Friday, December 31, 2010
2010 --->>>> 2011
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Guest Blog: Price Competition Begins in Title Insurance Industry Today for the First Time in New Mexico Since 1985
This is a guest blog by Fred Nathan, Executive Director of Think New Mexico.
Title insurance companies may offer customers rates that are lower than the single rate schedule promulgated by the state Superintendent of Insurance, under rules that take effect today. Title insurance, which is required by banks before they will approve or refinance a mortgage, is one of the largest elements of closing costs.
Under the New Mexico Title Insurance Law enacted in 1985, the Superintendent of Insurance promulgates a single rate schedule for title insurance prices. This law, which was drafted by the title insurance industry, eliminated price competition by prohibiting companies from charging rates lower than the state-promulgated rate. Only two other states, Texas and Florida, prohibit price competition in the title insurance industry.
In 2009, after a two-year effort, Think New Mexico successfully championed the enactment of a law reforming the title insurance industry. The new law allows title companies to charge rates lower than the state-promulgated rate schedule if they file their proposed rates with the Superintendent of Insurance and receive prior approval to offer them. However, the law could not take effect until the Insurance Division implemented regulations establishing the process for prior approval of lower rates.
The regulations that take effect today allow title insurers to file their proposed lower rates with the state Insurance Division, which has 60 days to approve them before they can be offered to homebuyers.
This is a big win for New Mexico families, who will soon have lower cost options for title insurance when they buy or refinance their homes. Price competition in the title insurance industry can only help New Mexico’s struggling economy and housing market.
The 2009 title insurance reform law also increased and extended the discounts available for title insurance policies purchased with mortgage refinancings, a provision that required no regulations and took effect in May of 2009. The enhanced discounts are available to any New Mexican refinancing a residential mortgage who provides the title company with the settlement or HUD statement from their home purchase.
Think New Mexico is a results-oriented think tank serving New Mexicans. The new title insurance regulations are published in the most recent edition of the New Mexico Register. For more information, contact the Title Insurance Bureau Chief Kenny Ortiz at (505) 827-4528.
This is a guest blog by Fred Nathan. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Inauguration Day Caps Dona Aña County’s Hard Fought Election Season
Click for photo album
Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with more on-the-ground coverage from Southern New Mexico.
The long 2010 campaign season came to a close on Thursday when District Judge Jerald A. Valentine administered the oath of office, swearing in Dona Aña County elected officials at the County Board assembly chamber in Las Cruces. A big standing-room only crowd of friends, family and local residents were on hand to witness the official ceremony, as state and local officials gathered to take the oath.
Outgoing Dona Aña County Commission Chairman Oscar Vasquez Butler welcomed the new officeholders and thanked Dona Aña County voters for what he termed “a good run.” Butler has served two terms at the County and retired from public office today. Butler said that he was proud of the diversity of the newly elected leadership from the County, which he said “truly reflects our New Mexico.”
Among those taking the oath of office for the first time were Dona Aña County Assessor Andy Segovia, County Commissioner Billy Garrett, and Magistrate Judge Jose L. “Joel” Cano. District Judge Mannie Arrieta, who was elected to a full term as an elected judge was also sworn in.
Among the others taking their oaths of office were State Representatives Joni Gutierrez, Mary Helen Garcia, Andy Nunez and Joseph Cervantes. The four Democrats will return to the legislature in Santa Fe next month. County Commissioner Karen Perez, Probate Judge Alice Salcido and Magistrate Judge Olivia, Garcia who were re-elected in contested contests, were also sworn in.
Photos by Stephen Jones. To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Sen. Wirth, Rep. Egolf to Hold District Meetings to Discuss 2011 Legislature
State Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) and State Representative Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) have scheduled three meetings with residents of their districts. The first will be Tuesday, January 4th, at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, 3221 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. The second will be Thursday, January 6th, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center in the Lamy/Peralta Rooms. The third will be Wednesday, January 12th, in the Eldorado area from 6:00 to 8 PM at Mike’s Music Exchange, 7 Caliente Road across from the Agora Shopping Center.
