Lawmakers renew effort to alter practice of diverting federal aid to rural schools

New Mexico for years has taken a large share of federal education aid intended for rural schools that lie in areas with large parcels of public and tribal lands and has distributed it to other districts, including urban ones. Legislation that would have undone the long-standing practice quietly died last year. State lawmakers have renewed the effort with more force in the current legislative session, introducing at least four bills designed to make up for tens of millions of dollars in federal Impact Aid diverted each year from rural districts, including many that serve Native American students. “It’s an issue of fairness,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who co-sponsored one of the bills. While New Mexico funds public school districts through a formula based on student numbers using money from several sources — including oil and gas revenues — school districts in many states heavily rely on property taxes.

Long-term fixes for PERA could be tough sell

A Senate Democrat stood outside a Roundhouse committee room Thursday with the head of New Mexico’s retirement system, expressing her concerns about a proposal to reform it. Wayne Propst, head of the Public Employees Retirement Association, tried to alleviate her worries. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez isn’t alone. Several members of her caucus, as well as retirees, are expressing unease about the bill, aimed at putting the pension system on a path to solvency. “It is a concern that I’ve been raising,” Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque said in an interview later, adding she’s getting questions from worried constituents.

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

The 2020 legislative session kicked off with a traveling billboard driving around the Capitol building reminding citizens and lawmakers of the 2019 attempt to repeal New Mexico’s decades old abortion ban. But so far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled that she wants the legislature to take another shot at trying to repeal the old ban during the 30-day session. There were, however, several other pre-filed bills and one issue that has not been filed yet as a bill that pertains to reproductive justice which Lujan Grisham put on her call for the session. Increasing penalties for human trafficking

No legislator has filed a bill on increased criminal penalties for human trafficking, but Lujan Grisham signaled she wants a bill on the issue when she announced her priorities ahead of the session. Governor’s Office Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said a bill will be introduced soon.

Education committee members decry public school spending plans

Lawmakers on the state House and Senate education committees on Wednesday decried the lack of funds proposed for some of their priorities for fiscal year 2021, indicating a deeper conflict is broiling over the largest share of the state’s budget as the Legislature and governor begin hashing out differences in their spending plans. During a joint hearing on public school funding proposed by both the Legislative Finance Committee and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, education committee members said their input over the past year has been ignored. The initiatives they cited as underfinanced or omitted completely ranged from cybersecurity to teacher recruitment and retention efforts to providing feminine hygiene products for teen girls. Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and former school board member who serves on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee, said she didn’t think the voices of educators, school administrators and higher education officials were “entirely reflected” in the competing budget proposals. “I feel like we have been left in the lurch,” added Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, a former teacher and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Governor touts efforts to boost education, economy in 2020 State of the State

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stressed the need for New Mexico to continue investing in education and economic development in her annual State of the State address Tuesday, and urged lawmakers to approve marquee legislation such as the legalization of recreational cannabis. In a speech replete with personal stories and even some jokes, the Democratic governor praised key education proposals on her agenda, including the creation of an early childhood trust fund and her proposed Opportunity Scholarship, which would provide free college tuition for all qualifying New Mexicans. Related: GOP: Governor’s address was ‘love fest’ with no love for oil and gas

“It would be inaccurate to say we chose education as our top priority,” Lujan Grisham said in a section of her speech punctuated with loud applause. “Transforming our public education ecosystem is no less than a moral mandate, an imperative that found us — this group of legislative leaders who are obligated and, I firmly believe, destined to deliver the single best cradle-to-career educational system in the country.” The governor delivered the second State of the State address of her tenure to lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists and the general public in the House chamber of the Legislature on the opening day of the 2020 legislative session. Amid numerous interruptions for applause and standing ovations — largely from Democrats — the governor and former U.S. congresswoman recounted accomplishments from her first year in office and made her case for top priorities for the session.

GOP: Governor’s address was ‘love fest’ with no love for oil and gas

Republicans in the state House and Senate had a common criticism of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s address to the Legislature on Tuesday: She didn’t give credit where credit is due. In her second State of the State address, the governor made the case for increasing education funding and other legislative priorities, including the creation of an early childhood education trust fund and her proposed Opportunity Scholarship, which would cover all remaining college tuition costs for qualifying New Mexicans at in-state schools after other aid is applied, regardless of their income. Lujan Grisham also touted 15,000 new jobs and a better economy after a “lost decade of job growth … stagnation and forced austerity” under former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican. But Republicans are hammering the governor for not thanking the industry that has provided the jobs and economic growth that is fueling the governor’s political vision: The oil and gas industry.

PHOTOS: Opening day at the Legislature

Elected officials from around the state gathered at the Roundhouse on Tuesday for the opening day of the Legislature. Here’s a look at the day in photos. Climate activists representing the New Mexico chapter of the Extinction Rebellion held banners and waved flags outside the Roundhouse. Extinction Rebellion New Mexico held an event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday to give testimony before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) at a hearing about PNM’s proposal for replacing power generated at the San Juan Generating Station with natural gas and renewable energy alternatives. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, center, at the opening day of the Legislature.

Musical chairs with Senate committee leadership

The New Mexico Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved three new leaders for key committees, including Sen. Joseph Cervantes as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He succeeds a longtime colleague, Richard Martinez, who was convicted last month of aggravated drunken driving. Earlier in the day, the Senate Committees’ Committee, which chooses members of other panels that debate legislation before it reaches the Senate floor, selected Cervantes for the high-profile leadership position in which he likely will influence two key issues: legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, which he opposes, and a firearms restriction for people considered at risk of harming someone, which he supports. Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, relinquished the committee chairmanship after his conviction but did not step down from his Senate seat. Martinez injured two people in a drunken-driving crash in Española in June.

Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 2020 State of the State address, annotated

NM Political Report partnered with New Mexico PBS, KUNM-FM, Searchlight New Mexico and the Alamogordo Daily News to analyze Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State Address. Below is a copy of her speech, with annotations.

WATCH: State of the State address

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will give her second State of the State address today, on the first day of the 2020 legislative session. Lujan Grisham will set out her agenda for this year’s session. Non-budgetary bills need her OK to be discussed in this year’s short, 30-day session. Watch the speech, scheduled for 12:30 p.m., below, courtesy New Mexico PBS.