After a challenging year marked by grief brought on by a deadly pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered a hopeful vision for New Mexico during her annual State of the State address Tuesday, including a plan to get more students back into classrooms in less than two weeks. “Every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on Feb. 8,” the governor said in her 26-minute address, which she delivered virtually, without the usual pomp and circumstance. The governor’s State of the State is typically given during a crowded event at the state Capitol on the first day of the legislative session.
A bell on a desk greeted visitors to the lieutenant governor’s office during Howie Morales’ first couple weeks on the job. Ring for service, a sign said. Not particularly glamorous, it seemed to sum up the office of lieutenant governor, which comes with few official duties and even fewer prospects for higher office. But Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in her early days in office has handed Morales a more expansive profile than many of his predecessors. She asked the former state senator, teacher and high school baseball coach to oversee the Public Education Department until she names a cabinet secretary.
Federal employees and contractors aren’t the the only ones suffering because of the government’s nearly monthlong partial shutdown. A local construction company with an $8.4 million contract to build two new hangars for private aviation companies at the Santa Fe airport is unable to begin work on the project because it needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration — whose employees are furloughed because of the budget impasse in Congress. “It’s a design-and-build project,” said Peter Brill, president of Sarcon Construction, referring to the work his company has done on the architectural and engineering side. “We’ve been on this for about nine months, getting construction documents ready.” But the company hasn’t been able to break ground because the FAA approval has been held up by the shutdown.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura told a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature on Thursday the state’s justice system, which her predecessor described in 2017 as a patient on life support, is beginning to breathe on its own. Nakamura said funding appropriated over the past two years means the judicial branch can now pay Magistrate Court rents without worry and no longer loses employees to better paying jobs to discount retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Target. And, she said, a new jury management system has resulted in savings that mean jurors are paid in a timely fashion for the first time in eight years. “Are our courts thriving?” Nakamura said.
Walk around the Capitol, and much of the talk is about an oil boom that is buoying the state’s finances, providing more money for schools and whatever else. But for an hour on Thursday, a climate scientist urged one committee of legislators to look past all of that. “The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate. The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.
Democrats in the state House of Representatives say they hope to move quickly to approve a measure that would draw more money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education, thereby pressuring powerful Sen. John Arthur Smith to give it a hearing. The proposed state constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, could get its first committee hearing within a week, far earlier than at any time in the eight years Democrats have pushed the measure. “I think it will be a priority,” said Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, who on Wednesday became chairman of the House Education Committee. He said that committee likely will hear new bills by Wednesday, though it’s unclear if the proposed constitutional amendment will land there first. The House on Wednesday assigned 155 bills for committee hearings.