“Representative Egolf and I look forward to the opportunity to visit with our Santa Fe constituents,” Wirth said in a written statement. “With the state facing the worst budget crisis in its history, we need their input and ideas.”
Senator Wirth and Representative Egolf have made district meetings a regular part of their legislative duties, and both underscore their importance.
“These meetings are one of the most important things we do,” Egolf said today. “They are a way for us to better understand individual and neighborhood concerns, while discussing the best way to proceed on legislative issues.”
Wirth represents State Senate District 25. Egolf represents State House District 47. Since their districts overlap, they say they work together whenever possible in addressing issues of concern to Santa Fe residents.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Notorious Army School of the Americas Connection: Sen. Ortiz y Pino Speaks Out Against Susana Martinez's Nomination of Dr. Jose Garcia for Higher Ed Secretary
Just prior to the holidays, Republican governor-elect Susana Martinez announced she was nominating Dr. Jose Z. Garcia, 65, an associate professor of government at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, for the post of Secretary of Higher Education. Garcia, a conservative who chaired the Democratic Party of Dona Ana County during the early 1980s and still claims to be a Democrat of sorts, was a member of the steering committee of "Democrats for Martinez" during the gubernatorial campaign.
The following is a statement from New Mexico State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino upon learning Dr. Jose Garcia once taught at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. The school has been roundly criticized for the human-rights violations performed by a number of its graduates throughout Latin America.
"The Army School of the Americas has a deeply troubling history of training human-rights abusers throughout Latin America. Dr. Jose Garcia and Susana Martinez must come out and explain his involvement with the school. The halls of New Mexico government are no place for anyone who condones the types of abuses that were spawned from the School of the Americas in the 1980s and early 1990s. Dr. Garcia owes anyone who values human rights a full accounting of his time working for the school."
Jose Z. Garcia, PhD, was “appointed Distinguished Visiting Professor at the United States Army School of the Americas from 1989-1991, where he was named instructor of the year for 1990.” (1)
Background on the Army School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation):
On June 28, 1996, a report was issued by the Intelligence Oversight Board a four-person, independent board created by President Clinton. The IOB, headed by attorney Anthony S. Harrington and including Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., USAF (Retired), found that the "School of the Americas ... used improper instruction materials in training Latin American officers from 1982 to 1991 ... certain passages appeared to condone practices such as execution of guerillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment." (2)
According to School of the Americas Watch, these manuals taught repressive techniques and promoted the violation of human rights throughout Latin America and around the globe. The manuals contain instructions in motivation by fear, bounties for enemy dead, false imprisonment, torture, execution, and kidnapping a target's family members. The Pentagon admitted that these manuals were a "mistake."(3)
According to a Get the Facts page on SOA Watch:
Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.
Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.
... From its beginning, the mission of the SOA has been to train soldiers to protect the interests of multinational corporations and maintain the economic status quo for the few rich and powerful in the US and their cohorts in Latin America. Labor leaders and union organizers have always been among the primary targets of SOA violence.
Many readers are probably familiar with SOA Watch because of its annual protest against the School of the Americas:
Since 1990, SOA Watch has sponsored an annual public demonstration of protest of SOA/WHISC at Ft. Benning. In 2005, the demonstration drew 19,000 people. The protests are timed to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, on November 1989, by graduates of the School of the Americas. On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests (Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin López y López, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado López); their housekeeper, Elba Ramos; and her daughter, Celia Marisela Ramos, were murdered by the Salvadoran Military on the campus of the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, because they had been labeled as subversives by the government. A United Nations panel concluded that 19 of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.
Given Dr. Garcia's connection with the notorious School of the Americas, it's disturbing that Susana Martinez believes he's a good choice to head New Mexico's Department of Higher Education.
Gov. Bill Richardson: Billy the Kid Pardon Decision by Friday; No Additional Pardons or Commutations
Governor Bill Richardson issued a statement today saying he continues to review documents and public input related to a potential pardon for Billy the Kid. (Click to see the petition for the pardon submitted by Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn.) Gov. Richardson reiterated that he will announce his decision before he leaves office on Friday.
