Bill to provide ombud for parents of special education students passes committee

State Rep. Liz Thomson spoke from experience Monday as she discussed House Bill 222. Thomson, a Democratic state representative from Albuquerque, talked about the struggles her family faced in advocating for the special education plans and services her son needed as he attended public school in Albuquerque. Those travails, she told the House Education Committee, led her to craft the bill, which would create an Office of the State Special Education Ombud. The ombud would serve as an independent advocate for public school students seeking special education services and provide comprehensive support for families navigating that system, according to the bill. Thomson said it was the kind of assistance she and many other parents of special education students needed.

Human trafficking bill with broad support moves forward

A bill that would increase penalties for human trafficking received bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. HB 237, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Georgene Louis and Liz Thomson, both of Albuquerque, passed 10-1. Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, voted against it. Louis and Thomson invited victims of trafficking to speak on behalf of the bill.

Bill to raise penalty for school threats blocked

The divide over how best to punish those who threaten to commit violence in schools widened Thursday, as a panel of Democrats blocked a bill to make the crime a fourth-degree felony. Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, said he introduced House Bill 115 to create a specific crime for leveling terrorist threats at a school or other public building. He said it would be a means of deterring juveniles and adults alike from feeling emboldened in targeting schools. Democrats countered that his bill was so broad it could turn teens who do something stupid into felons for life. More important, a legislative staff analysis of Crowder’s proposal found that the state already has other laws that can be used to prosecute people who make threats.

Bill repealing pre-Roe law criminalizing abortion clears first committee

New Mexico took a small step towards removing a currently unenforceable state law criminalizing abortion Saturday. House Bill 51 (HB 51) — which repeals a 1969 statute that made receiving and performing abortion a fourth-degree felony — passed the the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee by a 3-2 vote along party lines. New Mexico is one of nine states with a statute criminalizing abortion. The landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision made the state law unenforceable. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee started just after 8:30 a.m. The hearing was moved to the House floor due to interest in the bill, and public comment lasted for over three hours.

Making progress for women’s equality at the Roundhouse

This past year across the country, we heard about countless stories of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. From the entertainment industry to big corporations – and yes, even in our own Roundhouse – this was a moment of reckoning for many. But for most women, this was nothing new. For too long, workplaces have protected those who have committed these acts through processes that don’t protect victims and further embolden the “that’s how it’s always been” culture. This year at the legislature, our voices ranged from #MeToo to #TimesUp, and together, we’ve changed the narrative.

Lottery scholarship bill deadlocks in committee

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.

Committee blocks Gorge Bridge anti-suicide proposal

The idea of assigning state police officers to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge to prevent suicidal people from jumping met with a quick defeat Tuesday at the state Capitol. Members of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee unanimously blocked a bill to allocate $156,000 a year to help pay for the suicide prevention squad. “I can’t see how it’s going to work,” said Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, who led opposition to the proposal, House Bill 166. The measure called for three state police officers to be assigned to the bridge, presumably in different shifts. But Thomson pointed out that the cost of salaries, benefits and equipment for three officers would run $288,000 a year, or nearly double the amount sought in the bill.

Democrats propose amendment calling for automatic voter registration

All eligible voters in New Mexico should be registered, and the government should do it for them automatically, three Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday in announcing a proposal to enshrine new election law in the state constitution. The legislators said their proposal for automatic voter registration would reduce costs and create a more accurate system. Another likely benefit would be more people voting and holding government accountable for policy decisions, said Rep. Liz Thomson, one of the measure’s sponsors. “The more voices we hear, the better we can represent them,” Thomson said. She is teaming on the proposed constitutional amendment with Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto.

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.

As Trump wins nationwide, Dems take House, expand Senate majority

In a disastrous night for Democrats nationwide that saw Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, the state party actually did well, retaking the House of Representatives and expanding the party’s majority in the state Senate. The scope of the advantage in both chambers isn’t yet known, as there could be up to four automatic recounts, two in each chamber. Democrats also won back the Secretary of State seat when Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver easily defeated Republican Nora Espinoza. “What a difference two years makes,” Toulouse Oliver told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, referring to her 2014 loss to Republican Dianna Duran. Duran resigned last year hours before pleading guilty to counts of misusing campaign funds, for which she spent 30 days in jail.