February 9, 2015

Education bills in limbo after tie votes


Head in HandsDue to a shortage on Republican members, two House bills were sent into legislative limbo following tie votes in committee.

One proposed a solution to truant students and the other would change how students can opt out of certain standardized tests. Both had tie votes on party lines, with Democrats supporting one and Republicans supporting the other.

The House Education Committee heard from Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Hall presented HB 117 which would allow schools to work with the state’s Motor Vehicle Division in order to restrict driving privileges of some high school students.

No Driving for Habitual Hooky

According to the bill, if a student who is old enough to drive misses ten or more days of school, the student’s school would be obligated to contact MVD. The state department would then have the authority to suspend the student’s driver’s license.

Hall told the committee the bill would give incentive for students to not skip school and take some of the burden off of the court system. He said family courts are overwhelmed and his legislation would elevate the need for a judge to suspend a student’s driving privileges.

The only audience member who stood in opposition of the bill was Tim Davis, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Davis told the committee the organization was concerned that impoverished students who need to miss school in order to work would be forced to drive without a license.

Davis said that there was no room for a preliminary hearing with MVD before a driving privilege is revoked. Davis was referring to language in the bill that states the MVD can, “suspend or deny the granting of an instruction permit, driver’s license or provisional license, without a preliminary hearing…”

Later during questions and comments from the committee members, Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque pointed out that the bill does allow parents and students to appeal the decision on the school level.

“That’s due process,” Rehm said.

Hall’s expert witness was Leighann Lenti from the Public Education Department. Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera was also on hand to both support the measure and answer some questions.

Of the three members who asked questions or made comments, two of them were Democrats.

Deputy Chair Dennis Roch, R-Logan, was the only member not present so there was an even number of members from each party. With a 6-6 vote, the bill failed to pass.

Let Parents Opt Out of Tests

Garcia Richard, an educator, presented her bill that would allow some students to opt out of standardized tests.

According to HB 129, a parent can request a waiver that would exempt their student from certain standardized tests. Lenti said the PED saw the proposal as unnecessary and possibly detrimental. Lenti cited the federal guidelines for standardized tests and said the state could lose some federal funding if not in compliance.

The committee’s Republican members raised concerns that standardized tests are important not only for federal funding, but that tests are a necessity.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, said tests do not go away later in life.

“We don’t get to opt out of work requirements,” Youngblood told the bill’s sponsor.

She added that tests do not go away as students go through their academic or professional career.

“I think they need to be ready for the real world,” Youngblood said.

Other members echoed the PED and said the bill did not seem necessary because school districts already have procedures in place for parents that want their children to be excused from tests.

Garcia Richard told the committee her concern was that the PED steps in when parents ask for a waiver. She said she has heard “anecdotal” evidence that the state department pushes parents into changing their minds. She said the PED, “Quote, councils them into taking the test.”A common sentiment from Republicans was the fear of losing federal funds if less than 95 percent of New Mexican students do not take some standardized tests.

Generally on both the state and national level, Republicans push for less interference from the federal government.

In 2013, current Education Committee Chair Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell introduced a bill that would make it illegal to enforce gun control laws that some were expecting from the White House that year. Garcia Richard later told New Mexico Political Report that she was not surprised at the Republican’s eagerness to abide by federal law.

“You will see many such inconsistencies in this building, on both sides,” she said. “I’m not going to point any fingers about any inconsistencies.”

Like the earlier legislation, HB 129 was sent into limbo status with a vote of 6-6. Democratic members voted to pass it to the next committee and Republicans voted not to pass it.

Garcia Richard said she plans to keep pursuing some sort of legislation that would allow flexibility for standardized tests.