Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to fire Education Secretary Karen Trujillo on Monday took a lot of people in New Mexico by surprise, including Trujillo, who said she was blindsided.
It’s been three days, and some New Mexicans suspect they haven’t been given the real reason Trujillo was fired and why now.
The administration has said it was about her ability to communicate, manage and meet the governor’s expectations for transforming public education in New Mexico.
A spokesman initially pointed to the shaky rollout of a signature education program called K-5 Plus across the state, but the administration is beginning to walk back an effort to pin the firing on implementation of that program. Trujillo had pushed back, saying she didn’t get much direction from the governor and that she had raised alarm early on about how difficult K-5 Plus would be to implement immediately, as designed by the Legislature.
And Trujillo said if communication was deficient, it was on the part of the governor.
“It would have been nice to have a conversation with the governor where she said what her concerns were so that I could have done something about them, but that conversation never took place,” Trujillo said. Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s director of communications, said Trujillo heard from top administration officials from the governor’s office, including Lujan Grisham herself, about the governor’s frustration with her communications skills and leadership at the Public Education Department — and that Trujillo’s pushback comes from someone “with an axe to grind.”
“This was not infrequent communication. These concerns were not new. Interventions failed, a change had to be made,” Stelnicki said.
The state House of Representatives and the Senate may be on a collision course when it comes to how best to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law, a priority issue for Democrats in this year’s legislative session. That’s because the House on Wednesday night refused to budge on its proposal to the raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hours by Jan. 1, 2022 and then increase it in future years with a cost-of-living bump. The Senate, however, has approved a more modest proposal designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022, without any further cost-of-living increases.
A legislative committee on Tuesday blocked a bill that would have restricted late-term abortions in New Mexico and ensured that minors seeking an abortion obtain parental support. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee also voted to stop a bill that would allow hospitals and medical professionals to opt out of performing an abortion for moral or religious reasons stalled in the committee. The 3-2 votes fell along party lines in both cases, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans. The action came as no surprise, given the House of Representatives’ recent support for House Bill 51, which would repeal an unenforceable 50-year-old law that made it a fourth-degree felony to perform an abortion in New Mexico. That measure cleared the House on a 40-29 vote, with six Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.
Republicans in the House of Representatives want to use some of the state’s budget surplus to give every New Mexican $200. These rebates are part of a $6.6 billion budget that GOP lawmakers are putting forward as an alternative to a spending plan sponsored by Democrats and headed for a vote in the House as soon as Thursday night. The House Republican plan would still increase the state budget, but by 5 percent instead of the 11 percent boost in spending included in House Bill 2 and related legislation. New Mexico is in the midst of a windfall from an oil and gas boom, but GOP lawmakers caution that using too much of that money will only lead to tax increases or cuts in future years when the boom goes bust. The Republican proposal is a long shot in the House, where the party holds only 24 of 70 seats.
After a midterm election in which Democrats wrested back control of the Governor’s Office and expanded their majority in the state House of Representatives, Kelly Fajardo feels almost invisible at the Roundhouse this year. Fajardo, you see, is a Republican representative in a Democrat-dominated House, where members of the GOP are now outnumbered by the largest margin in two decades. “It just feels like we don’t matter,” said Fajardo, R-Los Lunas. “Our job is to create good policy, and when you’re going, ‘I don’t need you. I don’t need to listen to you,’ that creates a problem,” she said.
If Gov. Susana Martinez signs a Senate bill into law, New Mexico will become the 46th state to specifically define strangulation as a serious violent crime. State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored Senate Bill 61, called the Legislature’s unanimous support of the measure “a monumental achievement.” A former prosecutor, Ivey-Soto said he became aware of what he called the “insidiousness” of strangulation. It’s a powerful type of violence that signals to a victim “I have your very life in my hands,” he said. He credited the success of SB 61 to an aggressive, yearslong effort by victims advocates to educate lawmakers, attorneys, law enforcement officers and medical professionals about the prevalence of this potentially deadly act, which affects thousands of people in the state — sometimes with lifelong symptoms of brain trauma.
Gov. Susana Martinez stood on a sound stage in Albuquerque last summer crediting the film and television industry with injecting a record $505 million into the New Mexico economy over the previous fiscal year. But will the governor who sought to cut tax rebates for filmmakers when she first took office go along with a bill to lift the current cap on incentives, a measure that some say would provide an additional boost as the industry continues to prove a particularly busy part the state’s economy? Democratic legislators are pushing a bill that would eliminate the $50 million cap on the annual total of tax rebates the state provides film and television producers working in New Mexico. In an unusual inversion of the Legislature’s typical partisan dynamics, Democrats argue it would be a boon for business but Republicans contend it could strain the state’s budget and amount to a giveaway for out-of-state businesses. So even though the proposal, House Bill 113, passed its first committee on Wednesday, it only did so on party lines, casting doubt on whether the Republican governor would support it.
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 New Mexico lawmaker from Truth or Consequences agreed to settle a civil lawsuit alleging her negligence as an employer for $260,000. Republican state Rep. Rebecca Dow, who was elected last November, was accused of negligence when she hired and then promoted Alejandro Hernandez to work with children. Dow owns and operates both the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County and AppleTree Educational Center. While working for the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County, Hernandez had unlawful sexual conduct with two boys under his care. Hernandez is currently in jail for those crimes.
The House approved a bill to establish workplace protections for pregnant workers Tuesday afternoon on a 51-14 vote. The bill would require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers who ask for them. Sponsors and proponents of the bill have given examples of reasonable accommodations such as allowing pregnant women breaks to walk or to or drink water at their desks. Some of the legislators who raised concerns about the proposal during debate, such as state Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, ultimately voted for the measure. Dow said she worried about businesses being held liable to new damages.