Toulouse Oliver calls for sexual harassment training for NM lobbyists

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced a plan today for lobbyists to take sexual harassment training before each session of the New Mexico Legislature. “Sexual harassment in any form is never acceptable,” Toulouse Oliver said in emailed statement to reporters. “This is just a first step, but it is my hope that by giving lobbyists the opportunity to enroll in sexual harassment training programs, we will be able to prevent some instances of misconduct from happening in the first place.”
The current lobbyist registration forms will be amended to include a checkbox for lobbyists to confirm they have taken the training. Those forms will be searchable and online. The training would be voluntary, but Toulouse Oliver hopes it could someday be mandatory.

As transportation tech hits new age, New Mexico lags behind

State Sen. James White, R-Albuquerque, recently joined state legislators from around the country for a meeting of the Council of State Governments in Detroit, Michigan. At one event, he and two others sat in a car. White wasn’t driving. Neither was anyone else in the car. In fact, there was no steering wheel.

Guv approves funding for higher-ed, Legislature

Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation that reinstates funding to the Legislature and higher education— two things she vetoed during the regular session. Martinez also partially vetoed a bill that would have moved money from other funds into the state’s general fund. In her message, Martinez criticized the Legislature for taking money from fund balances “that do not exist.”

“We cannot balance a budget with funny money,” Martinez wrote. Martinez  also vetoed a proposal to increase gas taxes and permits for gas haulers. “I have said since my first day in office that New Mexicans are overtaxed and state government overspends.”

The Legislature is set to reconvene Tuesday to decide whether to override Martinez’s vetoes or adjourn until next year.

Uncertainty surrounds fire department funding

Many New Mexicans are fully aware that, with the summer, fire season is just around the corner. But James Canyon Fire Chief Bill Hanson goes further. “Fire season is here,” Hanson said. What is approaching, Hanson said, is the end of the fiscal year. And his volunteer fire department, located just east of Alamogordo, still doesn’t know how much money they’ll receive or when the money will arrive.

Date set for oral arguments in Legislature’s suit against Guv

The New Mexico Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by the state Legislature against Gov. Susana Martinez over some line-item vetoes she made to the state budget. The oral arguments will take place May 15 at 9 a.m. Ahead of this, the court ordered the governor’s office to submit a response to the suit by May 5. The Legislature will be allowed to file a reply by May 10. Also, the court asked the New Mexico Council of University Presidents to file a brief as part of the lawsuit by May 5. At issues are two large line-item vetoes Martinez made to the budget, one cutting the entire higher education budget and the other cutting the entire budget of the Legislature.

Industry comes out in force, committee kills energy surtax for early childhood ed funding

On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.

We must properly fund New Mexico’s court system

New Mexico’s courts face a funding crisis that threatens to undermine the judiciary’s ability to protect our rights by delivering timely justice. We must act now to prevent further damage. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels recently told a legislative committee, “We are now basically on life support through the end of this fiscal year.”
Pete Campos is a Democratic state senator who represents the Las Vegas area. In courthouses across the state, New Mexicans can see the corrosive effects of budget cuts and underfunding of the judiciary. Most magistrate courts are closed to the public for at least half a day each week because the courts are unable to fill vacant staff positions.

Time to work wiser and smarter

State Sen. Pete Campos is a Democrat who represents the 8th Senate District in New Mexico. In early June, the New Mexico Legislature met for a one-day session to pass supplemental appropriations for some state agencies, a tax relief package and, most importantly, a $295 million capital outlay package to inject much-needed infrastructure funding into communities and projects across the state.  While it is true that a special session only became necessary because the legislature could not come to an agreement among a majority of its members and the governor, the negotiation, passage and signing of the special session bills are a prime example of how effective policymakers in New Mexico can be when we all agree on the importance of something and are willing to compromise on a solution to fix it. I am retired now, and so, since July 1, I have spent day after day traveling around New Mexico, beginning in the district I represent.  In each community I visit, and with most of the people I speak with, several recurring themes emerge.  Communities in every corner of the state, many of them small, rural ones, have educational facilities and state and local highways, bridges and roads in dire need of repair or replacement and small businesses just trying to survive.  Community leaders also repeatedly identify a need to improve infrastructure delivery for clean water, wastewater and solid waste systems and good public health care and health care facilities as important. The State of New Mexico can do a lot more to help these people and their communities!  We have a capital outlay system that begs for meaningful reform.  Millions of unspent dollars languish in state coffers that realistically are not sufficient to complete a phase or an entire project, and no other alternative exists but to claw back or revert these funds.  These funds could be put to use improving roads, schools and public water systems.  More could be done to encourage people to take advantage of free or low-cost preventive health care services, which will lead to lower health care costs and healthier lifestyles. These are a few steps we can take, some simple and others more complex, to continue assisting New Mexico with its immediate problems and simultaneously move toward solving issues that hold back our efforts to improve our health, safety and the economy.  This fundamental approach will prepare us for a more robust economy, a skilled, healthy and happy work force gainfully employed and the basis to keep our children living and working in the state.

Parents Have the Right to Opt Their Children Out of Standardized Testing | by Sen. Howie Morales

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]HOWIE MORALES is a Democratic state senator from Catron, Grant and Socorro Counties. He is an educator, member of the Senate Education committee, and former candidate for governor. [/box]

There is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (PARCC) that will be administered to students from grades 3-11 this spring. I want to clarify the options parents have in deciding to opt their children out of taking this test. Many of you have expressed concern and, indeed, dissatisfaction with the intensity of the current amount of standardized testing taking place in our schools. One of the top concerns I share is the elimination of a parent’s right in deciding whether or not their child has to take the test.  I was appalled to be notified that school districts are intentionally telling parents that they cannot “opt out” their children from taking standardized tests.