Senate approves money for early childhood dept. fund

The full state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would create a new revenue stream for early childhood programs.

By a vote of 40-0, senators passed Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Doreen Gallegos. The legislation calls for an appropriation of $320 million to start a new Early Childhood Education and Care Fund that would draw on two other funding sources in future years. The proposal aims to help the state leverage unprecedented oil revenue to boost spending on early childhood education, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has emphasized since taking office, without causing volatility in the general fund. “This gives us a reliable revenue stream,” Smith, D-Deming, said on the Senate floor. “If you have only hills and valleys, you’re not talking about a plan, you’re talking about a political deal.”

Smith, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also thanked the windfall from the oil boom in the Permian Basin for giving the state the money to create the new fund. “We still would have been waiting except for the generous returns of oil and gas that have allowed us to do this,” he said.

Early ed endowment moves forward (Updated)

A bill calling for a new endowment to create a revenue stream for early childhood programs was approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee — surviving its first test in the Legislature. Under Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund would get its first infusion of cash, $320 million, in fiscal year 2021. It would then get annual distributions from the state’s oil and gas emergency school tax and revenue from federal mineral leases until it reaches at least $1 billion. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted in favor of the bill. Smith told lawmakers on the committee the fund would distribute $20 million for public and private early childhood education programs around New Mexico in its first year.

Early childhood education funding boost clears first committee

The state House Commerce and Economic Development Committee gave the green light Friday to legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, even as the governor is prioritizing an alternate proposal to create a new trust fund for a similar purpose. The committee voted 7-4 along party lines to pass House Joint Resolution 1, which would allow additional distributions of 1 percent from the fund to be used for early childhood educational services. Under current law, annual distributions from the fund are 5 percent of its five-year average value. The legislation, which would need to be approved by voters in a general election, has been proposed multiple times in previous years and failed repeatedly. “In order to uplift New Mexico’s children from poverty, we believe it’s of utmost importance to invest in our children,” Rep. Javier Martinez, an Albuquerque Democrat and one of the sponsors of HJR 1, told the committee.

Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed six bills that cleared the Legislature with overwhelming support, rankling lawmakers who complained that she never explained any of her decisions. Martinez’s own tone was equally sharp when she called a Senate override of one of her vetoes a stunt, even though that challenge to her was initiated by a fellow Republican. But when it came to issuing veto messages, Martinez didn’t give legislators any idea of why she rejected bills ranging from an uncontroversial proposal that would have given local governments a new option to pay for expanding broadband networks to arcane changes in horse-racing regulations. Spokesmen for the governor did not respond Wednesday to repeated requests for comment. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill

The day before Martinez spiked the six bills, the Senate voted 34-7 across party lines to override her veto of a bill to let teachers use more sick days without being downgraded on their performance evaluation.

2016 Top Stories #5: NM Dems buck national trend, retake House

As Democrats around the country were reeling from an unexpected loss in the presidential and many congressional races, New Mexico saw Democrats take back control of the state House of Representatives. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6

This came two years after Democrats lost control of the House—where they held a majority for almost half a century. Conservative super PAC Advance Now New Mexico shelled out large amounts of cash towards unseating Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But some critics felt that the PAC didn’t spend enough time focused on on maintaining the majority in the House or unseating other Senate Democrats. Hatch Mayor Andy Nunez, a Republican, lost his legislative seat in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Smalls.

Egolf in line to be next Speaker of the House

With a vote this weekend, Democrats made it likely that Brian Egolf will be the next Speaker of the state House of Representatives this coming January. House Democrats, who retook control of the House during November’s elections, met this weekend to vote on new leadership. Democrats chose Egolf as speaker, Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque as House majority leader, Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces as House majority whip and Wonda Johnson of Church Rock as House majority caucus chair. Williams Stapleton will be the first African-American to serve as House majority leader in the state’s history. The formal vote for Speaker of the House will take place in January when the Legislature meets during the regular legislative session.

Committee halts changes to budget cut bill to address concerns

A House committee held off on any changes to a bill providing big cuts across most state agencies to give lawmakers and the public more time to review the deal. This came even as the panel, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, approved a bill to shift capital outlay funds for infrastructure projects and another to sweep unused reserves to the general fund to shore up the state’s large budget deficit. While the amendment to deepen some cuts, and halt others, did not go forward it will likely be the structure for a version to be heard on the House floor, as early as Monday. The proposal on the bill to cut spending would have deepened cuts for many state agencies. The committee amended the Senate bill that provided spending cuts to cut most state agencies by 5.5 percent instead of the 5 percent in the original Senate version.

Here are the key legislative races to watch

Today is the day that candidates for state House and Senate file to say that they are, indeed, running. As candidates file their intention to run for public office, we decided to take a look forward a few months to what districts the two parties will be focusing on come November and the general elections. The top of the ticket matters. Two years ago, Republicans took the state House of Representatives for the first time in a half-century. That same election saw Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, trounce Democratic opponent Gary King by more than 14 points statewide.

Abortion restrictions clear the House, headed for Senate

More than six hours of bitter debate on the House floor Friday night culminated in the approval of two bills that, if enacted, will place limitations on abortion services and potentially affect the provision of medications such as emergency contraception. Representatives voted 42 to 26 to pass HB 390, the Late-Term Abortion Ban sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, on to the Senate. That bill would bar abortions after 20 weeks except in certain cases, such as if the pregnancy was due to rape or incest. Another Republican-heavy margin, 39 to 28, sent HB 391, a bill from Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, to the Senate for further consideration. Baldonado’s bill requires abortion providers to notify the parent or legal guardian of any minor female seeking a procedure.