Moratorium on charter schools heads to full House

A committee voted along party lines Saturday to temporarily halt the creation of any new charter schools, sending the moratorium to a vote in the full House of Representatives. Backers, including teachers unions, argue House Bill 46 would allow time to develop better oversight of charter schools and prevent new schools from drawing funding at a time when the budget for public education is already tight. But opponents, including the Public Education Department, business groups and parents with children on waiting lists for existing charter schools, argue the measure would limit options for students. “The victims of this legislation will be those families and those students who need those alternatives,” J.D. Bullington, a lobbyist for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, told the House Education Committee. The committee voted 7-6 to advance the measure.

Gov. orders agencies to consolidate human resources

In a shake-up of state government, Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered agencies throughout New Mexico’s bureaucracy to eliminate human resources divisions and shift responsibility for personnel matters to a single office. Martinez had telegraphed the move for months because of a budget crisis that has prompted cuts across New Mexico government. Her order follows through on a recommendation floated many times during the last several decades as a means of streamlining state bureaucracy and cutting costs. But Martinez’s executive decision also puts the jobs of hundreds of government employees in peril at a time when New Mexico’s unemployment rate is among the nation’s highest. A spokesman for the State Personnel Office said it is still assessing how many employees will be affected but added that the move is expected to save millions of dollars each year.

Senators quiz then confirm new state Corrections chief

Senators on Friday unanimously confirmed David Jablonski as the new secretary of the Corrections Department but he still faced several questions about the controversies that shadowed his predecessor’s resignation last year. Gov. Susana Martinez tapped Jablonski to head the state’s prison, probation and parole system at the end of October, when Secretary Gregg Marcantel stepped down after five years capped by several high-profile slip-ups, budget cuts that strained staff and mounting tensions with the union representing corrections officers. The relatively smooth confirmation Friday signaled that lawmakers are looking for a turnaround in an agency roiled by successive crises. Lawmakers suggested, for example, that the state had failed in its oversight of a private contractor previously hired to provide health care to inmates. Citing an investigation by The New Mexican last year that revealed a questionable death, allegations of inadequate care and a pile of resulting lawsuits under the former contractor, Corizon, Sen. Jeff Steinborn urged Jablonski to ensure greater accountability from the new provider, Centurion.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.

Budget vetoes would force more cuts to essential services, senator warns

The state Senate’s leading budget hawk challenged Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday to reverse course and support proposals for raising taxes and fees or watch essential services get slashed even more. Sen. John Arthur Smith said any vetoes Martinez makes at this stage will force legislators to cut the budgets of public schools and health care as they follow the law to pass a balanced budget. “We’re out of places to find additional dollars,” Smith, D-Deming, said during a brief speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke hours after the House of Representatives approved a $6.08 billion budget and then moved it to the Senate for consideration. The budget crafted by the Democrat-controlled House would increase state revenue by some $250 million with tax and fee increases.

New Mexico House passes budget, tax package

The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.

Emergency funding bill for New Mexico courts heads to governor

After weeks of wrangling over emergency funds for New Mexico courts, the Legislature is sending the governor a bill that would provide $1.6 million to cover expenses for the next few months. The House of Representatives on Tuesday concurred with the Senate’s version of House Bill 261, which, if signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, will pay for jury trials and other costs for courts around the state for the rest of the budget year, which ends on June 30. The House initially passed a bill appropriating only $800,000, which would cover the cost of jury trials. However, the Senate doubled that amount to cover the judicial branch’s entire shortfall. House Republican Leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor, asked House members to accept the Senate’s changes.

Democrats push tax, budget plans to House floor

An effort that had broad support to bring in more money to New Mexico government by taxing all internet sales has mushroomed into a measure to raise additional money from hospitals, trucking companies, nonprofit organizations and car buyers. Democrats say the amendments to House Bill 202, originally an effort to raise $30 million by expanding the gross receipts tax to out-of-state internet transactions, are necessary to restore cash reserves and put the state on better financial footing to avoid further cuts to school districts and another credit downgrade. With the changes, the bill is now expected to bring in $265 million in ongoing revenue. Some $1 million a year would come from the legislative retirement fund. A sponsor of the tax bill, Rep. Carl Trujillo D-Santa Fe, said lawmakers have cut spending, both during the 2016 session and again in an October special session.

Wrangling continues on raising New Mexico minimum wage

A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday. Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed. But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates. And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.

Bill would allow regulators to fine oil and gas companies for spills

In recent years, spills of crude oil, natural gas and drilling wastewater have increased even more rapidly than production has grown. Yet the state of New Mexico doesn’t fine or sanction oil and gas companies that pollute water. A bill before the state legislature seeks to change that. If passed, the bill wouldn’t create new rules or regulations. Instead, it would allow the state’s Oil Conservation Division (OCD) to impose penalties on polluting companies.