In the first week of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers introduced several bills that would lower New Mexico’s unconscionable 175 percent interest rate cap on small loans to 36 percent. But the Legislature won’t even be able to discuss such measures in the current 30-day session without an official “message” from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
So far, the governor has not indicated she’s willing to send such a message. In 2021, the Legislature came close to passing a bill that would have meaningfully curbed excessive interest rates on small installment loans in the state. Last year’s Senate Bill 66 would have capped rates at 36 percent, as many other states do. The bill passed the Senate by a healthy margin. However, the bill got derailed in the House of Representatives, which passed a watered-down version supported by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats — including a large number of progressives.
The bill died at the end of the session before a conference committee met to try and resolve differences. New Mexico Ethics Watch recently published a report titled “The Big Interest in Small Loans.”
We analyzed the effect of storefront loan companies on their customers, how this state compares with others, the history of usury laws in New Mexico, campaign contributions from the industry, messaging from lobbyists for these companies and other aspects of the small installment loan business.
So far, at least three bills similar to last year’s SB 66 have been introduced in the Legislature: Senate Bill 107 (from Sens. Bill Soules and Katy Duhigg, both Democrats); Senate Bill 129 (by Sen. Gregg Schmedes, a Republican); and House Bill 78 (by Rep. Patricia Caballero, a Democrat). All three measures would reduce the interest rate to 36 percent.
Although the governor has given lip service to the idea of ending high interest rates, a recent statement from her press office to reporters is not encouraging.
Her spokeswoman wrote, “we are not willing to compromise the importance of the matter by adding it to the agenda without a good-faith consensus between stakeholders that will result in substantive action and protections for New Mexicans.”
However, seeking “consensus” here essentially means giving storefront lenders veto power over legislation that basically would amount to a pay cut for their industry and still leaves poor New Mexicans vulnerable.
“The longer we wait on good, commonsense legislation to rid New Mexico of excessive interest rates, the longer poor people will have to suffer,” said Kathleen Sabo, executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch. “We call on Gov. Lujan Grisham to send a message and let the debate in the Legislature begin.”
By Claire Kenzie Seley
Goddard High School - Roswell, NM
The Influence of Ethical Principles through the Pandemic
Potter Stuart, a former Associate Justice to the Supreme Court once eloquently stated, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is right to do.” This sentiment was put to the test in 2020, the year that will forever be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did COVID come as a challenge to the health of millions globally, but as a foil to the ethical fiber of these same individuals. Individuals were faced with the dilemma of sacrificing some of their own personal liberties, in exchange for the perceived safety of their fellow neighbors. This “greatest good for the greatest number” mentality proved to be a difficult path for many to travel. Yet, in such an uncertain time, by holding onto core ethical values and allowing them to guide my actions, I felt like my journey throughout the pandemic was more purposeful and deliberate.
The first step which signaled the beginning of the worldwide pandemic was when the stay at home order was issued. I was shocked. The week of spring break had just begun, and we were supposed to leave for vacation the following day. Plans were cancelled with no certainty that the trip would ever be rescheduled. A constant stream of news programs were broadcast and seemed to be dominating every form of media. The stay at home order mandated that residents were to not leave their homes, with the exception of essential jobs and trips for necessary goods. Going on vacation and spending time with friends did not fit in this criteria. It was easy to become overwhelmed and worried, but I came to understand that my actions could impact the lives of the people around me. By not reasoning ethically and following the rules, I could potentially bring illness to myself and those around me. Realizing this life or death nature of COVID gave me the determination to do everything I could to protect myself and others. My family and I chose to stay positive. We made special dinners, played board games, and watched movies, but most importantly, we stayed home.
State mask mandates came as an added precaution against the virus. Everyone was asked to trade a little of their own comfort to stop the spread. While masks could be uncomfortable, the scientific data and research was showing how they could be effective in our situation. I chose to wear a mask not because I was being made to, but because I felt it was the right decision. In a time of feeling vulnerable, wearing masks was something tangible that would make a difference.
Development of a vaccine that could keep COVID under control was a prevalent global priority. The sense of urgency was significant; as a result, several vaccines were developed. This soon was a reality in our lives, and hesitancy to get vaccinated became a widespread issue. In following the science, my parents and I gained confidence in the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccine. We understood that by being vaccinated, we could stifle the spread of the virus. Consequently, my parents received the vaccine as soon as they were eligible. With the recent approval of the Pfzier vaccine for those age twelve and above, I too can be vaccinated. In doing so, I am not only protecting myself but protecting others.
This past year has seemed long and at times frustrating. There has been much debate concerning whether all of the health guidelines were even necessary. Some had a difficult time getting past the idea that their actions could be detrimental to other people. Realizing early on that the choices I made could literally have a life or death impact made me determined to, “do the right thing.” This, of course, was not always easy, but as the curtain is hopefully closing on COVID I can say with credence that my family and I have remained COVID- free. Life will always be full of challenges, but by relying on core values, one can come out on the other side stronger.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Albuquerque, NM - September 3, 2021
Contact: Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, 505-274-2442 or email@example.com
Dr. Tracie Collins, Former NM Department of Health Secretary to Appear as Special Guest for 2021 Community Ethics Gathering
Dr. Tracie Collins, Former NM Department of Health Secretary and Dean of the University of New Mexico’s College of Population Health is the featured guest at an event celebrating community ethics during the pandemic.
