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March 9 First News: Federal Court Shoots Down Work Requirements For NM SNAP Recipients

Mar 9, 2016

A federal court has shot down Governor Susana Martinez’s rules forcing some food stamp recipients to look for work in order to get assistance.  The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that means up to 17,500 low-income New Mexicans won’t have to abide by the state-imposed guidelines. The state’s Human Services Department issued a statement saying it disagrees with Judge Kenneth Gonzales’s ruling.  The Martinez administration has argued since last year that the rules are simply federal government mandates imposed by former President Bill Clinton’s administration, but Judge Gonzales said this week that the state did not have to impose stricter rules than the feds. Those rules are not as draconian. The judge agreed with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s contention that the state has broken the law by denying benefits to some food stamp recipients.     

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed a bill revising the state's immigrant driver's license law after years of pressuring lawmakers to pass legislation eliminating them altogether. The Republican governor held a signing ceremony Tuesday at the Albuquerque airport. The measure puts New Mexico in compliance with tougher federal identification requirements. The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities. New Mexico had no such requirement. The new law stops the practice of providing driver's licenses to immigrants regardless of legal status. Immigrants in the country illegally will be able to get driver's authorization cards by submitting fingerprints if they are first-time applicants.  Immigrants who already have licenses can skip the requirement. Residents will be able to get REAL ID compliant licenses.

New Mexico's statewide immigrant's rights organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido issued this statement after the bill was signed: HB99 is REAL ID compromise that keeps undocumented immigrant drivers licensed, safeguards current immigrant license holders from ever being fingerprinted, and gives New Mexicans a choice to opt out of getting a federal ID card. "We are proud that both Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Senate stood up to Governor Martinez' long campaign to divide New Mexicans on this issue,” Somos said.             

Gov. Martinez is expected to sign a measure that would allow San Francisco-based ride-booking companies Uber and Lyft to operate in the state. The legal status of the companies has been in limbo in the state since they began offering services in 2014. The companies say the state's Motor Carrier Act does not apply to them because they do not operate as commercial taxi businesses. Uber and Lyft use smartphone apps to connect their drivers with people seeking rides. Lyft had stop operating in the state after the state regulators couldn't come up with a solution. The new regulations include background checks for drivers against criminal and sexual offender databases.  Some Uber drivers have complained that the company isn’t consistent in its wages or contracts.

 

A former federal prosecutor and assistant district attorney has announced he is running to replace Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, saying his scope of experience working at the local, state and federal levels of the criminal justice system qualifies him for the job. Democrat Raul Torrez formally announced his candidacy in Albuquerque on Tuesday — the state filing deadline for declaring candidacies. He says he doesn't think the criminal justice system in Bernalillo County is functioning as it should, citing the high number of criminal repeat offenders who have been blamed by Albuquerque police for a significant portion of the city's violent crime.  Albuquerque is home to roughly a quarter of the state's population. Brandenburg, also a Democrat, said Tuesday morning she would not seek a fifth term. 

Gov. Susana Martinez has signed legislation aimed at better positioning New Mexico to protect its forests from wildfires and flooding. One bill clears the way for the State Forestry Division to be reimbursed by the federal government for thinning and other conservation work done by state employees. Another measure allows New Mexico to become a member state of the Interstate Compact for the Prevention and Control of Forest Fires. The group shares strategies for preventing and fighting fires. New Mexico had back-to-back record fire seasons in 2011 and 2012. Thousands of square miles burned and communities are still living with the threat of post-fire flooding. Martinez also signed measures related to geothermal resources, natural gas vehicles and mining.

Another bill still awaiting the governor’s signature would put unclaimed lottery prize money back into the scholarship fund for college students.  That bill was sponsored by the governor’s rival, Democratic Senator Michael Sanchez of Albuquerque, who is also the majority floor leader in the Senate.  The deadline for acting on legislation passed during the recent 30-day session is today.