A Senate committee bent Saturday to calls by Gov. Susana Martinez for more funding for state police pay and the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, as well as calls from some fellow lawmakers to restore at least some of the funding cut from school districts last year. In announcing its version of the budget passed by the state House of Representatives late last month, the Senate Finance Committee seemed intent on maintaining the tenuous peace that has set in at the Roundhouse in the wake of the partisan clashes of the last few years. The budget would amount to about $6.3 billion and, according to the Senate Finance Committee, leave reserves around 10 percent. It would amount to about a 4 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year. The House passed its version of the spending plan by a vote of 65-3 on Jan.
Democratic state legislators who want to expand early childhood education by spending a portion of New Mexico’s $16 billion land grant endowment won another round Friday, bringing their proposal to a pivotal point. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-3 on party lines to advance the proposed constitutional amendment, formally called House Joint Resolution 1. Republicans on the committee opposed the measure, saying spending more of the endowment now would hurt future generations. One Republican lawmaker also pointed to the market’s recent volatility and said the fund has lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the decline. Under the proposed amendment, another 1 percent would be taken from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.
After state and U.S. lawmakers called an editorial cartoon in the state’s largest newspaper racist and offensive, the editor-in-chief of the Albuquerque Journal issued an apology. In a statement, Karen Moses apologized for upsetting readers. “In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions,” according to Moses’s statement posted on the paper’s website Thursday. “This was not the intent, and for that, the Journal apologizes.”
Moses also said the cartoon does not reflect the position of the Journal. The Journal’s reporters, who work separately from the editorial board, covered the controversy in the paper’s Thursday edition.
Supporters of a new health care proposal say it could help reduce the state’s uninsured rate by making health insurance more affordable. It’s called Medicaid buy-in and the New Mexico House of Representatives and Senate each recently passed memorials calling on the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to look into its implementation. Medicaid buy-ins are essentially programs that allow those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid to pay premiums for a Medicaid-like program. What a New Mexico version of the program would look like isn’t yet known. That’s the point of the study, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report.
Inflammatory words over immigration led to a heated back-and-forth this week between a New Mexico Congresswoman and an Arizona Congressman. It began after Democratic New Mexico U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham brought Dalia Medina, a woman who immigrated to the U.S. with her parents from Mexico as a child, as her guest to the State of the Union last week. Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar from Arizona called for U.S. Capitol police to check immigration statuses of Lujan Grisham’s and others’, guests and possibly arrest them. Even those in his own party weren’t on board with the call for arrests. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, distanced himself from the proposal in the hours before the State of the Union.
New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall spent about an hour Saturday morning listening to members of tribal communities and health care experts talk about what matters most in some rural areas regarding health care. A common theme emerged among participants: the need for more funding for tribal health care programs. If they don’t get more money, the people who rely on them are in trouble, they said. Topics ranged from basic health care needs to healthy food options to those who already struggle with diabetes. Warlance Foster, a Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) coordinator, told of a family member who, despite a life of sports and other physical activities, suffered an amputated leg due to diabetes. “We’re not asking for millions of dollars so we can live large, buy big houses and cars,” Foster said.
Two hours of emotional testimony from New Mexicans on both sides of the abortion debate did not seem to change anyone’s mind at the Legislature on Saturday, as a House committee voted along party lines to block a bill that would have required abortion providers to notify parents before their child undergoes the procedure. The Republican sponsors behind House Bill 56 said the measure was a simple step to ensure minors make informed decisions with their parents before getting an abortion. But critics countered that the measure would hamper the rights of young women in making an intensely personal decision and delay care for patients. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee tabled the bill on a 3-2 vote, with Democrats on the prevailing side. The bill would have required abortion providers to contact a minor patient’s parent or guardian by a certified letter delivered via courier at least 48 hours before their child undergoes the procedure.
A Senate committee dealt a blow to Public Service Company of New Mexico on Saturday by voting to stall a bill allowing the utility to sell bonds to pay for the early closing of a coal-burning power plant in northwestern New Mexico. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table Senate Bill 47, known as the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act. The vote followed a more than three-hour hearing, which drew a packed crowd to the Senate chambers. Proponents argued the measure would boost renewable energy in the state while offering aid to residents of San Juan County who heavily rely on jobs at the power plant and a nearby coal mine that supplies it. Opponents, however, painted it as a bailout for PNM and said it would weaken state regulators’ oversight of the utility.
Just a few years ago, some legislators proposed selling Spaceport America. They called it a boondoggle or a lagging enterprise that ought to be severed from public funding. But this year, lawmakers are poised to put more resources into the $220 million center near Truth or Consequences. A $6.3 billion budget approved this week by the state House of Representatives includes $10 million to build a new hangar at the spaceport. It also includes a 45 percent increase in the spaceport’s annual operational budget.
A member of the state House of Representatives is asking for an investigation of a legislative committee, charging that several of its members met privately without him to craft part of the annual state budget and omitted his proposal to restore about $41 million cut from the reserves of school districts last year. Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, said the meeting left legislators like him out of part of the process of preparing the spending plan. In an unusual move, Townsend asked the Legislative Council Service to investigate why the meeting did not include him and many other members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “I don’t believe it’s in any of our interest, whether it be a Democratic majority or a Republican majority, to have a process that prevents your constituents or my constituents from being represented,” he said on the House floor Thursday before heading to the council’s offices on the fourth floor to file what the representative described as a verbal complaint. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, the Gallup Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said the panel did nothing improper or out of the ordinary.