House OKs bill to revamp teacher evaluation system

For years many educators, public education supporters and teacher union representatives have said New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system is punitive and unfair. But immediately after taking office in early January, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order requiring the Public Education Department to retool that system. On Monday night, the House of Representatives took a step toward making that goal a reality when it voted 52-14 to give a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 212, which would rework measures currently in place. While some proposed changes seem cosmetic, such as having four different evaluation levels rather than the current five, defining the best teachers as “distinguished” rather than “exemplary,” others are more significant. For example, House Bill 212 reduces the percentage of student achievement scores used in the ratings, to 15 percent from 35 percent.

Nearing midway point of a fast-paced session, Dem dominance chafes GOP

Brian Egolf, speaker of the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives, says the body is moving legislation faster than ever, clearing the way for reform of every level of state government. The House minority leader, Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, says Egolf doesn’t ask for input or collaboration. He simply reveals what’s coming and how it’s going to play out, Townsend said. Welcome to the halfway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session. Proceedings in the House often are angry and combative, as outnumbered Republicans say their side is being ignored or steamrolled.

Dems back bill prohibiting state funds for private school books

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee closed ranks Wednesday behind a bill that would prohibit public money from being spent on textbooks for private schools, perhaps putting the lawmakers at odds with a state Supreme Court decision. The committee voted 10-4 along party lines for House Bill 45, which would require timely state funding for textbooks for public schools. The measure also would exclude private schools from receiving public money for books or other instructional materials. Republican lawmakers say the bill defies a Supreme Court decision. The justices found in December that providing textbooks to private schools, a long-standing practice in New Mexico, is permissible under the state constitution.

Some Martinez vetoes get pushback

Some vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez are raising eyebrows among legislators and others—and at least one partial veto may be challenged in court. Wednesday was the final day for Martinez to decide whether or not to sign bills from this year’s legislative session. She signed 80 bills into law, but vetoed 31 others. Some she rejected using her veto pen, while with others she just allowed time to run out in what is called a “pocket veto.”

One portion of a bill that may see a new life was part of the crime omnibus bill the Legislature passed in response to the spike in crime, particularly in Albuquerque. The bill combined a number of ideas aimed at reducing crimes.

Senator calls on Martinez appointee as education chief to resign

State Sen. Linda Lopez is calling for the head of the New Mexico Public Education Department to resign over comments last month touting Manifest Destiny as one of the “fundamental principles of the country” — remarks that drew a scathing rebuke from Pueblo leaders. The department says Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski has reached out to tribal officials to express remorse after his comments at a charter school conference were reported in The Albuquerque Journal. But the remarks have still stirred outrage among indigenous New Mexicans who argue Ruszkowski demonstrated a lack of understanding about the history of westward expansion and the role of the education system in dispossessing Native Americans. The comments even drew the attention of The Washington Post this month. In a letter to Ruszkowski, Lopez wrote that he had still not explained what she described as “ill-advised comments.”

Court fight possible over validity of governor’s vetoes

Judges may have to decide whether five bills that Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed during the last week will actually become law. Democratic lawmakers say the Republican governor did not properly veto the legislation, which includes a bill to allow research on industrial hemp in New Mexico, and they maintain the measures will become law after all. On Friday, the deputy to Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said her office would not add the bills to the law books unless instructed by a court. “Whether the governor met her constitutional obligation by vetoing these five bills in the manner in which she did is a question that should be answered by our court system,” Deputy Secretary of State John Blair said in an email. “This office will swiftly chapter these bills if and when we receive guidance from the New Mexico courts to do so,” he added, referring to the secretary of state’s role of assigning code numbers to new laws.

Budget crisis pushes session to breakneck start

Very little legislating typically occurs during the first week of New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session. Instead, the first days are more commonly dedicated to speeches, organizational meetings of various committees and perhaps a few proclamations recognizing prominent New Mexicans or the successes of high school sports teams.

But with the state in a budget crisis, this year’s session has started with a sprint, especially in the Senate. “We’re moving rather rapidly,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said after his body approved four bills on the session’s second day to balance New Mexico’s budget in the face of a projected $69 million deficit. Those measures have moved to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Not until legislators balance this year’s budget can they begin work in earnest on a budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Solvency bills clear House on near-party-line vote

What Republicans called pork, Democrats called crucial funding for communities and public safety. What Democrats called an effort to modernize accounting practices, Republicans called a gimmick. Less than a week after Gov. Susana Martinez encouraged lawmakers to work together to solve the state’s projected $69 million budget deficit, the House of Representatives on Saturday waged a partisan fight on two bills to make New Mexico solvent. Democrats, who control the House 38-32, saw their bills approved in votes that went mostly along party lines. Similar legislation easily cleared the state Senate with bipartisan support.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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2016 Top Stories #5: NM Dems buck national trend, retake House

As Democrats around the country were reeling from an unexpected loss in the presidential and many congressional races, New Mexico saw Democrats take back control of the state House of Representatives. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6

This came two years after Democrats lost control of the House—where they held a majority for almost half a century. Conservative super PAC Advance Now New Mexico shelled out large amounts of cash towards unseating Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But some critics felt that the PAC didn’t spend enough time focused on on maintaining the majority in the House or unseating other Senate Democrats. Hatch Mayor Andy Nunez, a Republican, lost his legislative seat in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Smalls.