January 19, 2023

Legislative Roundup: 1/19

Matthew Reichbach

Days remaining in session: 58

Oh, how sweet: State Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, is urging Democratic lawmakers to use caution with the record level of revenues at the Legislature’s disposal this year — and she’s doing it in a really sweet way.

On the desk of her office on the fourth floor of the state Capitol, Diamond has a bowl of chocolates and mints in money candy wrappers.

“If the Democrats are handing out money like it’s candy, we can begin by handing out candy like it’s money,” she said.

While “it’s all in good fun,” Diamond said state spending amid record revenue projections is serious business.

“We’re looking at, what, a $9.4 billion budget,” she said. “But what we also need to consider is there’s more money than that that’s being proposed to be spent because of all the proposed legislation that’s introduced, not included [in the proposed budget]. We’re looking at $11, $12 billion if all of those proposed bills were to pass. That’s the total cost to New Mexico.”

Spending money when it’s available isn’t necessarily a bad thing, added Diamond, a self-described fiscal conservative.

“The argument to be made is how are we spending this money to ensure we’re spending it wisely,” she said.

Knowing the drill: Four members of Santa Fe High School’s Naval Junior ROTC color guard displayed military precision and pride as they conducted an exhibition of their drilling skills Thursday before an appreciative crowd in the rotunda of the Roundhouse.

The state Capitol was celebrating Senior Day, and a number of seniors wearing caps and hats identifying them as veterans stood proudly at attention during a rendition of the National Anthem. 

The four students — Maira Juarez, Wendy Muñoz, Truitt Lemmon and Emilio Leon — said their favorite thing about the program is the people they work with. Leon said the program is teaching him life skills he can use to succeed. 

Junior ROTC courses are usually taught by retired military service personnel, who teach maritime history, world cultures, dress code standards, first-aid practices and military drills, among other subjects.

The Santa Fe High team has won numerous state ROTC championship tournaments. The program is celebrating its 55th year at the school, said Lt. Commander Craig Stapleton, who teaches naval science. 

Play ball — basketball, that is: One of the few consistently bipartisan efforts in the Legislature will take place March 9 at Santa Fe Indian School. That’s the “Hoops 4 Hope” basketball game, which pits members of the Senate against members of the House to raise funds for cancer research and treatment at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, organizes these games. Last year he said the games had raised over $70,000.

Legislators had to cancel the game in the past two years, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House holds the championship trophy, but O’Neill said the Senate will come back this year and reclaim it. Stay tuned for more details on the game.

Rural vs. urban: Some House Appropriations and Finance Committee members who represent rural parts of the state once again voiced concerns about a proposal to extend the year at public schools.

Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said all the school districts she represents operate on four-day weeks for a number of reasons, including employee shortages and long bus rides for kids. Staffing is so tight, she said, at least one teacher she knows doubles as a bus driver.

Analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee told Armstrong the proposal to increase instructional hours would add about 10 minutes a day for secondary students and 24 minutes a day at elementary schools.

Rep. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington, said the proposal should come with performance measure goals to ensure children are benefiting from the extra hours.

Rep. Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring such a bill, said it would include performance goals.

Legislative priorities: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will discuss her 2023 legislative priorities at the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce’s Business Day from 7-10 a.m. Tuesday in the Lumpkins Ballroom of La Fonda on the Plaza.

Lawmakers from both the House of Representatives and the Senate are expected to be on hand. Call Selah Cantwell at 321-505-7521 for more information.

Quote of the Day: “You know, Sen. Cervantes, I forgot to get you a birthday present, but at your age, [you’re] getting kind of hard to shop for. I don’t know what to get you. I can get you a cane. I can get you some undergarments.” — Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, joking with Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who celebrated his 62nd birthday Thursday. Cervantes said the image of Muñoz buying him undergarments is one he’d like to get out of his head.