New Mexico school districts that had hoped to put a little more cushion in their budgets managed to persuade a sympathetic Legislature, but couldn’t get it past the governor’s veto pen. When she signed the 2018-2019 budget on March 7, Gov. Susana Martinez struck a line through $5 million state lawmakers had set aside to repay some school districts whose cash accounts had been swept by $40. 3 million to help fill a large budget gap in 2017. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Martinez had called the cash accounts of school districts “slush funds.” State superintendents — who drove to the capital en masse during the session to lobby lawmakers for repayment — call them reserve accounts that are used to make large payments like annual insurance, as well as extras like giving teachers stipends to take students to science camp.
Some vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez are raising eyebrows among legislators and others—and at least one partial veto may be challenged in court. Wednesday was the final day for Martinez to decide whether or not to sign bills from this year’s legislative session. She signed 80 bills into law, but vetoed 31 others. Some she rejected using her veto pen, while with others she just allowed time to run out in what is called a “pocket veto.”
One portion of a bill that may see a new life was part of the crime omnibus bill the Legislature passed in response to the spike in crime, particularly in Albuquerque. The bill combined a number of ideas aimed at reducing crimes.
Santa Fe – She was 3 years old when her father died in a car crash and 17 when her mother committed suicide. In between those bookends of loss, she lived with the man she refers to as “my evil stepfather.”
He demeaned her, her two older sisters and her younger brother, and punished them with a belt when they didn’t meet his exacting standards. At night, he crept into her bedroom. “He would reach under my pajamas and start,” she says. Decades of therapy after a nervous breakdown have led Mimi Stewart, at age 70, to a place where she can talk about her childhood trauma.
The car tire blew. The 1948 Ford sedan rolled off the highway from Columbus, throwing the 16-year-old driver nearly to his death. For eight years, he lay comatose in the Deming house where Sen. John Arthur Smith — today, arguably the most powerful man in the New Mexico Legislature — grew up. James “Jimmy” Franklin Smith was a star athlete and John Arthur’s big brother. The accident on March 30, 1952, shattered his cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for thinking and language.
ByAndrew Oxford and Steve Terrell, Santa Fe New Mexican |
There were no threats of a government shutdown this time. Instead, a sort of political peace reigned as the 30-day legislative session ended Thursday with a $6.3 billion budget headed to the governor’s desk along with a bipartisan slate of crime legislation and pay raises for teachers and state police. The bombast and sense of crisis that marked the 2017 session seemed to evaporate as Gov. Susana Martinez sought to strike a conciliatory tone on her way out of office. But gone, too, were any major initiatives or innovative policy changes. With Martinez nearing the end of her term and the state’s financial outlook brightening but not totally sunny, the session ended anticlimactically, with lawmakers eager to avoid another partisan showdown as they also wait to see what direction the state’s economy — and the governor’s yet-to-be-elected successor — might take.
If Gov. Susana Martinez signs a Senate bill into law, New Mexico will become the 46th state to specifically define strangulation as a serious violent crime. State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored Senate Bill 61, called the Legislature’s unanimous support of the measure “a monumental achievement.” A former prosecutor, Ivey-Soto said he became aware of what he called the “insidiousness” of strangulation. It’s a powerful type of violence that signals to a victim “I have your very life in my hands,” he said. He credited the success of SB 61 to an aggressive, yearslong effort by victims advocates to educate lawmakers, attorneys, law enforcement officers and medical professionals about the prevalence of this potentially deadly act, which affects thousands of people in the state — sometimes with lifelong symptoms of brain trauma.
ByAndrew Oxford and Steve Terrell, Santa Fe New Mexican |
College students: The New Mexico Lottery’s staff and various legislators wanted to rewrite state law to eliminate the requirement that 30 percent of gross revenue from the lottery go for college scholarships. Lottery employees and their lobbyists said the proposed change, combined with more prizes, would someday funnel even more money to the scholarship fund. Opponents of the measure countered that students would be shortchanged for years and maybe forever. House members heavily amended the bill to guarantee students at least $40 million a year for scholarships. That bill died, but the 30 percent requirement for scholarships remains intact — a good outcome for students trying to get a degree without accumulating debt from loans.
Vote early and vote less often. At least, that is the hope behind a bill that was headed to the governor’s desk on Thursday to consolidate various local elections in New Mexico. Under a compromise hashed out between the Senate and House of Representatives during the last couple hours of this year’s 30-day legislative session, election day for most cities, towns and villages — including Santa Fe — would not change from the usual date in March. Conversely, the state’s largest city, Albuquerque, would have to move its elections for mayor and city council. The bipartisan legislation’s backers say the goal is to boost turnout in local elections that often draw little attention and relatively few voters.
New Mexico legislators rolled five different crime bills into one, then sent the measure to the governor Wednesday in what they called a bipartisan move to make communities and prisons safer. State senators approved the plan, House Bill 19, on a vote of 32-2. The measure already had cleared the House of Representatives on a 66-1 vote. Now the bill moves to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Martinez herself pushed a number of crime bills during the 30-day legislative session, including an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the death penalty.
It took moving a few million dollars here and putting a few million dollars there, but New Mexico had a budget by the end of Wednesday. A $6.3 billion spending plan is on its way to Gov. Susana Martinez after the Senate and House of Representatives brokered a compromise on slightly different budgets approved by both chambers. The compromise won bipartisan support in the House and Senate, a marked departure from recent years when financial shortfalls led to spending cuts and intensely political clashes over state spending. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Gov. Susana Martinez signaled that she would be receptive to the budget. That is different from last year, when she vetoed much of the annual spending plan, at one point threatened a government shutdown and ultimately forced a special session.