February 4, 2015

House Republicans blast third-grade retention bill out of committee

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The New Mexico House of Representatives.

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

In a bit of unusual parliamentary debate, the Republican House majority voted to blast a bill out of committee, just one day after the chamber approved the committee assignment by unanimous consent.

“What a difference a day makes,” Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola, after the House approved changes to committees of several other bills.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, started the process to remove the bill from the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which is also known as blasting. It would take a call of the House and over an hour of debate before the bill was blasted out of committee on a party-line 36-32 vote.

The legislation in question was HB 41, a bill that would require any third grade student who could not read at grade-level by the end of the school year to repeat the third grade.

At the request of Democrats, Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, put the bill in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Tuesday. It had been previously waiting to be heard on the floor after clearing the House Education Committee. The move was approved by unanimous consent.

Wednesday, Roch said that the bill did not include any specific appropriation and so did not need to go to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Roch said that the money was already included in funding for education and that no new money would be used.

Democrats objected to that and debated the motion. As has been the case in many contested bills this year, the Democratic minority did all of the debating, with no Republicans debating the motion.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said she had letters from two superintendents that were wary of the legislation’s fiscal effects.

“Both of those superintendents have said unequivocally that it costs money,” she said. “That it’s an unfunded mandate that becomes a recurring unfunded mandate.”

Final vote on removing HB 41 from committee on 02/04/15.

Final vote on removing HB 41 from committee on 02/04/15.

Rep. Stephanie Maez, D-Albuquerque, said that it would be telling districts how to spend money.

“We would be mandating that they use those dollars for their retained students,” Maez said. “So those dollars are being used to fund that initiative.”

Democrats also argued that similar retention legislation in other states came at a large expense, citing Florida, Texas and Oklahoma.

Roch noted that in the last three years that similar legislation was introduced in the House, it was never assigned to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

In addition to the argument that the bill has a fiscal impact, Democrats said blasting it would subvert the committee process.

“I’m surprised that with all of you being the majority you want to blast a bill,” House Minority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton said. “There’s no such thing when you have a majority blasting the bill. You should just let the bill be heard in the committee.”

“What we have to do is appreciate and protect the committee process,” Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said. “I would be arguing strenuously today to protect the committee process with Kiki Saavedra as chair as Larry Larrañaga as chair.”

Saavedra was the previous chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, and Larrañaga is the current chair.

House Republicans had used the blasting process in the past, though when they were in the minority. Legislation to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses was blasted out of House committees where it had been previously tabled.

“It’s disappointing to me to see what’s happening today,” Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, one of the longest-serving members of the House, said.

He added, “I hope the public understands what we’re doing here.”

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