The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday against adding a public finance proposal to the November general election ballot. The proposal, known as Democracy Dollars, would provide vouchers to citizens, who could apply them to publicly-financed candidates of their choice. While the commission only voted on whether the measure would be on the November 2018 ballot for Albuquerque residents, commissioners mostly criticized the merits of the proposal itself. Executive Director of Common Cause New Mexico Heather Ferguson called the 3-2 vote an “overstep” and “overreach” by commissioners. “What the commission decided to do tonight is to question the will of the voters who knew and understood the program they were signing,” Ferguson said.
Three incumbent Democratic state House members lost in their primaries Tuesday according to unofficial numbers. In a Santa Fe area district, Carl Trujillo was perhaps the most embattled incumbent. A lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment last month, though Trujillo denied the allegations. He now faces an investigation by the state Legislature in accordance with the state’s new sexual harassment rules. Trujillo was beat out by former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romero.
The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.
The state lottery’s luck may have run out at the Legislature. A House committee on Wednesday tabled a bill that would end a requirement that the New Mexico Lottery turn over 30 percent of the gross revenue of ticket sales for the state’s college scholarship program. The lottery argues that scrapping the revenue requirement would allow it to boost prizes, in turn raising ticket sales and providing even more money for scholarships, which helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. Critics contend the bill would amount to a blank check for the state lottery and mean less money for students. The 8-8 vote by the Appropriations and Finance Committee did not kill House Bill 147.
State law requires the New Mexico Lottery to allocate 30 percent of its gross revenues for college scholarships, a program that helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. So effective was this system that it funneled more than $40 million annually to the scholarship program for nine consecutive years, helping many students obtain a college degree without the crushing debt that can come with loans. But lottery revenues dipped in 2017, a fact that figures heavily in another attempt to change the law. A Republican lawmaker has revived an annual bill to eliminate the requirement of pledging 30 percent of gross lottery revenues to college scholarships. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, proposes that at least $38 million in net revenue go to the scholarship program.
State legislators have proposed a bill that would streamline the installation of small cellular facilities in public rights of way, which they say will accelerate internet speeds and enhance the state’s broadband capacity. The proposal, intended to prepare New Mexico for the arrival of 5G networks, would boost a signal that the state — in a climate where connectivity is essential for economic development — is open for more business, said Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque. “We’re just at a place where we need to upgrade,” said Gould, a co-sponsor of the measure. The proposed Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act, with identical bills filed in both chambers of the Legislature, could spur some backlash in a capital city where a handful of residents are still simmering after Mayor Javier Gonzales last month issued an emergency proclamation that allowed Verizon to install temporary telecommunication facilities on city structures. The state legislation would appear aimed at heading off the need for such a proclamation, which was lambasted by a vocal cadre of Santa Fe residents who believe radio frequencies are dangerous.
The federal government is investigating alleged discrimination by Albuquerque Public Schools against a student with a disability. The claim involves Michael Bruening, a 16-year-old autistic student who last saw an APS classroom in May 2015, according to his mother, Laura Gutierrez. The school district placed Bruening on homebound instruction, or education at home, but according to Gutierrez hasn’t done enough to support his educational development. Gutierrez, who said she does the bulk of instructing her son now, estimates he’s only attained education levels around the 6th or 7th grade. “I can’t teach him without him blowing up,” she said in a recent interview.
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.
After six years of trying to require “dark money” organizations and other independent-expenditure groups to report their political backers, supporters of campaign-finance reform got their bill through the state House of Representatives on Monday night. The House on Monday passed Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Jim Smith, D-Sandia Park. The bipartisan vote was 41 to 24. Six Republicans joined with the 35 Democrats to vote for the bill. The Senate had already passed the bill, but it will have to go back there for consideration of House amendments.
New Mexico lawmakers are delivering on a promise to improve one of the state’s last-in-the-country rankings — the speed of broadband internet. Several bills are moving through the Legislature, and two have cleared the Senate and House of Representatives and are heading to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Each would make it easier to expand broadband internet to underserved rural areas where the sparse population makes it difficult for companies to recoup their costs. House Bill 60 would allow private companies installing fiber optics to share a trench unearthed by the state or a local government. The change reclassifies broadband as an economic development project and exempts it from a constitutional provision that prohibits taxpayer support to private companies.