Democrats split on charter school cap in New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to cap charter school enrollment met a wave of opposition Monday, and at least one Democratic senator said he would break party ranks to oppose the initiative. The attempt to limit enrollment in charter schools is contained in wide-ranging Senate Bill 1, which has sponsors from both political parties. Critics of the bill include Sen. Bill O’Neill, a Democrat from Albuquerque and co-founder of a charter school in that city. The measure would limit charter schools statewide to 27,000 students for at least one year. Charter schools have nearly that many students now.

Juvenile sentencing proposal faces uphill climb in Legislature

At age 15, Nehemiah Griego used rifles to kill his parents and three siblings in the family’s Albuquerque home. Griego’s rampage, which took the lives of his 9-year-old brother and sisters aged 5 and 2, shocked the conscience of New Mexico, said state Sen. Greg Baca. A judge decided that Griego would be prosecuted as a juvenile who was capable of being rehabilitated. Griego was committed to the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department. He is scheduled to be released next month when he turns 21.

Handful of Senate Dems help Republicans defeat aid-in-dying bill

The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.

Senate committee tables ‘20-week’ abortion ban

After a long committee meeting and often-times emotional testimony from the public on a controversial bill to ban abortions on pregnancies of 20 or more weeks of gestation, lawmakers on the Senate Public Affairs Committee quickly tabled the legislation on a party line vote. Neither the committee chair nor vice chair—Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino or Bill O’Neill, both Democrats from Albuquerque—nor any of the three Republican members actually spoke about the issue during debate. And the three remaining Democrats—Sens. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces—kept their comments on the issue succinct before joining their other Democratic colleagues to table the bill.

Bill allowing open primaries gets warmer reception in House committee

Voters unaffiliated with either of the two major political parties — currently barred from participating in primary elections — would be allowed to choose either a Democratic or Republican primary ballot under a bill that unanimously cleared a House committee Tuesday. But judging by the reaction a similar bill received in a Senate committee earlier this week, the House bill could run into trouble if it makes it to the other side of the Roundhouse. The House Local Government, Elections, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to House Bill 206, sponsored by Reps. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, and Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. Garcia Richard says her bill is aimed at increasing voter turnout.

Senate committee kills bill to keep government job applications secret

A state Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday to stop a bill that would have changed the public records law to allow state agencies to keep secret the names and résumés of most job applicants. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-0 to table Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. The bill would have restricted public access to most applications for government jobs. If an applicant didn’t become a finalist for a position, the application would be kept secret forever. “Some positions merit disclosure,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, a committee member.

Open primaries might boost voter turnout, bill sponsors say

A growing number of voters don’t want to register as either Republicans or Democrats, so a bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing legislation that would allow independents to vote in New Mexico primary elections. Independent and third-party voters can’t participate in New Mexico’s June primaries, often a point of contention because 23 percent of the state’s voters are not affiliated with the major political parties and state funds pay for the primaries. “New Mexico has the highest percentage of non-competitive elections in the nation,” said Bob Perls, a former Democratic lawmaker, who heads a group called New Mexico Open Primaries. It is pushing two measure that would change how primary elections are run. One proposal, House Bill 206, would allow unaffiliated voters to choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot in primary elections.

Three strikes expansion moves on from Senate panel

After an emotional debate, three strikes legislation cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote Saturday. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, the bill adds a number of violent crime felonies to the state’s existing “three strikes” law, which mandates life imprisonment for people who are convicted three times of certain felonies. The bill is known as “Lilly’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot and killed last fall during a road rage incident in Albuquerque. Lilly’s parents, Alan and Veronica Garcia, acted as expert witnesses for the bill. Pacheco acknowledged that penalties in his bill bill aren’t “perfectly matched” to the person who killed Lilly Garcia, whose previous crimes would not fall under the current or Pacheco’s expanded three strikes law.

Senate panel rejects late-term abortion bills

An hours-long debate over legislation that would bar late-term abortions in New Mexico led to the same fate as last year—a Senate committee party line vote against the measures. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-4 to table two bills by Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, that would have banned surgical abortion procedures on viable fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation or more. One of the bills defines fetal viability as “when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely by natural or artificial life-supportive systems.”

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Albuquerque is home to an abortion provider that practices the procedure into the third trimester of pregnancy. Sharer passed out pictures of his granddaughter Scarlett, who was born premature, to committee members during his presentation. He asked committee members what if Scarlett’s mother today was diagnosed with a terrible disease, evoking common arguments from pro-abortion rights advocates that late-term abortion procedures often involve pregnant women whose lives are in danger.

Fourth generation politico Dunn set to run for NM Senate

A New Mexico lawyer with long familial ties to state politics said he has received enough petitions signatures to officially run for State Senate. A. Blair Dunn, son of current New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, told NM Political Report that he has collected the 34 required signatures to get on the ballot this year. Dunn said he has only raised $20 in the form of a donation from a close friend. He also said that he has no intention of creating a campaign website, but instead opted to use a Facebook page. Dunn said the incumbent, Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, has not been focused enough on his district which includes Albuquerque’s North Valley.