The New Mexico Senate on Wednesday approved a $76 million investment in the state Public Employees Retirement Association in a move to get the pension system on a path to solvency. Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, also comes with costs for government employers and public workers — who will pay more into the retirement system — and retirees, many of whom will receive smaller cost-of-living increases in their payouts. The state has no choice, Muñoz told fellow senators, because of the $16 billion PERA fund’s unfunded liabilities of about $6.6 billion. “We are avoiding the cliff if we do this,” he said. “At the end of the day, this fund has to be solvent.”
A sweeping K-12 education reform bill that would raise salaries for New Mexico teachers but could limit the growth of charter schools in the state’s urban areas is headed to the House floor. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted 11-3 to approve the measure, which would improve salaries for New Mexico’s 22,000 classroom teachers across the board over a period of years. “It’s about time we started paying our teachers like professionals,” said Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of House Bill 5. Currently, teachers in the state’s three-tiered licensure system earn a base salary of $36,000 (Tier 1), $44,000 (Tier 2) and $54,000 (Tier 3). The bill would increase those salaries next year to $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000, respectively.
Just days after the Senate Education Committee drastically pared down a bill creating a new early childhood education department — stripping much of its oversight of programs for young children — the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, convinced another panel of lawmakers to reverse the changes. The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday unanimously approved an amendment undoing the earlier move, which would have torn the proposed new department in half. “We heard a rallying cry that people want full accountability and continuity across the early childhood education spectrum,” Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, said Thursday after the Finance Committee’s vote. The new amendment of Senate Bill 22 makes it clear that the early childhood education department — which Padilla envisions as a one-stop shop of services for children from birth to age 5, including prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds — will maintain oversight of all such programs.
Currently, several state agencies provide programs for children and oversee services offered by private contractors. Among them are the Public Education Department, the Children, Youth and Families Department, the Human Services Department and the Department of Health.
A state Senator who introduced a bill to change New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), now seems to be looking to change the language in his bill. Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, told the Santa Fe New Mexican Tuesday his bill to allow public bodies to charge up to $1.00 per page for electronic records was “not nefarious,” but instead was in response to public bodies being “deluged” with requests for free electronic records. But when NM Political Report reached out to Sapien for further comment, a representative from his legislative office said the Senator did not want to talk about the bill. Sisto Abeyta, on behalf of Sapien’s office, returned a call to NM Political Report and hinted Sapien’s bill may change, but he did not have specifics. “We are going to hold off on the record right now because we’re still working through some issues with the bill,” Abeyta said.
Book a hotel room in Silver City and you will probably find a 5 percent lodgers tax on your bill. But not if you book a casita on Airbnb.com. A loophole in New Mexico law means many vacation rentals are exempt from the tax that local governments charge on stays at hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns. State lawmakers this year aim to close that loophole, which cities and hotel operators argue would only be fair as websites like Airbnb become increasingly popular among travelers in a state where tourism is a big business. But it may also add to the cost of some visitors’ New Mexico getaways.
Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, who represented an Albuquerque South Valley district in the New Mexico House of Representatives for nearly 40 years, is dead. He was 82. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, announced Saavedra’s death on the House floor Monday. A statement issued by son Marc Saavedra on behalf of the family said the late lawmaker suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the past couple of years. But, the statement said, “his lively spirit continued to shine through until the end, and we are grateful that he is now at peace.”
The state Senate on Saturday took action to lessen the chance that voters could choose a political odd couple as nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. Senators voted 20-10 for a bill that would do away with primary election for lieutenant governor. Under Senate Bill 178, a major party’s gubernatorial nominees would get to choose their own running. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.
A wide-ranging tax bill that passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote ran into obstacles at a Senate hearing Wednesday and isn’t likely to advance in the 2017 Legislature. “Anything still has a chance of moving,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, after a four-hour hearing on House Bill 412, sponsored by Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper. But during the hearing, lawmakers were more skeptical as they heard concerns from lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, broadcasters, nonprofit organizations, schools, farmers, the dairy industry, hospice nurses and nursing homes about how the tax changes would affect their operations. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels
Harper was not surprised. “We’ve jokingly called this bill the lobbyist full-employment act.
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.
Three days after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed funding for the Legislature, lawmakers on Monday approved another measure to pay for the 60-day session and provide emergency cash to pay jurors in the state’s court system. Martinez’s veto demonstrated how even a routine bill that usually passes unanimously at the beginning of each legislative session could become mired in partisan politics this year. Unclear is whether Martinez will sign the latest bill. If she does, it would hearten employees at the Capitol who are expecting a paycheck at the end of this week. But the Senate stripped funding from the bill to pay for the Legislature’s year-round operations, meaning it also unclear whether cuts might still be in store for the offices responsible for analyzing bills, tracking state finances and serving as a watchdog on government.