Two bills that would have created new guidelines for grading New Mexico’s teachers stalled during the just-completed legislative session, but the state Public Education Department will continue to transition away from the evaluation system implemented by the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez. Troubled by a teacher shortage, department officials say they are aiming to finalize a new rule outlining teacher evaluation standards that could become law in the 2020 session of the state Legislature. “We are trying to rebuild some trust between the department and educators. Across the board we are looking to change how we give schools or teachers feedback,” PED Deputy Secretary for Teaching and Learning Gwen Warniment said. “The old system did not offer teachers any type of mechanism through which you were able to become a reflective practitioner.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and all fourteen of the state’s district attorneys are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill that would change laws governing probation and parole for criminal offenders. The prosecutors said in a letter Friday to the governor that the measure approved by the Legislature would jeopardize public safety. Supporters of the bill said that isn’t accurate. The letter is, at best, disingenuous, said House Judiciary Chairwoman Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s four sponsors. “We are looking at a new day here and a lot of what is claimed in that letter, the exact opposite is true,” Chasey said Friday.
The 60-day legislative session ended Saturday with a down-to-the-wire agreement on a sweeping tax bill that will raise rates on e-cigarettes and new vehicles while nearly doubling an income tax credit for some families. The scaled-back version of House Bill 6 approved by the Senate in the last 20 minutes before the final bang of the gavel was a fitting end to a session dominated for better or worse by the state’s financial outlook. Driving the session was a whopping budget surplus and the substantial increases in funding for education that it has financed. An oil boom generated the windfall, but there was fear among several lawmakers about what might befall New Mexico if fickle energy markets take a turn. For Republicans and even some skeptical lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, the tax bill represented a sort of “only in Santa Fe” paradox, with newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham looking to raise revenues at the same time that the state had a surplus of $1 billion this year.
With only minutes left on the clock on the last day of the legislative session, Republicans in the state House of Representatives didn’t even get one last chance to raise a ruckus. All they could do was raise a collective “Nay!” when asked if they approved a House-Senate compromise on a $7 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020. Outnumbered 46-24 by Democrats, the House Republicans were essentially muted as the session neared its close Saturday. And that’s how it had played out for most of the 60-day session.
ByMilan Simonich, Andrew Oxford, Robert Nott and Santa Fe New Mexican staff |
Here’s a capsule view of what happened during the state Legislature’s 60-day session that ended Saturday. Not so high: No, New Mexico isn’t legalizing recreational cannabis this year. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told reporters she will put it on the agenda next year. “We’re going to make that a priority,” she said. While the possibility of legalization captured attention this session, lawmakers drastically reduced the penalties for possessing the drug.
More New Mexicans would qualify for medical marijuana, and the 70,000-plus patients already in the state’s medical cannabis program would have to deal with less paperwork under legislation approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. On Friday, the House passed Senate Bill 406, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, which would add more qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use and would allow patients in the program to renew their medical cannabis registry identification cards every three years instead of every year as now required. The Senate passed the bill the previous week. Also last week, the House passed Senate Bill 404, sponsored by Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. which also would make medical cannabis cards good for three years.
The New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives appeared to have an agreement on a $7 billion state budget late Friday after ironing out differences over pay for educators, funding for roads and college athletics. In the end, the biggest sticking point turned out to be a tiny but politically fraught piece of the spending plan: $700,000 for legislators to hire additional staff. The House passed the budget Feb. 21 and the Senate approved a series of changes on Wednesday. But the House did not accept those changes, spurring a round of negotiations between members of the budget committees in both chambers in an effort to reach consensus before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was going to take the “shackles” off the state’s film industry by removing an annual $50 million cap on tax rebate payouts to eligible production companies that film in the state. While she didn’t exactly get her wish, Senate Bill 2 comes close. It increases that cap from $50 million to $110 million, appropriates $225 million to pay off a backlog of film tax credits owed to production entities and, to sweeten the deal, offers another 5 percent in tax rebates for productions that shoot in rural areas. The House of Representatives voted 41-24 to approve Senate Bill 2 after a nearly three-hour debate around 3 a.m. Friday. One Democrat, Candie Sweetser of Deming crossed party lines to join 23 Republicans in opposing the initiative.
Goodbye, Christopher Columbus. New Mexico may observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. The Senate voted 22-15 Friday to send Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would rename the holiday commemorating the Italian explorer. The legislation comes as the holiday that took off in the late 19th century as a celebration of Italian-American heritage has in recent decades spurred debate over the real legacy of a man who represents the beginning of European colonialism in the Americas and how best to tell a fuller story of the continent’s history. “I see this as a reconciliation process, not only as New Mexicans but as Americans,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo.
Gun control advocates can claim a victory after the House of Representatives voted 38-31 shortly before midnight Thursday to approve a bill intended to ensure people subject to a protection order in a domestic abuse case shall not possess a weapon. The legislation, Senate Bill 328, also requires that person to relinquish his or her firearms to law enforcement authorities. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to sign the bill into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque and one of three sponsors of the bill, said after its passage, “I believe it will save lives. “There’s a much higher likelihood of death by firearm in situations of domestic violence when a gun is available,” she said.