February 1, 2023

Legislative Roundup

Javier Gallegos/The Santa Fe New Mexican

Finley Johnston, right, Leyana Tercero, second from right, and other performers with the National Dance Institute of New Mexico perform Wednesday to the song "Route 66" in the House chamber at the Roundhouse. A performance for the Senate followed.

Days remaining in session: 44

“School choice” shot down: The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday tabled a bill that would have created a $100 million fund to help parents pay for their children’s private school tuition.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 109, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said after the hearing he wasn’t surprised by the committee’s 4-2 party-line vote that likely means the bill is dead this session.

“I’ve been up here 11 years, and we’ve done nothing to fix education. We just keep status quo, and that’s what we did again,” he said, adding he “completely expected” his proposal to be shot down by Senate Democrats “because the unions run the Democrat Party.”

Brandt, a committee member, joined Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, in voting against the motion to table the bill.

The bill called for a recurring $100 million appropriation to a so-called education freedom account. The bill also called for the Public Education Department to receive $580,000 to administer the program. 

Committee members raised several concerns about the bill, including whether it was constitutional. The New Mexico Constitution prohibits appropriations supporting “any sectarian, denominational or private school.”

“This is clearly a way of diverting public funds toward private schools and institutions, and I believe that to be wrong within not only in New Mexico but within our country,” committee Chairman Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said.

Career technical education OK’d: While the Senate Education Committee quashed Brandt’s “school choice” bill Wednesday, it unanimously endorsed a separate measure he introduced that would add a partial career technical education unit to the state’s per-student public school funding formula.

“This bill adds a .25 funding factor in the [State Equalization Guarantee] for students taking CTE courses,” Brandt said. “What we know is that that’s probably not going to be sufficient, but it at least gives us a starting point.”

Senate Bill 108 drew the support of the New Mexico Coalition of Education Leaders, the New Mexico School Boards Association, Public Charter Schools of New Mexico and the Associated General Contractors of New Mexico, among others.

Lilliemae Ortiz, legislative liaison for the school boards association, said the bill “opens up opportunities for our students to move into pathways that give them a better chance of success in this world.”

Brandt described the bill as a no-brainer.

“I think all of us on this committee and all of us on [the Legislative Education Study Committee] agree with the importance of it, what it means for our economy,” he told the committee. “We just need to figure out how to fund it.”

Senator contracts COVID-19: Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, has one of the COVID-19 cases that have emerged at the Roundhouse in the first weeks of the 60-day legislative session, according to one of his colleagues.

“Sen. Hickey is actually out with COVID,” Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said at the start of Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting.

“Please be careful. Wash your hands. Don’t breathe on people too much. All those kinds of things,” Soules added.

The session this year marks the first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic without masking, vaccination or testing requirements to gain entry to the state Capitol.

While positive test results are not being tracked, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said Tuesday COVID-19 is “starting up again.”

Rehm gets a pass: Democratic lawmakers on one House committee on Tuesday tabled five crime bills sponsored primarily by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque.

A day later, lawmakers on a different committee advanced Rehm’s proposal to change the process for detaining suspects until their trial.

House Joint Resolution 9, co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Andrea Reeb of Clovis and Stefani Lord of Sandia Park, proposes letting voters decide in the next general election whether to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to set the conditions under which defendants are detained without bail pending trial.

The resolution “would remove the requirement that detention without bail be requested by prosecutors and allow any court to deny bail,” according to a fiscal impact report.

Members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee advanced the resolution to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Get your kicks: Lawmakers in both chambers got a jolt of creative energy Wednesday when students from the National Dance Institute of New Mexico performed on both the House and Senate floors to a jazzy rendition of the Nat King Colesong “Route 66.”

Liz Salganek, artistic director of NDI New Mexico, told lawmakers the arts have the power to engage students and help develop their social, emotional and physical skills.

Jade Alvarenga, 14, who has been studying with the Santa Fe-based nonprofit dance troupe for six years, said showing lawmakers what the group can do is “exciting.”

Lawmakers took photos and videos of the performances and gave standing ovations to the students.

Quote of the day: “I still love you.” — Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, to Stan Rounds, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Education Leaders, after Rounds stood up to testify against a bill Brandt is sponsoring.