The governor's office received 809 emails and letters commenting on the proposed partial pardon by the December 26 deadline for submittal cited on a special web page about the case. Of those, 430 backed the pardon while 379 were against it.
E-mails debating the issue came from all over the United States and beyond, including England, Japan, France and New Zealand, said Richardson's deputy chief of staff, Eric Witt.
"This has clearly generated a lot of interest globally," Witt said.
He said responses, pro and con, came from people familiar with the legend of Billy the Kid as well as from people knowledgeable about the territorial era and the Lincoln County War, in which the Kid and Brady were on opposite sides.
No Other Pardons or Commutations on Tap
Other than the possibility of that pardon, Richardson said he will not grant any other pardons or commute any other sentences before leaving office.
“I believe that requests of this nature must be fully vetted and investigated by the appropriate agencies to ensure that I do the right thing for those who request clemency as well as the citizens of New Mexico,” Richardson said. “While I appreciate the urgency from those who have made last-minute requests for pardons, I do not have adequate time to thoroughly review them before leaving office.”
Susana Martinez Nominates Out-of-Stater With Florida and Texas Ties to Head NM Human Services
Apparently unable or unwilling once again to find a suitable candidate from New Mexico to fill a cabinet post, governor-elect Susana Martinez has nominated a person from out of state for Secretary of Human Services. Like Martinez's choice for Secretary of Public Education, the nominee has connections to Texas, Florida, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former President George W. Bush.
Right before the holidays, Martinez announced that she'll name Sidonie "Sydney" Squier, 53, to serve as New Mexico's next Secretary of Human Services, the state agency that oversees Medicaid spending. Current projections by outgoing Human Services Secretary Katie Falls estimate there'll be a $360 million Medicaid shortfall in the 2011 fiscal year due to the loss of federal stimulus money, increasing numbers of Medicaid enrollees and escalating health care costs.
Squier, who earned a bachelor's and master's degree in communications from California State University, Long Beach, has held health care posts within the Texas and Florida state governments. From what I can piece together, she served as associate commissioner in the Office of Family Services with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission when George Bush was governor, and as director of economic self-sufficiency and welfare reform administrator in the Florida Department of Children and Families during the Jeb Bush administration.
Squier also served as a director of the Office of Family Assistance at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from June 2005 to January 2009, during the Bush administration, where she was responsible for administering the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In that role, she became Bush's go-to person on so-called marriage promotion, pushing the idea that married couples were being discriminated against in TANF, and that the TANF program should place increased emphasis on encouraging recipients to marry rather than on their getting an education. Squier assisted in the Bush administration's handing out of grants to "promote healthy marriages," and was also a supporter of Bush's "National Responsible Fatherhood Campaign."
Squier presided over implementation of The Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005, which reauthorized the TANF block grant, and the development of HHS’s interim regulations for the legislation. Critics of the regulations said they significantly reduced states’ flexibility to design TANF programs that would meet the diverse needs of their low-income families.
In testimony before a House subcommittee about the Act, Squier discussed how the reauthorization replaced certain bonuses to the states with a fund for grants to promote "healthy marriages" and "responsible fatherhood" that would be made to neighborhood and community organizations, including religious groups. In addition, she said the new rules permitted states to extend certain "pro-family" benefits and services to anyone, without regard to financial need or family composition, "if the expenditure is to prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock births, or encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent married families."
Previously, in the late '90s, Squier was a deputy director and spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services. Prior to getting into the health care field, Squier was apparently some kind of public relations official with Greenbaum Public Relations of California. Her name appears as a contact person on a 1996 press release issued on behalf of Hillhaven Corporation, the operator of 40 nursing centers in California, which criticized a protest organized by union officials with SEIU against the nursing home chain. She's also listed as a contact on a 1995 Hillhaven press release critical of SEIU and unions.
According to a statement released by the Martinez camp, Squier "provides a valuable and unique perspective, having served at both the state and federal level. We face a significant budget deficit and both Sidonie and I are committed to ensuring that the safety net for needy families and children in New Mexico remains strong and in place."
