Higher ed changes could ‘whitewash’ universities, some professors warn

Some professors, students and advocates at the state’s flagship university are warning proposed sweeping changes to the state’s higher education system could undermine academic freedom and programs like ethnic studies. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs would scale back the number of required credit hours students take in public university “general education core” classes and establish “meta-majors.”

“Meta-major” classes are defined in the bill as “lower division courses” that are set by the department and include general education courses and prerequisite courses. At a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, Kernan said her bill’s purpose is to make it easier for students who transfer to different universities to use the credits they’ve already earned from previous courses toward their college degrees. Kernan’s bill is supported by New Mexico Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron. At last week’s hearing, Damron described meta-majors as a group of courses set under a list of broad subjects that undecided college students can choose from to create a path toward their eventual major.

House committee advances bill to raise state’s minimum wage

Lawmakers took a step Wednesday toward raising New Mexico’s minimum wage. Members of the House Labor and Economic Development committee voted 6-5 along party lines to advance a bill sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, that would increase the state minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $10.10 over the next three years. Tipped employees would have to be paid at least 40 percent of the minimum wage, a boost from the $2.13 per hour they’re now paid. And starting in 2021, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually based on the cost of living. Business groups have fiercely opposed such legislation.

Minimum wage increase, harsher criminal penalties among pre-filed legislation

State lawmakers have been able to prefile legislation for the upcoming legislative session since last Thursday. Already, they have introduced some high profile bills such as increasing the minimum wage, automatic voter registration and increasing penalties for certain crimes. Two efforts to amend the state constitution to tap the land grant permanent fund to provide money for early childhood education as bills will likely also make headlines when the session starts in mid-January. As in the past two legislative sessions, proposals to increase the penalties for crimes largely come from members of the House. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque will again try to expand the state’s three strikes law.

New Mexico Super PACs: Winners and Losers

Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But that single victory came at a cost. Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate. The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts.

Pro- and anti-abortion rights groups spend thousands on local races

In a campaign season dominated by Donald Trump’s comments on groping women and several allegations against him of doing so, media attention on traditionally hot-button electoral issues like abortion access has been relegated to the side. But that doesn’t mean advocates aren’t using the issue of abortion to influence elections this year. On the local level, two political action committees on opposing sides of abortion rights are injecting thousands of dollars to influence down-ballot races. Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, for example, raised $10,000 to target four hotly contested state legislative races that could help decide which party controls the state House of Representatives and state Senate. The Right to Life Committee of New Mexico PAC, on the other hand, has spent more than $4,500 in the primaries and general election to encourage its base, which opposes abortion rights, to vote in a year that’s expected to be an uphill climb for Republicans.

Cig taxes, lottery scholarship and more: Pre-filed legislation from Senate

The legislative session starts today, but already Legislators have introduced hundreds of bills, memorials and joint resolutions. The Senate has over 150 such pieces of legislation. NM Political Report took a look at the pre-filed legislation two weeks ago. Now, we will look at the rest of the legislation introduced between then and the end of pre-filing on Friday. Yesterday, we took a look at the pre-filed legislation from the House.

Lawmakers protect title loan firms while borrowers pay sky-high interest rates

How millions in campaign contributions help block laws to crack down on lending abuses

After years of financial ups and downs, Gloria Whitaker needed some quick cash to help keep a roof over her head. So she and her son, Devon, went to a TitleBucks store in Las Vegas and took out a $2,000 loan, pledging his gold 2002 Ford F-150 truck as collateral. Whitaker, 66, said nobody verified she, or her jobless son, could repay the loan, which carried interest of 121.545 percent. When she paid off the loan, she said, the company didn’t give back the title to the truck. Instead, employees talked her into borrowing $2,000 more, which plunged the family deeper into debt, she said. Whitaker knows that was a mistake, but also feels misled by aggressive — and legally dubious — lending tactics.

Conservation group touts success while releasing scorecard

Conservation Voters New Mexico released the group’s annual conservation scorecard that rates legislators on how they voted on select conservation bills. While releasing the card, the group noted that it has successfully fought back what it calls anti-conservation legislation for 11 years in a row—but the new House Republican majority made it a more difficult fight. “We knew that we were in for a brutal fight to hold back the anti-conservation legislation,” executive director Demis Foster said on the conference call announcing the results. Foster said that a new trend showed more legislators than ever—37—earned 100 percent scores while more legislators than ever —nine—earned a 0 percent score. Senate scores higher than House

Members of the Senate received higher scores from CVNM than the House.

NM GOP chair highlights four Senate targets

Republican Party of New Mexico chair Debbie Maestas outlined four Democratic targets in the party’s quest to take control of the state Senate. Included is the largest thorn in the side of Gov. Susana Martinez, herself a Republican, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen. The Roswell Daily Record reported on comments Maestas made to the Chaves County Republican Women. Maestas said Republicans are targeting the seats of Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, Sen. John Sapien of Corrales, Sen. William Soules of Las Cruces and Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen. Sapien has already received a challenger, Diego Espinoza.

Sanchez outlines Dem opposition to Martinez priorities

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said that Susana Martinez needs to admit her mistakes and outlined the Martinez initiatives that Senate Democrats would oppose. Sanchez made his remarks in the Senate Democratic response to Martinez’s State of the State Address. See New Mexico Political Report’s report on the State of the State address here. “It really takes courage to admit that you’re wrong,” Sanchez said. “The governor needs to that she’s wrong on education and right-to-work.