Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made her last pitch to a Senate committee Friday for additional funding for early childhood education. But she couldn’t get a vote. With her 3-year-old granddaughter in tow, the newly elected Democratic governor called for lawmakers to consider using a larger share of the state’s nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund to pay for pre-kindergarten programs.
Lujan Grisham had backed a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to take an additional percentage point from the fund for early childhood education, on top of the 5 percent the state currently uses each year for public schools and other institutions. When Democrats joined with Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee to block that idea, Lujan Grisham threw her support behind a measure that called for half a percent. Senate Bill 671 passed the chamber’s education committee.
Next year could be the last time New Mexicans find any candidates for the long-troubled Public Regulation Commission listed on election ballots if voters approve a proposed constitutional amendment that sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. On Thursday the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would turn the Public Regulation Commission — which currently consists of five elected members representing different geographical districts — into a three member body whose members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, passed the House by a vote of 59-8. It previously cleared the Senate by a 36-5 vote. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1 does not need the governor’s signature.
The state’s lowest-paid workers are likely to get a raise of $1.50 an hour effective Jan. 1, and their wages will rise each year until 2023. After weeks of debate and disagreement over competing bills to raise the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour, the Senate and House of Representatives were on course Thursday night to settle on a wage scale. A conference committee of three senators and three representatives reached an agreement in what appeared to be a well-orchestrated presentation. As late as Thursday afternoon, Democrats in the House and Senate were at odds over the minimum wage.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun-control advocacy group affiliated with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, contributed nearly $400,000 to New Mexico Democrats and Democrat-friendly political action committees in last year’s election. As the 2019 legislative session nears its end — marked by gun-control legislation that has incensed some New Mexicans, especially in rural areas — these big campaign bucks may play into gun-control opponents’ narrative about an out-of-state billionaire riding roughshod over gun owners by throwing money around. On the other side of this divisive issue, the National Rifle Association spent only a fraction of Everytown’s amount. According to the Institute on Money in Politics, the NRA gave slightly more than $21,000 to New Mexico candidates last year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a week ago signed Senate Bill 8, which requires background checks for most firearms purchasers.
A Senate committee rolled back proposed tax increases in a sprawling bill that would change rates on internet sales, car purchases, e-cigarettes and more. House Bill 6 represented a push by top Democrats in the House of Representatives to shore up the state’s finances, which now rest largely on revenue from oil and gas. But it prompted plenty of skepticism for threatening to raise taxes for many New Mexicans at a time when the state enjoys a hefty budget surplus from an energy boom. The big question now is when the bill will get a hearing in its next and last committee as the Legislature hurtles toward a noon Saturday adjournment. If the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t act on the measure until Friday, House Democrats may be left with little time to negotiate and have to choose between either accepting the Senate’s changes or nothing.
The New Mexico House of Representatives rejected the Senate’s proposed budget on Wednesday, raising objections related to teacher pay, road funding and the pension plan for public employees. The differences are not insurmountable, leaders in both chambers insisted, but they delayed final action on a whopping $7 billion spending plan. The Senate approved its version earlier in the day with a vote of 39 to 2. But the House voted overwhelmingly against that budget, leaving some questions over how to divvy up appropriations as the state increases spending by 11 percent over the current fiscal year, with big boosts in funding to schools, infrastructure and child services. “This isn’t war or anything,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
The state Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday approved identical plans for how New Mexico should spend a big boost in public education funding, sending the two measures to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Both Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 5 provide for an additional $450 million in public education spending next year, including $113 million aimed at providing support for at-risk students and an extra $38 million to increase teacher pay. While much of the content of the bills mirrored earlier versions debated last week, there was one difference: A one-time increase in annual base pay for teachers, tied to the level of their teaching license, will amount to $2,000 less than what was included in the previous bills. The original plan was to start those teachers at $42,000 (tier one license), $52,000 (tier two) and $62,000 (tier three), with subsequent raises so that over the next few years they would eventually start earning salaries closer to $46,000, $56,000 and $66,000. Instead, under the bills approved Wednesday, teachers would start off earning base pay of $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000, with no immediate raises following.
The Legislature has sent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would outlaw coyote killing contests in New Mexico. A 37-30 vote late Tuesday by the House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 76 came after the Senate approved the measure last week on a vote of 22-17. As to whether the governor plans to sign it into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki on Wednesday said only that, “At this point, we’re reviewing the legislation.” The House vote came after a two-hour plus debate that was often punctuated with imagery of bloodshed, ambushes and shootings and which highlighted the divide between rural and urban communities when it comes to dealing with coyotes. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Bill 76, saying they see such contests as inhumane.
The state House of Representatives and the Senate may be on a collision course when it comes to how best to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law, a priority issue for Democrats in this year’s legislative session. That’s because the House on Wednesday night refused to budge on its proposal to the raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hours by Jan. 1, 2022 and then increase it in future years with a cost-of-living bump. The Senate, however, has approved a more modest proposal designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022, without any further cost-of-living increases.
There are about 700 registered lobbyists bustling around the Capitol this year. What are they working on? They don’t have to say. A Senate committee shot down legislation on Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session.