DPNM Requests Records of Time Spent by Darren White and Rob Perry on Susana Martinez Transition
The Democratic Party of New Mexico (DPNM) said today they have submitted Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) requests to determine how Albuquerque City Attorney Rob Perry and Public Safety Director Darren White are splitting their time between official city duties and their work for the Susana Martinez gubernatorial transition. Both Perry and White have been working on Martinez’s transition team.
The requests ask for White’s leave or “P-30” requests from late 2009 to the present, as well as White's and Perry’s leave requests and official city expense information from November 2, 2010 to the present. (The IPRA requests can be viewed by clicking here and here.)
City employees who are not performing official city duties during regular business hours must take leave to do so.
“In an era of historic budget constraints, taxpayers deserve to know how two of the city’s highest paid and important officials are spending their time,” said Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director Scott Forrester in a statement released today. “Helping the new governor transition is one thing, but doing it on a cash-strapped city’s dime is another thing altogether. The public has a right to know that leave requests remotely match the actual time they have taken off."
Once received, the city has three days to acknowledge receipt of the request and begin processing the requested documents.
Monday, December 27, 2010
2010 Survey: Sen. Dede Feldman Wants To Hear From Us On Budget Matters
From State Senator Dede Feldman (D-Albuquerque 13): In the 13 years that I have surveyed my constituents in advance of each legislative session, the challenges have never been greater. Budget analysts estimate a $400 million shortfall for next fiscal year.
Over the last three years, we've cut almost $1 billion from a $5.8 billion budget as we try to cope with diminished revenue resulting from the recession. Constitutionally, NM must have a balanced budget, but we are running out of options.
Please let me know what you think by taking the time to fill out this survey before the session starts January 18. Both constituents and non-constituents are encouraged to fill out the survey. Results will be separated into the two groups, but each will be carefully reviewed. Also, please pass along this link so others can weigh in on the important decisions ahead: http://bit.ly/fntPVz.
Any contributions to help me pay for this service gleefully accepted through Pay Pal, here.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Merriment, Peace, Love and Joy to You All!
Enjoy this video of COLORES: A Southwestern Christmas and ponder how lucky we all are to reside in this beautiful, diverse, culturally rich place on Planet Earth! Whether or however you celebrate this time, we hope you'll experience and share love, peace, understanding and joy!
--Barbara and Mary Ellen
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Rep. Martin Heinrich's TRICARE and Microgrid Bills Included in Final Defense Authorization Act
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, finally passed by both the House and Senate, is expected to be signed by President Obama in the next few weeks. The legislation includes two important bills Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01) introduced earlier this year -- the TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension Act and the Military Energy Security Act (MESA).
The details of the provisions secured by Rep. Heinrich in H.R. 6523 include:
- Increasing the maximum age to 26 at which our troops and military retirees are allowed to provide health coverage to their dependent children. This language is based on a piece of legislation Rep. Heinrich introduced earlier this year, H.R. 4923, the TRICARE Dependent Coverage Extension Act, which has attracted 106 cosponsors and is endorsed by several veterans service organizations including the Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Air Force Association, and the Air Force Sergeants Association.
- Propelling our nation’s quest for energy security and independence. This language is based on legislation that Rep. Heinrich introduced, H.R. 5230, the Military Energy Security Act (MESA), which would create an energy security pilot program that utilizes partnerships between military bases and national laboratories to develop secure microgrid systems that could be implemented throughout our communities.
Although the House passed its version of the authorization bill (HR 5136) in May, the Senate twice voted against bringing its bill to the floor, largely because of Republican opposition.
“Supporting our troops and their families is a top priority of mine,” said Rep. Heinrich in a written statement. “Our service men and women make tremendous sacrifices—risking their lives to keep the American people safe. It is our duty, and moral obligation, to make sure they have the resources they need to protect our nation during this time of conflict and for generations to come.”
