Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues

Educational Retirement Board (ERB) divestment decision foolish

Recently, New Mexico’s Educational Retirement Board (ERB) made the decision to divest itself from private prisons. Supporters of such a move have painted such companies in a very negative light with little justification.

Patrick Brenner, a policy analyst with the Rio Grande Foundation, submitted the following letter to the Albuquerque Journal. It was published on Monday, November 16, 2020.


I read the guest column, “ERB right to help dismantle unjust prison system,” published in the Albuquerque Journal on Nov. 8 and feel compelled to offer a response. The author is certainly entitled to her opinions about the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board’s decision to divest from private prisons, but she appears to be unclear on some of her facts.

The family separation mentioned in the column is a serious issue, but GEO does not manage any shelters or facilities housing unaccompanied minors, nor does it run any border patrol holding facilities along the U.S. southwest border.

What GEO does do is provide safe and humane residential care, including at the modern immigration Processing Centers it manages for the federal government that feature amenities such as artificial turf soccer fields, flat screen TVs in living areas, and indoor and outdoor recreation. These amenities are not usually available in government-operated facilities.

Unfortunately, the divestment campaign is based on an incorrect narrative and a mischaracterization of the role of GEO and other private contractors in this field who ultimately must answer to federal and state governments who are both their customers and regulate the terms of their contracts.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Notable News Top Issues

New Mexico Should Not Cut Programming At Corrections Facilities

Los Alamos Reporter

As the country begins to re-open and we assess what the future will look like post-pandemic, states will have to take a hard look at where to allocate funds knowing there will undoubtedly be budget concerns for the foreseeable future. While budget cuts are imminent, and in New Mexico they are needed, that does not mean indiscriminately eliminating programs or services that provide real benefit to New Mexico residents who need them most, especially when they ultimately save taxpayers money in the long run.

Before everything shut down, I toured the New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies near Albuquerque where I met with both the residents and the staff who run both of these facilities. Not only did the residents and staff provide glowing reviews of the programming and facilities, but also the Department of Corrections official who toured with us said that she fights for this type of programming across New Mexico and spoke about how effective it has been. These types of programs are on the chopping block. But it is these same programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration and are incredibly effective in treatment, saving taxpayer money, and better outcomes for participants of these programs.

The New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies are both managed by the GEO Group, a private contractor that manages detention and corrections facilities. While often vilified in the media, this private contractor has spent $10 million last year alone on programming around substance abuse counseling and cognitive behavioral treatment. Rehabilitation programming like this provides care, compassion, and effective tools to help people and reduce recidivism rates.

When you visit, the most surprising element is the sense of community and pride that has been fostered among the residents and staff where the more tenured members act as mentors for the newer residents and they truly pull for one another through this tough transition. The graduates of this program see this as a new opportunity for their lives and they are less likely to fall back into their old ways. Funding these types of programs will not only help residents overcome their addiction and other issues, but they will also help New Mexico’s bottom line.

This programming in New Mexico is new. But inmates who participated in this same programming in facilities in Florida had a recidivism rate 30 percent lower than their peers that did not have the same programing. Assuming this trend holds and recidivism is reduced by one third of the average in Florida after participation in these programs, this could be a major cost saving measure for the state. In 2019 alone, this would roughly provide $8 million in cost avoidance for Florida because they will no longer have to house these reformed inmates. There is every reason to believe the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs will see the same drop as Florida experienced and New Mexico could have the same experience with “cost avoidance”.

Corrections funding was already reduced during the recently-completed special session. When cutbacks occur in the 2021 session, programs like these should be among those preserved. The expertise of private sector providers can provide such services at a high quality and reasonable price, but the ultimate benefit is to the State and taxpayers of New Mexico who are desperately searching for ways to reduce crime and recidivism in their communities.

There is no “silver bullet” to solving crime. The COVID 19 epidemic will have unpredictable consequences for our society as well as crime rates and the criminal justice system at large for years to come. Even in times of tight budgets, New Mexico needs to continue investing programming, especially the kind that can be provided by private providers at a reasonable cost in our prisons and treatment facilities to ensure that we support inmates and residents. Short-sighted decisions now may have a negative impact on New Mexico for years to come.

Patrick Brenner is a policy analyst with the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market think tank. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Local Government Notable News Top Issues Videos

RGF president Paul Gessing discusses Albuquerque Police on KOB Channel 4

The Rio Grande Foundation is avowedly NOT an expert on the nitty-gritty of policing, BUT when asked about the general role of what a new police chief for New Mexico’s largest city should do, we definitely have a perspective. We shared that with KOB TV Channel 4.

