[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]BETTY PATTERSON is President of the National Education Association, New Mexico, a statewide union for educators.[/box]
Several of the Governor’s highest priorities for this recently completed legislative session were on education issues. We agree emphasizing public education is appropriate. It is the single issue with the greatest impact on New Mexico’s overall future: public education. We wonder why education is given short shrift in coverage of legislative outcomes. Promoters of the wrongly-labeled “right to work” bills distracted legislators from the important work at hand to improve our schools. If passed, it would have increased the impact of poverty on the readiness of many students to learn, and it would have lessened the impact of teachers and other educators when raising our collective voice on education issues. Teachers and other education professionals should be heard. We applaud legislative champions who defeated the “Right to Work” bill, and laud those who made strengthening public schools their top priority in the first session of the 52nd New Mexico State Legislature. If next year’s session is also distracted by such unneeded and harmful legislation, we will rise again. Elections have serious consequences; the loss of a pro-public education majority in the House meant a great deal of effort defeating other very bad ideas such as vouchers and a budget that falls short. The budget has no salary increase for school employees other than new teachers and merit pay for teachers tied to the highly-flawed PED evaluation system. When teachers compete with each other for higher test-score results this hurts students in many ways. These negative impacts are compounded when schools are also “graded” based on standardized tests. Unfortunately, the Merit Pay plan remains in the budget.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]MICHAEL PADILLA is a Democratic state senator representing District 14 (Bernalillo) and currently serves as the Majority Whip for New Mexico’s state senate.[/box]
The 2015 Legislative Session now has less than a week to finish all its work, but there is still plenty of time to address the most pressing need in New Mexico today: more jobs. Early in this 60-day meeting of the legislature, Senate Democrats laid out our priorities through an ambitious ‘Ready to Work’ Jobs Plan. The plan creates 73,000 jobs over the next five years and stimulates greater economic activity across New Mexico. The plan is comprised of more than 50 bills introduced in the current session that promise new employment and economic activity in urban and rural areas of the state, across a broad range of occupations. Our plan also meets two significant challenges.
A Senate committee blocked the passage of two right-to-work bills on Tuesday evening. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted to table two different bills aimed at barring employers from requiring union payments as a term of employment and from unions and employers agreeing to ‘fair share’ agreements from non-union workers who benefit from union negotiations. The committee heard HB 75 from Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, and SB 183 from Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington. Roch’s bill went through a series of highly-attended committee meetings in the House and a House floor vote. This was the first committee for Sharer’s bill.
A Senate committee heard public comment on a handful of bills related to labor unions on Sunday afternoon. The Senate Public Affairs Committee heard two hours of public testimony on three different right-to-work bills and another aimed at changing how unions with limited members operate. Three other bills that were presented in the committee have ‘Employee Preference’ in the title and propose to allow employees the choice to pay for union negotiations or not. While it is already illegal for employers to require union membership as a term of employment, some employees have to pay what is known as ‘fair share’. Those in favor of right-to-work legislation have argued that employees should be able to choose whether they pay the union for representation.
An effort to bypass the committee process for right-to-work legislation failed on a party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle asked to move the right-to-work legislation to a committee of the whole instead of going through the traditional committee process and the three committees to which it was assigned. The bill was ultimately assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans have complained that the right-to-work legislation has yet to be heard since passing the state House on a near-party-line vote. The chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that it would be heard on Sunday and invited all the Senators to attend.
A prominent business group in the state raised the possibility of a special session following this year’s 60-day legislative session. The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce made this statement in the nightly legislative news roundup sent out on Tuesday night. “The business community doesn’t like the idea of a special session any more the the Legislature,” a section of the newsletter read, “but if that means we finally get a fair hearing or fair shot at some of the public’s most important and most favored initiatives… we’re in.” New Mexico Political Report reached out to the governor’s office throughout Wednesday afternoon to see if any such discussions had been held.
After a lengthy floor debate, the House passed right-to-work legislation on a near party-line vote, with one Democrat voting in favor of the legislation. The Employee Preference Act, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, was debated for almost four hours before the members voted 37-30 on an amended version of HB 75. The legislation was amended on the floor to more closely tie a minimum wage increase to the right-to-work portion of the bill. The legislation had also been previously amended in committee. Roch told the body that his proposed amendment added a contingent repeal that would strip the bill of the minimum wage portion in the event that a New Mexico judge rules fair share payments unconstitutional and vice versa.
In the past couple of weeks, the Albuquerque Journal has published some poll results regarding hot-button topics from this legislative session. The surveys, conducted by New Mexican company Research and Polling Inc., asked registered voters about right-to-work, minimum wage increases, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and third-grade retention legislation. Some have used the results to support their causes, while others have called the questions flawed. New Mexico Political Report spoke with the company’s president Brian Sanderoff about how his company’s polling questions are written and how he strives for well-balanced questions. Sanderoff started working in polling after he graduated from the University of New Mexico.
A poll conducted for the Albuquerque Journal, and released over the last two days, showed high support for a number of high-profile issues facing the legislature during the legislative session. The poll finds widespread support for implementing third-grade retention, right-to-work legislation and repealing the law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. The poll also shows widespread support for an increase to the minimum wage. Questions from the poll release on Sunday found 60 percent of New Mexicans believe union fees should not be mandatory in companies with collective bargaining with unions and that 71 percent support raising the minimum wage beyond the current $7.50 per hour. Results release on Monday found 70 percent don’t like the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses while 67 percent support holding back third-graders who cannot read at third-grade level.
Sen. Tom Udall was in New Mexico and addressed a joint session of the House and Senate on Friday. Udall addressed the state’s economy and early childhood education. This was the fourth joint session with U.S delegates of the week. Earlier in the week, lawmakers heard from Reps. Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham.