Early childhood education funding proposal fails again

Two Democrats joined with four Republican senators in a committee vote Wednesday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education

The vote in the Senate Rules Committee to table House Joint Resolution 1 likely puts an end to what has become a perennial effort take an extra 1 percent of interest earnings from the $15 billion endowment to spend on early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the proposal would have generated about $153 million in the first year for early childhood education, increasing to $163 million by the third year it was in place. The Democrats voting against the resolution were Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Papen said she supports early childhood funding but won’t support taking more money out of the land grant fund, which already helps fund universities and public schools in the state. Related: House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

The House approved the measure last week by a near party-line vote. “I am profoundly disappointed in our inability as a state to fully embrace the science of early childhood education,” resolution sponsor Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release after the vote.

House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

In a late-night surprise Wednesday in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who has missed most of the legislative session because of a heart operation, showed up to help pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would take an extra one percent of interest earnings from New Mexico’s $20 billion land grant permanent fund to help pay for early childhood education. The House voted 37-32, mostly along party lines, to pass House Joint Resolution 1, a vote which had been delayed for more than a week, partly because of the Santa Fe legislator’s absence. Trujillo, a long-time advocate of the proposal, received a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber immediately before the House ended a three-hour debate. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing

The measure now goes to the Senate, where the road is expected to be much rougher. The proposal is certain to meet resistance from the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a longtime opponent of taking extra money out of the land grant fund.

Martinez vetoes another hemp research bill

Without a word of explanation, Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed a proposed research program intended to clear the way for an industrial hemp industry in New Mexico, a key plank in the economic plan announced by Democrats in the Legislature at the outset of the 2017 session. Republican Martinez’s action could mean the end of the push to start a research program administered by the state Department of Agriculture. “With the stroke of her pen, the governor just killed countless jobs and new economic opportunities in New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in written statement. “The hemp industry has been a booming success in at least thirty other states. This common sense job-creating legislation would have been a giant step forward for New Mexico’s farmers and entrepreneurs.”

Proponents of early ed measure struggle to secure House votes

Supporters of a popular idea among Democrats — a proposed constitutional amendment that would take between $153 million and $163 million a year in the first three years from the state’s land grant endowment to expand early childhood education — are having a difficult time mustering the votes to get it through the state House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1 has been waiting all week to get a floor vote. Word got out Friday that the resolution once again would not be heard, even though it was the top item on the House calendar. The measure would amend the state constitution to draw less than 1 percent a year from the endowment to pay for early childhood education. The sponsors of the proposal, Democratic Reps.

Bills would limit solitary confinement, require reporting in NM

House and Senate lawmakers are pushing identical proposals that would abolish solitary confinement for pregnant women and children and steeply curtail its use on people living with mental illness in New Mexico’s jails and prisons. If passed into law, supporters say either bill would provide a statutory definition for “isolated confinement” in the state and much needed transparency on the scope of the controversial practice of leaving inmates alone in their cells for 22 hours a day or more with little to no contact with others and few opportunities to participate in educational or rehabilitative programs.

“Right now, we do not know on any given day if it’s 100 or 1,000 people in isolated confinement in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, the Democratic sponsor of HB175, said. “Once we have some data, we can have confidence that the Corrections Department and the counties are scaling back the use of solitary confinement.”

This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission

Numerous studies, including one by the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, have shown that isolation in a prison cell can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and create new ones where none existed before. The United Nations and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have argued that solitary confinement is particularly dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing, and condemned its use. New Mexico has a troubled history with solitary confinement.

Early childhood education bill faces uphill climb

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would take about $112 million a year from the state’s land grant endowment to pay for early childhood education say a new study shows that the need for such programs actually exceeds $400 million annually. “This is an alarm,” Allen Sánchez, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Children, said Tuesday of the report commissioned by his organization. Sánchez is among the most vocal supporters of House Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestes and Javier Martinez, both of Albuquerque.

Bill allowing open primaries gets warmer reception in House committee

Voters unaffiliated with either of the two major political parties — currently barred from participating in primary elections — would be allowed to choose either a Democratic or Republican primary ballot under a bill that unanimously cleared a House committee Tuesday. But judging by the reaction a similar bill received in a Senate committee earlier this week, the House bill could run into trouble if it makes it to the other side of the Roundhouse. The House Local Government, Elections, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to House Bill 206, sponsored by Reps. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, and Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. Garcia Richard says her bill is aimed at increasing voter turnout.

Papen asks committee to table bill creating early ed endowment

The Senate Education Committee has unanimously tabled a bill that would have established a new endowment for early childhood programs in the state using revenues from federal mineral rights leases on public lands — assuming Congress approved a proposal by State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to share the funding. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, asked the committee to table the measure Wednesday, saying, “It is clear to me now … that the bill suffers from problems in its construction.” In conversations with legislators, educators, Dunn and others, she said, she discovered “this entire approach has little support from the public.” Opponents of Senate Bill 182, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said one of its faults is that it assumes the federal government would agree to share proceeds with the state from leasing 6.6 million acres of mineral rights on private land.

State Supreme Court upholds closed primary system

An attempt to open primaries failed after the state Supreme Court ruled against an Albuquerque resident. David Crum, who is registered to vote but is not affiliated with any political party, sought to end the closed primary system, saying it violates a portion of the state constitution. The State Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling dismissing the case, saying that the current restrictions requiring that primary voters be registered with a major political party at least 28 days before the primary and only allowing voters to vote in primaries of that party were “reasonably modest burdens which further the State’s interests in securing the purity of and efficiently administering primary elections.”

The Republican Party of New Mexico opposed Crum’s suit and said it would “unconstitutionally infringe on RPNM’s freedom of association,” according to the Supreme Court ruling. A state district court agreed and granted the party’s motion to dismiss. Crum appealed the dismissal, prompting the Supreme Court to review the case.

Dems advance latest plan to tap New Mexico land grant fund

State legislators split along party lines Monday in advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that would use some of the $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education and other public education programs.

The House Education Committee voted 7-6 for a plan to fund pre-K programs with an extra 1 percent from the endowment. Democrats supported the measure and Republicans opposed it. “Fifteen-billion-plus dollars — that’s almost richer than Donald Trump,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, in voicing her support for the measure. Groups such as New Mexico Voices for Children have urged lawmakers for years to use a larger share of the money that flows into the $15 billion investment account from oil, gas and mineral extraction on state lands. The proposal, if approved by lawmakers this year and then by voters in the 2018 general election, would supply $39 million for early childhood education and another $91 million for K-12 public schools in 2020.