1) Police MUST protect property including businesses downtown AND statues. Waiting and simply watching vandals destroy businesses and public property is a bad strategy and it undermines the very role of policing. This includes doing more to move homeless encampments out of parks and other public areas.

2) Politicization of policing is a problem. The Mayor should set goals and standards and let the professionals work to achieve them.

3) “Defunding” the police is simply not going to happen, nor should it. Reforms must be considered to both encourage proactive law enforcement AND respect for individual rights, but even substantial budget cuts are likely NOT helpful in high-crime Albuquerque.

You can watch what we have to say below:

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Education Energy and Environment Film Subsidies Legislature Notable News Oil & Gas Open Government Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Understanding the Rio Grande Foundation

The Rio Grande Foundation often comes under criticism from the left. But sometimes we come under fire from the right as well.

For starters we are designated as 501c3 “education and research” think tank. We don’t make endorsements and we don’t “carry water” for any political party or politician. Various media outlets have called us libertarian, conservative, and free market. We call ourselves “free market,” but we don’t waste our breath and time arguing the finer points of ideology because we believe that our work is self-explanatory.

For starters, New Mexico is a deeply challenged state. We believe that a vast majority of these issues are self-inflicted. New Mexico lacks economic freedom and remains poorer and less well educated than our neighbors. We also spend a VAST majority of our time focused on state and local issues as opposed to federal ones.

Those issues broadly include:

  1. Size of Government: New Mexico has long been a state driven by government. Data show that state/local spending is too high and that government regulations make doing business in New Mexico less attractive than doing business elsewhere. We’ve worked on this issue from all angles including: all forms of taxation, subsidies and corporate welfare (notably film subsidies), but also LEDA, JTIP, and “green” subsidies.
  2. Regulation: Rio Grande Foundation has led the charge for “right to work” repeal of NM’s”Davis-Bacon” law, reform of government employee pensions, and against numerous “nanny state” regulations like plastic bag bans. We have also done extensive work against “green” programs from the Energy Transition Act to costly “green” building codes.
  3.   School Choice/Education Reform: Across the political spectrum New Mexicans agree that our K-12 system is failing. While politicians of both parties typically opt for some combination of more money, more time in school (pre-K), and some form of top-down accountability, the Rio Grande Foundation believes that parents and (to an extent students themselves) are better able to decide on the educational options that appeal to them. Charter schools are a good start and should be expanded, but more options are needed.

Additionally, the Rio Grande Foundation supports the US and New Mexico Constitutions, we stand up for free speech, gun rights, private property, and open government.

We don’t take on immigration, gay rights, or abortion issues.

So, there you have it. We at the Rio Grande Foundation have our plates very full, but we are making a difference in New Mexico every day. If that appeals to you, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Local Government Notable News Top Issues Videos

KOB Channel 4 covers RGF lawsuit which asserts that Albuquerque city councilors violated open meeting lawsKOB Channel 4 covers RGF lawsuit which asserts that Albuquerque city councilors violated open meeting laws

Ryan Laughlin of KOB TV did a great job covering the special Albuquerque City Council meeting which resulted in Mayor Keller receiving significant new powers. He also covered our lawsuit which was filed in the aftermath of the meeting and challenges the legality of the meeting and the powers delegated to the Mayor.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Local Government Open Government Top Issues

Rio Grande Foundation sues City of Albuquerque for Open Meetings Act Violations

(Albuquerque, NM) – On Friday, March 13, 2020, the City Council of the City of Albuquerque announced that it would be holding a closed meeting the following Monday, March 16, 2020. At that meeting which occurred this past Monday, the Council amended its Emergency Powers Ordinance which has been on the books for several decades.

The Emergency Powers Ordinance contains numerous controversial provisions which, under New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act, residents of Albuquerque have a right to participate in with their members of the City Council.

The language of the Open Meetings Act is very simple. It states in part that, “…all meetings of any committee or policy-making body of the legislature held for the purpose of discussing public business or for the purpose of taking any action within the authority of or the delegated authority of the committee or body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times.”

The Rio Grande Foundation asserts in the lawsuit which has been filed in New Mexico district court that the City has violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act by holding a City Council meeting March 16, 2020 without proper notice and without conducting such according to the provisions of the Open Meetings Act therein violating the Due Process owing to the citizens of Albuquerque.

