Legislation aimed to rein in what critics call predatory lending passed the state Senate after a tense two-hour debate Monday that sparked accusations of untruths and assertions the bill’s sponsors are oblivious to the tough realities confronted by people who live paycheck to paycheck. Opponents contended Senate Bill 66, which would cut the maximum interest rate on small loans to 36 percent from 175 percent, would do more harm than good for struggling New Mexicans by causing high-risk lenders to shut down. The measure passed on a 25-14 vote and will be considered next by the state House of Representatives. Expect plenty of dissension and disagreement if Tuesday’s Senate floor session is any indication of what lies ahead. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said about a third of the people who called him about the legislation were angry it would cap the interest at so high a rate.
Legislation that supporters say would modernize wildlife management in New Mexico but opponents counter would hurt outfitters who operate on public lands has stalled on a tie vote in a Senate committee. “My district is parts of six counties — it is all rural — and I, in this case, I’m going to have to support my constituents,” Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, told other members of the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday before joining with three Republicans to table the 241-page bill. Senate Bill 312 is now stuck in the committee with just over three weeks left in the session. Some lawmakers struggled over whether or not to support the measure, which included changes they supported wholeheartedly but others that gave them pause. “I hate bills like this,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.
ByDaniel J. Chacón and Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican |
To hear House Speaker Brian Egolf tell it, public participation in this year’s largely virtual legislative session has been robust even if the doors of the state Capitol have been closed to everyday New Mexicans. In the second and third weeks of the 60-day session, more than 6,100 residents from 32 of the state’s 33 counties have voiced their opinions during committee hearings in the House of Representatives — up from the 2,400 who tuned in the first week. Egolf’s office touted the numbers Tuesday in a news release, declaring virtual participation “continues at a record-setting pace” in the House. But how many New Mexicans have been shut out? “It’s hard to quantify,” Egolf said.
A bill that would appropriate $100 million to repair some of New Mexico’s most dangerous dams advanced Tuesday in the state Senate. The money would pay for only a fraction of what is needed to address all the structural issues of scores of dams across the state that pose safety risks, according to the state engineer. “With one breach, we could lose property, we could lose our animals and we could lose, most importantly, lives here in New Mexico,” said Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, sponsor of Senate Bill 236. Lawmakers on the Senate Conservation Committee approved the measure 8-0 Tuesday. It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham enters the second year of an education overhaul she promised on the campaign trail — and a state judge mandated months before she took office — she and other policymakers say the changes will come over decades, not within legislative sessions. They point to persistent problems, such as low rates of student proficiency in math and reading and high numbers of high school dropouts, and say solutions will require years of steadily increasing investments in building an education workforce that suffers from a severe shortage. They say initiating programs to aid the state’s most vulnerable kids and extending classroom time — both expensive propositions — are a start, but add the effort requires New Mexico to rethink how it views education funding. “People say we just throw money at it, but we haven’t ever tried throwing money at it,” said state Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat who serves on the Senate Education Committee. “We’ve done nothing but underfund for years.
Lawmakers on the state House and Senate education committees on Wednesday decried the lack of funds proposed for some of their priorities for fiscal year 2021, indicating a deeper conflict is broiling over the largest share of the state’s budget as the Legislature and governor begin hashing out differences in their spending plans. During a joint hearing on public school funding proposed by both the Legislative Finance Committee and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, education committee members said their input over the past year has been ignored. The initiatives they cited as underfinanced or omitted completely ranged from cybersecurity to teacher recruitment and retention efforts to providing feminine hygiene products for teen girls. Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and former school board member who serves on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee, said she didn’t think the voices of educators, school administrators and higher education officials were “entirely reflected” in the competing budget proposals. “I feel like we have been left in the lurch,” added Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, a former teacher and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee.
State Sen. Jacob Candelaria on Wednesday amended his controversial bill on the state lottery, adding a guarantee that at least $40 million a year from ticket sales would go for college scholarships. His initial proposal would have eliminated a section of state law requiring that 30 percent of gross lottery revenues be turned over each month for scholarships. That version of the bill came under fire. Funding for scholarships is the sole reason the New Mexico lottery exists. In response to complaints by students at the University of New Mexico and others, Candelaria revamped his Senate Bill 283 by designating guaranteed payments for the scholarship program.
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.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham launched the New Mexico Legislature’s 2019 session Tuesday by calling on lawmakers to pour a half-billion dollars more into education, raise the minimum wage, pass gun control and expand the state’s tax incentives for the film industry. The new Democratic governor used her first State of the State address to double down on a series of liberal priorities she made the centerpiece of her campaign, arguing New Mexico should seize what she described as an opportune moment as it sees a windfall of oil revenue — and the ascent of new political leadership. Standing in front of the most diverse House of Representatives in statehistory, Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to “get excited, stay excited, get active and stay active.” “This moment is greater than the state of our budget, or any of the numbers that suggest we can now begin to make the transformative investments our schools, our economy and our communities have always deserved,” she said in a 50-minute address. “I believe this is an opportune moment, perhaps the greatest moment of opportunity in the history of this state, because we have the strength, and the vision, and the willpower to deliver together.”
When Michelle Lujan Grisham announced after the election she was building a transition team to help gather data and create strategies for reforming the state’s public education system, it was perhaps no surprise that five of the roughly 30 members of the group represented teachers unions. That didn’t come as much of a surprise to many observers: Teachers unions have aligned themselves with Democratic Party candidates and leaders for many years, and had endorsed Lujan Grisham in the 2018 election — just as they had backed Democrat Gary King in 2014 against then-Gov. Susana Martinez. Now, as Lujan Grisham embarks on a 60-day legislative session in which the future of New Mexico’s educational system will be a central topic, the power of the unions will be a looming question. Will their power be on full display in 2019 and beyond, or are they simply moving back into the picture after eight years of often-bitter battles with the Martinez administration? Several Republican legislators say they expect the unions will have undeniable influence, particularly when it comes to pushing for higher teacher pay and changes in the state’s teacher evaluation system, which has relied heavily on student test scores to measure a teacher’s effectiveness.