The outdoor symposium -- “Ethics in New Mexico: Community Ethics” – is hosted by New Mexico Ethics Watch (NMEW), a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization and principal leader in ethics reform in New Mexico.
Happening on Thursday, September 9th from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., the symposium also serves as a fundraiser for the organization. This is NMEW’s third annual “Ethics in New Mexico'' event.
*This year’s event features notable guests including:
-Dr. Tracie Collins, Former New Mexico Secretary of the Department of Health and Dean of the University of New Mexico’s College of Population Health
Dr. Collins took over the NM Department of Health’s Secretary’s job in December 2020 and oversaw the equitable rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine throughout the state. Dr. Collins left the DOH in July 2021 and has returned to her position as the Dean of the University of New Mexico’s College of Population Health.
-EthicsNOW podcast guests, ranging from a bioethicist to a restaurant/club owner, to journalists to attorneys protecting the rights of prisoners.
We’ll honor each of them and check in with several past guests for an update.
-Richard C. Bosson, former NM Supreme Court Chief Justice and NMEW Board Chair
Justice Bosson is a former Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, where he served from 2002 to 2015. He was a member of the New Mexico Court of Appeals from 1994 to 2002, and served on the New Mexico Constitutional Revision Commission in 1994-95. Justice Bosson also worked in the New Mexico Attorney General's Office as Civil Division Director. He has served as the NMEW Board Chair since the organization’s inception in 2016, and recently served as the Chair of the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission.
“NMEW is thrilled to present our esteemed speakers and honored guests, each of whom has demonstrated outstanding ethics this past year and who have helped to keep a spotlight on ethics during this challenging time,” says NMEW Executive Director Kathleen Sabo. “We’re committed – through our annual Ethics in New Mexico events, and always – to providing timely and accurate information from trusted sources that engages and educates the public.”
During the symposium, NM Ethics Watch will also announce the winners of its third annual Student Ethics Essay Contest, which was held in the spring for NM high school students. Students were asked to respond to the prompt, “How have ethical principles influenced your behavior and actions during the pandemic?” A first prize of $500, a second prize of $250, a third prize of $100 and two $50 honorable mention prizes will be awarded.
Event registration is requested. A suggested donation of $35 is requested from non-student attendees to help fund NMEW’s important work. All donations are tax deductible. Lunch and refreshments will be available. The following Covid-19 safety policies will be in effect for the outdoor space: The event is outdoors under a large portal and attendance is limited to permit social distancing. During attendee check-in, vaccination verification will be requested. Masks are suggested for all attendees. Safety requests may be updated and will be communicated to attendees if conditions change prior to the event.
What: “Ethics in New Mexico: Community Ethics” symposium
When: Thursday, September 9th from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Where: Alfredo Garcia Community Barn at Hartnett Park in Los Ranchos De Albuquerque. (The event is outdoors under a large portal - see Covid-19 policies, above.)
Who: Hosted by New Mexico Ethics Watch
**For more info and to Register, go to : www.flipcause.com/secure/event_step2/MTIxNTQ0/120770
*Donations requested (Suggested amount $35). Student Admission - Free
NMEW is a 501(c)(3) organization and donations for this event are tax deductible.
***To do a story on this event please contact Kathleen Sabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (505) 507-7548.
New Mexico Ethics Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and a principal leader in ethics reform in New Mexico. Our values are that ethics is for everyone; that good government leads to improved schools, healthier communities, and better business, and attention to ethics in public life leads to more equitable opportunities for all.
Please subscribe to NMEW’s social media pages for news and breaking alerts:
Join us for Ethics in New Mexico: Community Ethics.
The event will be held on Thursday, September 9, 2021, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Alfredo Garcia Community Barn at Hartnett Park in Los Ranchos De Albuquerque.
Covid-19 Policies: The event is outdoors under a large portal and attendance is limited to permit social distancing. During attendee check-in, vaccination verification will be requested. Masks are suggested for all attendees. Safety requests may be updated and will be communicated to attendees if conditions change prior to the event.
Special Guest: Dean of the University of New Mexico College of Population Health, and former Secretary of the NM Dept. of Health, Tracie Collins with opening remarks by former New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice and NMEW Board Chair Richard Bosson.
We’ll be undertaking quite a bit at this community event – recognizing public leaders, journalists and others who have demonstrated outstanding ethics this past year and who have helped to keep a spotlight on ethics during this challenging time; announcing the winners of our annual high school ethics essay contest and awarding them their cash prizes (always a highlight!); holding a community discussion about ethics; mingling with friends, old and new, who are also concerned about ethics; serving lunch – and we’d love to see you there, as we gather and work together to build and maintain a more ethical New Mexico!
