement.

GE Vernova will tap its factory in Pensacola, Florida, for the large order, as well as tower manufacturing operations in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. Overall, 15 suppliers are on board for providing the necessary parts to make each turbine.

Vic Abate, president and CEO of the company's wind business, called the venture historic.

"This project demonstrates GE Vernova's ability to deliver on our workhorse strategy in onshore wind — producing fewer variants in large quantities at scale to drive quality and reliability across the fleet for our customers," he said in a statement.

In all, the company has more than 55,000 turbines installed worldwide.

The company has been working with Pattern Energy for the past 18 months on site layouts that are designed to maximize the performance of the turbines in central New Mexico and to ensure the supply chain can keep up with manufacturing demands.

GE Vernova consultants also have been working on interconnection with the transmission line, and the company's financial arm provided a tax equity loan commitment that helped to solidify financing for the project.


The story has been updated to correct that GE Vernova is set to be spun off by General Electric, not that it is a GE spinoff.