Legislators hold hearing, hear public comments on private prisons that hold immigrants

An interim committee hearing included harsh criticisms and personal stories of detention at private facilities which have contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee held a hearing Monday afternoon concerning two privately-operated prisons in New Mexico that detain immigrants. These include Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, which is run by CoreCivic, and the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, which is run by Management and Training Corporation. Legislators heard from an immigration attorney, advocates for immigrants and some in the country without authorization. The committee invited Ronald D. Vitello, the acting director of ICE, but he did not attend or even acknowledge the invitation.

Investigation, new calls for Trujillo to resign over sexual harassment allegations

Members of the state House announced a panel will investigate sexual harassment claims against State Rep. Carl Trujillo. Three  of his colleagues have already called on him to resign. The investigative subcommittee, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans from the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, will work with outside counsel and staff to investigate the allegations by Laura Bonar against the Santa Fe Democrat. Last week, Bonar said that Trujillo sexually harassed her. Trujillo responded by saying the “charges are lies” and withstood calls for him to resign.

Dems again push to use land grant to fund early childhood education

A ballot measure that calls for using more money from the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education is a small step closer to going to voters this year. The House Education Committee on Monday voted 7-6 along party lines to approve the constitutional amendment that backers say could expand access to education programs for young children across New Mexico, the state with the highest rate of child poverty. Republicans on the committee voted against the proposal. They say it could deplete a fund that now props up the budgets of New Mexico’s public schools and is supposed to last forever. Democrats in the House of Representatives have made a priority of getting the measure, House Joint Resolution 1, on the November ballot.

House attempt to override veto of teacher absences bill fails

House Republicans defeated an attempt to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez on a bill relating to teacher absences. This means Martinez’s veto remains in effect. The Friday vote to override Martinez’s veto failed on a 36-31, party-line vote. The vote would have needed 47 votes to succeed. Earlier this month, Martinez vetoed a bipartisan bill that allow teachers to take 10 days of sick leave before effecting their evaluations.

House panel passes bill to remove pre Roe v. Wade law criminalizing abortion

A Democratic-majority House committee voted along party lines Thursday afternoon to remove pre-Roe v. Wade language in state statute that criminalizes abortion practices. The original state law, passed in New Mexico in 1968, makes “criminal abortion” subject to a fourth-degree felony. It defines “criminal abortion” as any action or attempt at an “untimely termination” of a pregnancy that is not “medically justified.” A medically justified abortion, according to state law, is limited to abortions in cases of pregnancy from rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. The landmark 1972 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in most cases across the country, made state laws like this obsolete. Related story: House committee stalls another round of abortion bills

But proponents of the bill to strike the old state statute argue that the state language would go right back into law should the U.S. Supreme Court change Roe v. Wade in the future.

Martinez vetoes bill on use of sick leave impacting teachers’ evaluations

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation Thursday that would allow teachers to use their sick leave without it affecting their evaluations. Martinez said if the bill, which sponsors dubbed the “Teachers are Human Too Act,” became law, it would lead to more teacher absences, which would create more expenses, including for substitute teachers. Martinez said this would also lead to decreased quality of education. “We need our teachers in our classrooms, and House Bill 241 would lead to more teacher absences,” Martinez wrote. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing

The Public Education Department was unable to estimate in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report how many teacher absences there would be under the bill, and at what cost.

House passes bill to expand contraception access

The state House of Representatives approved a bill to preserve contraception coverage put in place as part of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand some access on a mostly party-line vote Monday evening. Three Republicans—state Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences—joined ranks with Democrats to approve the bill. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would expand access to contraceptives by requiring health insurance plans to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of their birth control prescription at one time. The bill would expand the types of contraceptives available over the counter and include condoms and vasectomies in health insurance plans.

House rejects charter school moratorium in tie vote

The House on Thursday rejected a two-and-a-half-year moratorium on licensing new charter schools in New Mexico. Thirty-four House members voted to pass House Bill 46, which would have prohibited a chartering authority — the state or a local school district — from accepting or approving any new applications until Jan. 1, 2020. But 34 representatives also voted against it. In a tie vote, a bill fails.

Moratorium on charter schools heads to full House

A committee voted along party lines Saturday to temporarily halt the creation of any new charter schools, sending the moratorium to a vote in the full House of Representatives. Backers, including teachers unions, argue House Bill 46 would allow time to develop better oversight of charter schools and prevent new schools from drawing funding at a time when the budget for public education is already tight. But opponents, including the Public Education Department, business groups and parents with children on waiting lists for existing charter schools, argue the measure would limit options for students. “The victims of this legislation will be those families and those students who need those alternatives,” J.D. Bullington, a lobbyist for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, told the House Education Committee. The committee voted 7-6 to advance the measure.

Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.