The state House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ask New Mexicans for an additional piece of the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. The House passed the proposed constitutional amendment by a vote of 36-33 that fell mostly along party lines after hours of debate that were both wonkish and visceral — dealing with a facet of the state’s finances that is arcane but deeply rooted in New Mexico’s history. In the Land Grant Permanent Fund, lawmakers argued alternately, there is an opportunity to break generational cycles of poverty or a risk of imperiling the state’s financial future. Progressives and advocates for children’s issues have pushed similar proposals for years, arguing additional money from the fund could provide a needed boost for families in the state with the highest rate of child poverty. But critics in both parties have countered that taking an additional 1 percent of the fund would strain the Land Grant Permanent Fund in the future.
State lawmakers did not know Jeremiah Valencia during his short, tormented life. But 13-year-old Jeremiah’s death dominated debate at a lengthy legislative hearing Thursday. At issue was a bill to make intentional child abuse resulting in death a first-degree felony that carries a life prison sentence, regardless of a child’s age. Under current state law on child abuse, life sentences can only be given to defendants who intentionally kill a child younger than 12. Someone who abuses and kills a child between 13 and 18 can receive a sentence of up to 18 years.
Democrats are backing away from a candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District after his arrest for stalking. David Alcon was arrested in Albuquerque Friday on a warrant from Santa Fe police for allegedly stalking a woman. He was previously arrested for trespassing and aggravated stalking in 2007. He told the Albuquerque Journal that he had mental health issues which he had worked hard to manage. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect Democrats to Congress, distanced itself from Alcon.
Just shy of his third year in the United States, 24-year-old oil pipeline worker Diego Navarro said goodbye to his California friends. It was early April, and the Oklahoma resident was anxious to return home, having used a break in his work schedule to make the trip west. Navarro, who entered the U.S. without documentation in 2014, typically worked 10- to 14-hour days as part of the country’s petroleum processing machine. But at a stop for gas during the drive back with a friend, Navarro was swept up in the billion-dollar business of private immigrant detention instead. This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Both the House and Senate recessed Thursday afternoon—without officially ending the special session. Now, the governor has three days to take action on four bills aimed at tax changes and reinstating funding to the Legislative branch and institutes of higher education. By recessing until Tuesday instead of adjourning, the House and Senate could still introduce new legislation to replace anything Gov. Susana Martinez might veto. Martinez, in an atypical statement, praised the Legislature for some of their work. “In a bipartisan manner, lawmakers passed my plan to put more funding toward cancer research and student financial aid, while at the same time forfeiting their pork projects and a small portion of their personal legislative retirement accounts to fill the budget hole — something I’ve urged them to do for months,” she said.
The state minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour from $7.50 by April 2018 if Gov. Susana Martinez signs a bill that has been passed by both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 41-27 to pass Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. The bill would increase New Mexico’s hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018. It also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October. The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.
A legislative committee on Monday effectively killed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases — an issue that drew large crowds to the Capitol as well as big campaign contributions and intense lobbying and advertising. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548 after a lengthy hearing. It marked the defeat of the most recent gun-control bill sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Democrat Eliseo Alcon of Milan joined the six Republicans on the panel to stop the measure, which would have required background checks on all sales of firearms at gun shows and from advertisements on the internet or print publications. Garcia Richard said other states that have approved similar bills have seen fewer violent crimes and suicides involving guns.
A panel of state lawmakers spent five hours Sunday hearing and debating two bills that would have restricted abortion access in New Mexico before tabling them on party lines. At one point, state Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, bemoaned the predictability of the situation. “I was going to ask some questions, but it’s futile,” he said to the sponsors of a bill to ban abortions after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. “We all know how this committee is going to vote. This bill is going to die on a 3-2 vote.”
On controversial abortion bills, Democratic legislators have had a tendency this year to hear prolonged, passionate testimonies and debates—then quickly vote to table the bills. That happened again Thursday afternoon, when the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee devoted two hours to a controversial bill on what anti-abortion advocates call “born alive” infants. Several people testified in both support and opposition to the bill. Soon, Reps. Bob Wooley and Monica Youngblood, Republicans from Roswell and Albuquerque, respectively, asked lengthy questions of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.
Adults over 21 would be able to legally buy, possess and smoke marijuana under a bill that survived its first hearing Saturday in the state House of Representatives. The Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-1 to advance the bill without a recommendation. Sponsored by Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, House Bill 89 moves ahead to the House Judiciary Committee. His proposal would tax and regulate recreational marijuana, as is done in eight other states, including neighboring Colorado. It would earmark 40 percent of taxes from cannabis sales for education and designate other proceeds to government programs.