This year’s 30-day legislative session ended with a surprise. Or, more accurately, a series of bombshells. As the Legislature concluded its business at noon Thursday, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — considered a key architect of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and one of its most influential players — announced he is not seeking reelection this year. That was one one of the day’s rapid-fire shockers, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced only an hour or so later she was rescinding New Mexico’s indoor mask mandate. Though most legislators seemed wrung out by a difficult month, punctuated by a nearly daylong marathon in the House of Representatives, the session’s conclusion was anything but anticlimactic.
An Albuquerque lawmaker wants the state to do more to help Hispanic students who are falling behind.
Toward that end, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, plans to file a bill this week asking the state to appoint two assistant cabinet secretary positions for Hispanic education at both the K-12 and college levels. Among other goals, the new administrators would work on developing multicultural education materials and curriculum, plus hiring bilingual teachers to best meet the needs of Hispanic students.
Trujillo, who asked the Legislative Education Study Committee to endorse her bill heading into the 2021 legislative session, said Monday it’s an update of a legislative proposal pitched by former Rep. Rick Miera, the onetime head of the House Education Committee, some 10 years ago.
She said her bill is directly tied to the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court case, in which a number of plaintiffs sued the state, contending it was not providing enough resources to offer a quality education for certain groups of students, including Hispanic children.
A state district judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to find ways to meet the needs of those students.
“This bill institutes what the judge wanted in terms of supporting children of color — in this case, Hispanic students,” Trujillo said Monday.
Traditionally, Hispanic students have lagged behind their white counterparts. State data from 2019 shows just 30 percent of New Mexico’s Hispanic students were proficient in reading, compared to 48 percent of white students. In math, the differences are even more stark, with just 16 percent of Hispanic students reaching proficiency levels, compared to 34 percent of whites.
Her bill includes a number of components to support Hispanic students in both public schools and colleges, including working out a five-year strategic plan to improve student enrollment and achievement at the college level. Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo and a member of the committee, said he supports Trujillo’s bill.
State Rep. Bobby Gonzales shook his head from side to side after listening to all the suggestions about how to meet a judge’s order to provide more resources to New Mexico children who, in the court’s view, are not receiving a good public education. “About 15 different ideas,” the Democrat from Taos said following a hearing on the topic last week in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “Maybe we need to break it all down. Maybe we can’t do it all in one year.” But the state doesn’t have a year, or even half a year, to comply with a mandate handed down in June by state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe.
An interim committee hearing included harsh criticisms and personal stories of detention at private facilities which have contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee held a hearing Monday afternoon concerning two privately-operated prisons in New Mexico that detain immigrants. These include Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, which is run by CoreCivic, and the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, which is run by Management and Training Corporation. Legislators heard from an immigration attorney, advocates for immigrants and some in the country without authorization. The committee invited Ronald D. Vitello, the acting director of ICE, but he did not attend or even acknowledge the invitation.
Members of the state House announced a panel will investigate sexual harassment claims against State Rep. Carl Trujillo. Three of his colleagues have already called on him to resign. The investigative subcommittee, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans from the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, will work with outside counsel and staff to investigate the allegations by Laura Bonar against the Santa Fe Democrat. Last week, Bonar said that Trujillo sexually harassed her. Trujillo responded by saying the “charges are lies” and withstood calls for him to resign.
A ballot measure that calls for using more money from the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education is a small step closer to going to voters this year. The House Education Committee on Monday voted 7-6 along party lines to approve the constitutional amendment that backers say could expand access to education programs for young children across New Mexico, the state with the highest rate of child poverty. Republicans on the committee voted against the proposal. They say it could deplete a fund that now props up the budgets of New Mexico’s public schools and is supposed to last forever. Democrats in the House of Representatives have made a priority of getting the measure, House Joint Resolution 1, on the November ballot.
House Republicans defeated an attempt to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez on a bill relating to teacher absences. This means Martinez’s veto remains in effect. The Friday vote to override Martinez’s veto failed on a 36-31, party-line vote. The vote would have needed 47 votes to succeed. Earlier this month, Martinez vetoed a bipartisan bill that allow teachers to take 10 days of sick leave before effecting their evaluations.
A Democratic-majority House committee voted along party lines Thursday afternoon to remove pre-Roe v. Wade language in state statute that criminalizes abortion practices. The original state law, passed in New Mexico in 1968, makes “criminal abortion” subject to a fourth-degree felony. It defines “criminal abortion” as any action or attempt at an “untimely termination” of a pregnancy that is not “medically justified.” A medically justified abortion, according to state law, is limited to abortions in cases of pregnancy from rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. The landmark 1972 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in most cases across the country, made state laws like this obsolete. Related story: House committee stalls another round of abortion bills
But proponents of the bill to strike the old state statute argue that the state language would go right back into law should the U.S. Supreme Court change Roe v. Wade in the future.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation Thursday that would allow teachers to use their sick leave without it affecting their evaluations. Martinez said if the bill, which sponsors dubbed the “Teachers are Human Too Act,” became law, it would lead to more teacher absences, which would create more expenses, including for substitute teachers. Martinez said this would also lead to decreased quality of education. “We need our teachers in our classrooms, and House Bill 241 would lead to more teacher absences,” Martinez wrote. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing
The Public Education Department was unable to estimate in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report how many teacher absences there would be under the bill, and at what cost.
The state House of Representatives approved a bill to preserve contraception coverage put in place as part of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand some access on a mostly party-line vote Monday evening. Three Republicans—state Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences—joined ranks with Democrats to approve the bill. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would expand access to contraceptives by requiring health insurance plans to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of their birth control prescription at one time. The bill would expand the types of contraceptives available over the counter and include condoms and vasectomies in health insurance plans.