Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.
© 2018 New Mexico News Services 4-16-18
Here’s what it will take to get serious about DWI
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Ever wonder why DWI deaths in New Mexico just go on and on? Why DWI offenders can rack up a dozen arrests, get out of jail, and do it again?
It’s not hard to understand.
Combating DWI has four parts, says Linda Atkinson, executive director of the DWI Resource Center in Albuquerque: prevention, cops, courts, and treatment. All four have to be strong and work together, but instead of a chain, we have rusty bailing wire.
Prevention can include media campaigns, but the single most effective deterrent is the expectation of swift, sure punishment, Atkinson said while speaking recently to New Mexico Press Women.
Law enforcement has used such strategies as DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols, but our agencies are widely under-staffed, which means fewer arrests.
The weakest link in the chain is the judicial system, where the DWI conviction rate is 50 percent. The criminal justice system is broken, Atkinson says. DWI cases are pleaded down. Passing tougher DWI laws is pointless because the courts don’t prosecute to the full extent of the law. Two years ago, in an interview, Atkinson facetiously suggested to me that lawmakers should “legislate tougher judges and tougher prosecutors.”
At the time, Sen. Joseph Cervantes (currently a candidate for governor) said: “I’ve probably prosecuted 300 DWI cases, and I’ve never seen a judge give a maximum sentence. We can raise penalties through the roof,” and it won’t make any difference.
In January, Atkinson wrote in her blog: “Too many judges are politically disinclined to step out of the box to address the issue in their courts.”
To be fair, the courts, district attorneys and public defenders are so understaffed and the case load so high that the priority is to just get cases adjudicated, to keep the assembly line moving. Dismiss it on a technicality. Plead it down. So a repeat offender’s eighth DWI gets pleaded down to one.
“I’m not against plea agreements, but I am against giving the farm away,” Atkinson says. “We see offenders who’ve never been held accountable. We need meaningful sanctions.”
The fourth link, treatment, is either not used or used ineffectively. “Treatment is a primary intervention opportunity. It will work if it’s completed, but too many times it’s not ordered or not completed,” she says.
And treatment suffered a blow as the governor dismantled the behavioral health system. “It’s been huge,” she said.
Atkinson has spent decades studying DWI data and trends, crash statistics, and court outcomes.
Here’s a statistic the DWI Resource Center released in December: DWI crash deaths declined after 1983 but increased beginning in 2011 under Gov. Susana Martinez.
Gov. Toney Anaya began revoking drivers’ licenses, doing breath-alcohol tests and increasing DWI enforcement, which reduced DWI crash deaths from 69.8 percent of all traffic fatalities to 59.9 percent and saved 672 lives. The crash-death rates declined somewhat under Govs. Garrey Carruthers and Bruce King but took another dive when Gov. Gary Johnson closed drive-up windows and expanded DWI checkpoints, saving 873 lives and reducing deaths to 45.6 percent. Gov. Bill Richardson appointed a DWI czar and expanded State Police DWI enforcement; this saved 238 lives and reduced the rate to 41.8 percent. Gov. Susana Martinez reduced State Police DWI enforcement; the rate rose to 42.5 percent and cost 13 lives.
If we’re looking for states to model ourselves after, we don’t have to look far; Arizona, Colorado and Texas all have better laws, programs and enforcement than we do and the political leadership to make it happen.
Atkinson has worked with governors since the 1980s, but in Martinez’s first year in office, Atkinson criticized a pocket veto of a victims’ rights bill. Martinez reamed her during a private meeting and told agencies to not work with her.
Maybe the next governor will get serious about DWI.
Sherry Robinson photo
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4-16-18
What you didn’t want to know about the Land Grant Permanent Fund
By Merilee Dannemann
Triple Spaced Again
We’ve all heard the arguments about early childhood education as the solution to pull New Mexico out of poverty. The state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund is targeted as a way to pay for it.
Not so fast. The devil is in the details.
What follows is the kind of policy wonkish recitation that sends people tiptoeing out of the room. This explanation comes from former State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, who knows because he’s watched lawmakers and others sneak out the back door.
The Permanent Fund is not one big pot of money that we can dip into any way we choose. The money is all spoken for. Changing the distribution requires a state constitutional amendment and approval by Congress.
Our state trust lands were established with a checkerboard pattern, six squares by six, a total of 36 squares each representing a square mile. The pattern was applied all over the state. In each checkerboard, four squares – none touching each other -- were given to the state.
These tracts are scattered everywhere. On the Land Office map (on the website, look for LandStatus11x17) they appear as lots of tiny pale blue squares and larger clumps where tracts are consolidated.
Each tract is earmarked for a specific beneficiary. And so is the revenue from that tract.
This system was created in federal legislation at statehood. Exceptions were made for private, tribal, federal lands and land grants. To make up for those lands, the federal government designated “in lieu of” lands, some of which, luckily, were rich in oil and gas.
Some land generates income from oil and gas; some is good for grazing; some may be in the middle of a city. The Land Commissioner has authority to sell tracts, and over the years the holdings have been reduced from about 13 million to 9 million acres.
One complication: Surface land can be sold but the mineral rights cannot be sold so simply. Any such sales create a potential legal mess.
The largest beneficiary is the public schools, with more than 7 million acres designated, but there are several other beneficiary entities, each with specific tracts and thus a designated piece of the revenue pie.
Revenue from a renewable resource like a grazing lease goes directly from the land office to the designated beneficiary, such as a specific university or hospital, or the fund for the schools. Potentially, a very lucky beneficiary could get the revenue from a shopping mall.
Revenue from nonrenewable sources like oil and gas goes into the Permanent Fund – but again, it is not one big happy bank account. It’s all earmarked. The income from each tract is designated for a specific beneficiary. The beneficiary with a producing oil well is luckier than the beneficiary with a dry well or no well at all.
When the Legislature gets the annual numbers, a further complication happens – for example, with education. The Legislature decides the total dollars for the education budget. The Permanent Fund contribution is combined in the state general fund with revenue from other sources to reach that total. A good year for the Permanent Fund does not necessarily mean more money for education.
Given this configuration, it is not clear how the money for the early childhood program could be allocated.
The proposals we have seen would mandate that the total distribution from the fund be increased and a certain percentage of that increase go to the early childhood program. But it is not clear how that distribution would work.
The Land Office, in legislative analysis documents, has offered a different possible approach: to buy new land that could be earmarked for early childhood. I don’t know whether that’s the right idea, but I know that next time the issue comes up, I will not sneak out of the room.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through www.triplespacedagain.com.