House sends bill creating new early ed department to governor’s desk

One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pet initiatives will soon be on her desk for a signature, after the state House of Representatives on Saturday voted 41-8 to approve a bill that would create an Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The department would oversee all programs for infants and young children in New Mexico, including home visits for families of new babies, child care assistance and prekindergarten. Currently those programs are spread out over a number of state agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children, Youth and Families Department. State Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said this bill will combine all of those services into one new division, overseen by a Cabinet-level secretary. “What we are doing here with this bill, by combining all of the services for early learning, we are in fact making it more efficient,” said Trujillo, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 22 with Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque.

Senate Finance Committee restores bill creating early ed department

Just days after the Senate Education Committee drastically pared down a bill creating a new early childhood education department — stripping much of its oversight of programs for young children — the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, convinced another panel of lawmakers to reverse the changes. The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment undoing the earlier move, which would have torn the proposed new department in half. “We heard a rallying cry that people want full accountability and continuity across the early childhood education spectrum,” Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, said Thursday after the Finance Committee’s vote. The new amendment of Senate Bill 22 makes it clear that the early childhood education department — which Padilla envisions as a one-stop shop of services for children from birth to age 5, including prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds — will maintain oversight of all such programs.

Currently, several state agencies provide programs for children and oversee services offered by private contractors. Among them are the Public Education Department, the Children, Youth and Families Department, the Human Services Department and the Department of Health.

Senators pare back proposed childhood ed agency

A bipartisan group of state senators on Monday balked at creating a new department to centralize early childhood education programs, stripping the proposed agency of about half of its responsibilities. Members of the Senate Education Committee voted 5-4 to amend Senate Bill 22, which would establish the centralized agency. The change would keep programs for 4-year-olds under the purview of the Public Education Department. The bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque, said the amendment hurts his proposal. “It defeats the ability to ensure consistency across the early childhood education spectrum,” he said.

The year for legal weed? Bill gets mixed reviews on both sides

After years of efforts by drug-law reform advocates, could this be the year that New Mexico legalizes marijuana? There’s little doubt that the state is closer now than ever, with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez — an unyielding opponent of marijuana for recreational use — out of the picture and new Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on the record saying she’d sign a legalization bill as long as it had proper safeguards. But few, if indeed any, people at the Capitol are predicting House Bill 356, introduced last week by Rep. Javier Martinez, will make it out of the Legislature this year. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Rep. Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said in a recent interview, calling the state and federal governments’ decade-sold anti-marijuana policy a failure. If the bill passes the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs it into law, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana would be legal for those over 21.

Mimi Stewart elected Senate majority whip

State Sen. Mimi Stewart will replace fellow Albuquerque Democrat Michael Padilla as Senate majority whip, elevating her to a leadership position for the first time after 23 years in the New Mexico Legislature. Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Monday, chose Stewart to replace Padilla, who Senate Democrats voted to remove from the post because of an old sexual harassment case that took place before he was elected to the Senate. Stewart, a retired educator, said she believes she was chosen because of hard work. “You know I’m a teacher by trade,” she said. “I told my students, `I have eyes in the back of my head.’

Senate Dems remove Padilla from leadership

Responding to renewed attention on sexual harassment, New Mexico Democrats removed Sen. Michael Padilla from his position as Majority Whip in the chamber on Saturday. The move comes two weeks after Padilla dropped out of the race for Lieutenant Governor. Democrats in Senate leadership released laudatory statements when announcing the caucus voted to vacate the whip position. “Senator Padilla is a valued member of the New Mexico state Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said. “We look forward to supporting his ongoing legislative efforts to create jobs and help New Mexico families.”

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen also praised Padilla.

Padilla drops out of Lt. Gov. race because of decade-old sexual harassment claims

State Senator Michael Padilla dropped out of the race for Lieutenant Governor Monday afternoon. The move came just two weeks after gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham said he should drop out because of past sexual harassment allegations which led to the city of Albuquerque paying out almost $250,000. Padilla has denied the allegations. “I do not want to be a distraction as we come together as New Mexicans to solve this unacceptable work place issue,” Padilla said in a statement to media, though not NM Political Report. Padilla is still the Senate Majority Whip, a leadership position.

Lujan Grisham says Padilla should leave Lt. Gov. race over sexual harassment claims

A top Democratic gubernatorial candidates says a Lt. Gov. candidate should step down because of sexual harassment claims from a decade ago. Michelle Lujan Grisham told the Associated Press she believed State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, should not run for the state’s second-highest position because of the claims.

In New Mexico, the governor and lieutenant governor of major parties are each nominated separately in party primaries, then run as a ticket in the general election. The allegations date back to before Padilla’s political career, when he worked for the city of Albuquerque at the city’s 911 call center. Padilla faced a suit in federal court from five women for creating a hostile work environment and sexual harassment. Padilla resigned, but denied the allegations.

Senate Majority Whip running for Lt. Gov.

A member of Democratic state senate leadership announced he is running for Lieutenant Governor. Michael Padilla, the Majority Whip in the state Senate, made the announcement early Monday morning. He says his focus while running for Lt. Gov. will be similar to his focus during his four years in the state senate. “Helping New Mexico end poverty will be the focus of my campaign for Lieutenant Governor,” Padilla said in a statement. Padilla mentioned early childhood development in his announcement.

Legislature pass budget, tax bills, waits on governor’s actions

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.