Lawmakers and open government proponents on Friday raised questions about transparency and possible conflicts with other investigative agencies as New Mexico legislators try to flesh out details of the long-discussed creation of a state ethics commission. House Bill 4 would create an independent state agency overseen by seven commissioners with power to investigate and enforce compliance with laws on governmental conduct, election campaigns, lobbyists, gifts and financial disclosures by state officers, employees and contractors, among others. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Saturday. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who introduced the bill, presented it to the committee Friday but asked the members to give him another day to work on changes before voting on it.
The state Senate on Friday approved a bill to prohibit private employers from using a job application that asks applicants about arrests or criminal convictions. The measure carried 28-11 and now advances to the House of Representatives. Employers would still be free to inquire about an applicant’s record after reviewing the application, said the bill sponsor, Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. His proposal, Senate Bill 96, is intended to help people with a criminal history apply for jobs without being summarily disqualified. If given an opportunity to interview, their chances of finding work and steering clear of trouble increase, O’Neill said.
The state House of Representatives approved a $7 billion budget on Thursday, sending to the Senate a plan for the next fiscal year that would provide nearly half a billion dollars in additional funds for public schools but which Republicans say amounts to an outsize increase in government spending. House Bill 2 would mark an 11 percent bump in New Mexico’s budget, drawing on a surplus fueled by an oil and gas boom. That would leave about 22 percent of the state’s general fund in reserves, a far higher level than in recent years when the state burned through cash amid a stagnant economy and a bust in the oil business. In arguing for the spending plan Thursday, Democrats depicted the budget as a response to what they described as years of austerity and cuts under former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and as a big step under a new administration towards meeting a judge’s order that the state improve education for at-risk students. “The message is clear.
The New Mexico Public Education Department aims to scrap the state’s A-F grading system for public schools, which critics have said puts too much emphasis on student test scores. Under proposed changes to the state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the agency says it will replace an accountability system that identifies schools as failing with one that classifies them by the amount of state and federal support they require. “This is a shift in philosophy from seeing schools as failing to seeing a call to action,” said Tim Hand, deputy secretary of the education department. “This underscores how we see that our role at the Public Education Department is to lead with support.” The effort comes as Democratic state lawmakers have introduced two measures — Senate Bill 229 by Sen. Mimi Stewart and House Bill 639 by Rep. G. Andrés Romero — that would repeal a law creating the A-F grading system.
In 2017, Reuters published a map on lead poisoning among children across the nation. The story examined where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the toxic metal in their blood. At that time, NM Political Report spent months trying to speak directly with experts at the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) about that exact issue. But Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration wouldn’t allow that. And we never got a complete picture of how state officials were handling childhood lead exposure.
It’s almost impossible to find a smooth ride in New Mexico. Most of the state’s major roads and highways are in poor or mediocre condition, and those potholes out there mean hundreds of dollars in additional fuel, repairs and other costs for the average driver, according to an annual survey published Wednesday. This may not be news for New Mexicans bouncing around on the state’s roads. But this year, the data come as lawmakers consider hundreds of millions of additional dollars in the budget for road repairs and debate raising the long-stagnant gas tax to pay for future maintenance. The report by The Road Information Program, or TRIP, says New Mexicans are already paying for the condition of the state’s highways.