Who: New Mexico Ethics Watch
What: Ethics In New Mexico Annual Event
When: September, 9th, 2021 - 11:30am to 1:30pm
Where: Hartnett Park in Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, NM 87107
Lunch and refreshments will be provided.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 30, 2021
Contact: Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, 505-274-2442 or email@example.com
Corruption Allegations Lay Bare the Need for Long-Overdue Ethics Reform
For the past five years, New Mexico Ethics Watch (NMEW) has been digging into the murky, flimsy world of public officials’ financial disclosure statements as required to be filed under the Financial Disclosure Act.
In multiple reports, we have pointed out both the deficiencies in the law and in filed disclosure statements – pushing for more stringent requirements, more stringent and meaningful auditing, and setting out a path to reform either through rulemaking by the Secretary of State or legislative reform of scant, outmoded requirements.
With the news of a search warrant being executed against the House Majority Leader, Sheryl Williams Stapleton, for alleged corruption, financial disclosure statements are once again in the news. A quick look at Rep. Williams Stapleton’s 2020 financial disclosure statement reveals that although she listed her husband’s employment as the manager of a restaurant – which we now know was Albuquerque’s A Taste of the Caribbean – she did not report his employment as an income source, as required for any source of gross income of more than $5,000 in a calendar year. If his earnings were above that in 2020, not reporting them is a clear violation of the Financial Disclosure Act.
As a nonprofit organization, not a state agency, NMEW has used discretion in deciding which financial disclosure statements to examine. We have looked at candidate disclosures to make sure they have been timely filed as required by the Act and, when they have not been found in online public records, we have notified the Secretary of State’s Office and they have performed an audit. We have examined the disclosure of Senate-appointed board and commission members required to file by law under the Act, and found that many had either not been filed or filed late. We have also examined all legislators’ and cabinet members’ disclosures and found and detailed woeful deficiencies in reporting and in the Financial Disclosure Act itself. (All of our reports regarding financial disclosure statements and the Financial Disclosure Act can be found on our website at www.nmethicswatch.org.)
Just recently, as a tangent to research we were undertaking to determine whether any legislators were using capital outlay funds to funnel to businesses or entities from whom they would receive kickbacks – yes, the VERY issue that demanded a search warrant be executed upon Rep. Williams Stapleton – we discovered several financial disclosure statements where legislators did not report ANY income, not even the per diem income they receive from the state for service in the legislature!
We’ve found plenty of smoke, but we just haven’t been able to expose any real fire, perhaps fueled by New Mexico’s stubborn insistence on continuing to have an outmoded “citizen legislature” whose members do not receive a salary, but merely expenses.
Thanks to the actions of APS Superintendent Scott Elder in reporting what he found to be suspicious behaviors and transactions of Rep. Williams Stapleton, the full investigative and enforcement power of the Attorney General’s Office has found what looks like a long-smoldering fire – one that allegedly has bilked potentially millions from New Mexico taxpayers and once again besmirched New Mexico’s public servants and its legislature.
This alleged corruption could have been prevented had New Mexico had stronger laws on its books – that required more detailed financial disclosure, that required more stringent auditing of financial disclosure statements and capital outlay requests and disbursements, and that provided transparency to the public in where the capital outlay funds were actually going.
Although we and other good government groups can talk and write until we are blue in the face about the need for more transparency, more disclosure, and ethics reforms, generally, we currently must depend upon the fortitude and courage of upright, ethical legislators and public servants to enact these reforms.
Today, we challenge these legislators to come forth and work with Ethics Watch and others to enact meaningful reform of ethics laws, so that citizens and taxpayers can have faith that those who choose to serve the public are in fact doing just that and not serving themselves.
On top of that, it would behoove the legislature to make all proceedings related to the alleged ethics violation open to the public and recorded. If the rules currently do not allow for public proceedings, then those rules – and other House and Senate rules governing legislative ethics concerns and proceedings – need to also be on the list for immediate reform.
The Citizens Redistricting Committee is decidedly NOT diverse -- Do we need a do-over?
For ethics' sake, we must redo the state redistricting commission" by Kathleen Sabo
- Albuquerque Journal - 06/18/2021
THE 2021 NMEW ESSAY CONTEST THEME: HOW HAVE ETHICAL PRINCIPLES INFLUENCED YOUR BEHAVIOR AND ACTIONS DURING THE PANDEMIC?DEADLINE: 11:59pm MST – FRIDAY MAY 21st, 2021
Each essay contest entry must be between 500-1000 words and must adhere to the theme: How have ethical principles influenced your behavior and actions during the pandemic? All essays must be submitted by May 21st, 2021 to firstname.lastname@example.org
All submissions must include a cover page that contains the following information:
Personal information should only be entered onto the cover sheet, as all essays will be judged blindly.
Any submissions that include personal information in the body of the essay will be automatically disqualified.
All essays will be judged using the following criteria: relevance to theme, clarity, creativity, and grammar/spelling.
The year 2020 will forever be synonymous with misery. Besides killing nearly 3,200 people in New Mexico, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the economy to shut down, causing tens of thousands to lose their jobs in this state in 2020. But according to a new report by New Mexico Ethics Watch, money from oil and gas interests to New Mexico politicians and political organizations continued to flow, with almost $3.3 million from the industry going to political causes during this past election cycle.