Furthermore, the decades-old Emergency Powers Ordinance to which several amendments were made is itself unconstitutional. The Ordinance gave the Mayor power to restrict sales of firearms and ammunition. These provisions which were not amended on Monday violate New Mexico’s Constitution, which states:

“No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”

Said Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing, “The Rio Grande Foundation understands that we are in a crisis situation right now, but laws like the Open Meetings Act and our State and Federal protections on the right to self defense were intended for crises.”

The Foundation’s lawsuit states that both the Open Meetings Act and the long-existing firearms restrictions violate New Mexico Law and should be considered void.

Click Here to View the Complaint as Filed

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Local Government Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

RGF in the news on ABQ Emergency ordinance and small business impacts of virus outbreak

We at the Rio Grande Foundation remain busy and active in this trying time and we also are working to keep government accountable and push back against government overreach. Here in Albuquerque an ordinance was passed that expands the Mayor’s powers to include times of health emergencies. This ordinance was passed very quickly and without a single public meeting on the issue and that concerns us.

But, thanks to State laws now in place, local ordinances dealing with guns and liquor provisions in the local ordinance that existed prior to its being amended last night WILL NOT impact gun rights.  See our analysis here. 

This story (in which RGF’s Paul Gessing is quoted) from KOB 4 TV deals with the ordinance prior to it being voted on:

This story which does not include video quotes RGF after the vote.

This story for which Gessing was quoted discusses the economic impacts of what is happening right now.

Finally, you ‘ll note that the video of Mr. Gessing is not in the usual setting. KOB TV requested a Skype interview due to virus concerns.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Health Care Local Government Notable News Top Issues

Is there a worse idea in this time of Coronavirus than Pat Davis’s plan to “more fully” ban plastic bags?

Just a few days ago Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis told local media outlets that he was planning to “close a loophole” in the City’s plastic bag ban which took effect this year. Davis wants the Mayor to get rid of plastic bags that are thicker than 2.25 thousandths of an inch. The thicker bags were exempted from the law for the simple reason that they are considered “reusable.”

Instead of mandating “reusable” products, retailers (like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts) concerned about potential health implications of reusable items are banning them. Davis cares about politics whereas the retailers are doing what is sensible.

The problem in this age of Coronavirus is that Davis’ preferred reusable bags are KNOWN vectors for viruses in grocery stores. Don’t take my word for it, check out this report from Loma Linda University.

A 2018 report from Loma Linda University was based on an experiment in which researchers purposely “contaminated” a reusable bag with a harmless form of a virus. A single shopper then went through a typical grocery store and the research team tracked the spread of the virus.

Quoting directly from the executive summary of the report, “The data show that MS2 spread to all surfaces touched by the shopper; the highest concentration occurred on the shopper’s hands, the checkout stand, and the clerk’s hands.” The graphic below which was taken directly from the report reflects this.

Instead of pushing to make the plastic bag ban even more onerous and aggressive, Councilor Davis, Mayor Keller, and Bernalillo County Commission should ALL reconsider their bag bans…at least for the duration of this public health emergency.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Notable News Top Issues

Nonprofit groups challenge New Mexico disclosure law for violating free speech, privacy rights

Image result for liberty justice center

 

 

PRESS RELEASE from the

LIBERTY JUSTICE CENTER and
RIO GRANDE FOUNDATION

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Kristen Williamson
kwilliamson@libertyjusticecenter.org or 773-809-4403

Paul Gessing
pgessing@riograndefoundation.org or 505-264-6090

Nonprofit groups challenge New Mexico disclosure law for violating free speech, privacy rights

SANTA FE, N.M. (Dec. 13, 2019) – Today two nonprofit organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s new overreaching donor disclosure law. The law limits free speech and privacy rights, and puts at risk the individuals who support nonpartisan advocacy groups.

Every American has the right to support issues they believe in without fear of harassment and retribution. However, in New Mexico citizens forfeit their privacy and have their personal information shared publicly on a government website when they donate to nonprofit, issue-advocacy groups.

The New Mexico law requires organizations that engage in issue-related speech during certain times of the year to report to the government the name, home address and donation amount for any donation over designated threshold. That information is then posted on a government website for public viewing. The law also requires these advocacy organizations to identify themselves as the sponsors on public messages and register as political committees despite engaging in issue-focused speech.