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Former Lt. Dan Choi Gets His West Point Ring Back from Sen. Harry Reid
One of the names President Obama didn't mention at today's historic signing of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal bill was that of former Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the service when he publicly revealed he was gay on the Rachel Maddow Show in March of 2009. Lt. Choi was instrumental in getting the powers to be to act on the repeal, making the political very personal and applying unrelenting pressure on the president and the Congress to do it now, not later. With his brave, passionate, articulate and demanding presence, he became one of the very public faces of DADT discrimination, inspiring others to reveal themselves as gay or lesbians soldiers and vets in the public eye. Of course his work was a part of an effort by hundreds of thousands of activists -- like those featured at a recent " Healing the Damages" DADT panel discussion in Albuquerque -- but I think Choi deserves some special recognition.
When Choi felt the movement for DADT repeal was double crossed by the long-running inaction of Obama and Congress, he said so in no uncertain terms. He frequently appeared on TV, traveled around the country pushing for change, helped rally others punished by a policy that requires gay and lesbian service members to lie about who they are and even chained himself to the White House gates with other gay and lesbian service members several times, getting arrested in the process. Just recently, after the DADT repeal was defeated in the Senate as part of the defense spending bill obstructed by Republicans, Choi was hospitalized briefly for a "mental breakdown" at a VA Hospital -- worn down, agitated and depressed by the frustrating process of trying to help right a long-standing wrong by putting his own career and even his health and life on the line.
Back in July, at the Netroots Nation convention, Choi gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid his West Point graduation ring and his discharge papers, pushing Reid to follow through on his pledge to repeal DADT. He said he'd take back his ring and papers if and when Reid successfully secured the repeal.
Time has come today. Hours after President Obama signed the DADT repeal, Sen. Reid returned the ring to Lt. Choi in his Senate office (see photo at top). Well done! The video above shows Sen. Reid getting Choi's ring this summer, and returning it to Choi today, mission accomplished. The circle is closed.
Moving on to Full Equality
Meanwhile, Choi had this to say about the bill's passage, and the still unfinished business of LGBT citizens being granted their full legal rights in the US -- including full marriage equality -- just like everybody else. It's an incredible accomplishment to get DADT repealed, and that victory will help immensely in the continuing movement to gain full legal rights under civil law for LGBT citizens and couples. However, until there is true marriage equality at the federal level and in every state, we will still be second class citizens in the eyes of the law.
On that point, President Obama gave a lot of couples -- like Mary Ellen and I -- a glimmer of hope that he will be doing more to get it done, despite the challenges of a Republican-dominated House for the next two years. In an interview yesterday with The Advocate, President Obama talked about the DADT repeal and other topics including the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):
On the question of marriage equality, the president said his “attitudes are evolving.”
“Like a lot of people, I'm wrestling with this,” he said. "I've wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.”
The president also signaled that he and his lawyers are reviewing “a range of options” when it comes to the administration’s responsibility to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, especially since repealing it over the next two years will be a nonstarter with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“I have a whole bunch of really smart lawyers who are looking at a whole range of options. My preference wherever possible is to get things done legislatively,” Obama said, drawing a comparison with repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“That may not be possible in DOMA’s case,” he added. “That’s something that I think we have to strategize on over the next several months.”
More Thank Yous
There are, of course, many people to thank for our victory today -- including New Mexico's Senators and House members, ALL of whom supported the repeal. However, I wanted to give a shout out to one legislator in particular -- Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA). A straight-as-an-arrow Iraq War veteran, Rep. Murphy -- who represents a fairly conservative blue-collar district -- was a tireless and very public supporter of DADT repeal in the Congress, and sponsored the final DADT repeal bill.
Unfortunately, Rep. Murphy was defeated in this year's midterm election, with his support for the repeal being one of the factors that figured into his loss. I'm especially proud of Rep. Murphy and very appreciative of his doing what is right, even though it may well have helped to cost him his job. More of this, please, in Congress and the White House.
As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said when the stand-alone bill was signed in the House yesterday:
"We are very, very proud of a person who served our country on the battlefield and served our country in the Congress, the author of the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in the House, [Rep.] Patrick Murphy [(D-Pa.)]."
The mention was the first of three standing ovations for the lawmaker, who led the charge for repeal in the House.
Consider this another standing O for the departing Rep. Patrick Murphy -- and for everyone who worked tirelessly for this long sought repeal.