These donor disclosure requirements target private citizens and penalize them for supporting issues they believe in. To stop this unconstitutional threat to free speech, the New Mexico-based Rio Grande Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and the Illinois Opportunity Project, a 501(c)4 issue advocacy group, have filed a lawsuit that seeks to strike down the law. The lawsuit is Rio Grande Foundation et al. v. Oliver. The organizations are represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, best known for its 2018 Supreme Court win in the case Janus v. AFSCME.

“Every American has the right to support causes without fear of retribution or retaliation. But in New Mexico, speaking up comes at a price: your privacy,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “By naming and shaming individuals who support different viewpoints, this law effectively prevents everyday Americans from advocating for causes they believe in and favors powerful, entrenched political interests. New Mexico is stifling free speech and we will do everything we can to block this unconstitutional law.”

The new law would require nonprofit Rio Grande Foundation to register, disclose their donors to the government, and place sponsorship disclaimers on their materials. Paul Gessing, president of Rio Grande Foundation said, “We share information with New Mexicans to encourage robust policy discussions that affect change and improve lives. This law will silence important perspectives by discouraging our citizens from supporting issue-advocacy groups that promote thoughtful, rigorous debate around issues vital to our state.”

Illinois Opportunity Project plans to engage in issue advocacy in New Mexico prior to the 2020 election, but its speech will be unconstitutionally suppressed if its supporters must disclose their donations. Matthew Besler, president of the Illinois Opportunity Project said, “The Illinois Opportunity Project fights to uphold our First Amendment right of free speech so everyone is protected from retaliation and intimidation. We oppose laws that hinder our constitutional rights and will continue to fight so individuals can participate in public discourse without fear of retaliation.”

Rio Grande Foundation et al. v. Oliver was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, Santa Fe Division. The next step in the case is service of process, after which, the defendant members of the Elections Board have up to 60 days to respond to the lawsuit. The case is available here: https://libertyjusticecenter.org/cases/rio-grande-foundation-v-oliver

# # #

The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest litigation center that was founded to fight against political privilege. The most notable example of the Liberty Justice Center’s success in this arena is its 2018 U.S. Supreme Court victory in Janus v. AFSCME. Beyond its work in the Janus case, the Liberty Justice Center’s team of talented, liberty-minded attorneys are also fighting to protect economic liberty, private property rights, free speech and other fundamental rights. The Liberty Justice Center pursues its goals through strategic, precedent-setting litigation to revitalize constitutional restraints on government power and protections for individual rights. Learn more about the Liberty Justice Center at LibertyJusticeCenter.org.

The Rio Grande Foundation is a research institute dedicated to increasing liberty and prosperity for all of New Mexico’s citizens. We do this by informing New Mexicans of the importance of individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity. Learn more at RioGrandeFoundation.org.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Local Government Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Rio Grande Foundation Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayor Tim Keller

(Albuquerque, NM) – For a long time the Rio Grande Foundation has argued that local election results have been tipped by the ability of public officials and taxpayer-funded interests to use taxpayer dollars or the prospect of taxpayer dollars to lobby on behalf of efforts to tap even more tax money.

In the November 2019 election, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller stepped over the line when he posted the following message on the City’s official website www.cabq.gov. “Let’s come together on November 5 as One Albuquerque to make the community safer, more innovative, and more inclusive by voting ‘Yes’ on the G.O. Bonds and on all of the ballot items that will help our City reach its full potential.”

Argued Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing, “The City of Albuquerque has strict campaign finance rules that require groups or individuals to register as a ‘Measure Finance Committee’ if they spend more than $250 to engage in a public campaign.” The City’s website is created and maintained at taxpayer expense for the purpose of informing residents about everything from the latest City Council legislation, to the River of Lights schedule, to changes in trash pickup. The ability to use this website as a campaign tool is invaluable, but it certainly exceeds $250.”

The Rio Grande Foundation has long been concerned with the indirect use of taxpayer dollars being used for political campaigns. Examples include the APS tax hike of February 2019, City bond campaigns, and bonds for CNM and UNM, but this is the first time in memory that an elected official has crossed the line in terms of directly using government resources to support a political cause.

Furthermore, noted Gessing, “It may seem trivial for the Mayor to use the City’s website in a campaign effort on these bonds. Everyone knows he is publicly out making the case for these taxes at taxpayer expense, but what if he used the City’s website to support particular candidates or even his own reelection campaign? Would that finally cross the line?”

The City Clerk’s letter of acceptance of the Foundation’s complaint can be found here.