Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

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Red flag bill passes Senate

The New Mexico Senate approved high-profile gun legislation in a narrow vote Friday, likely clearing the way for the bill to become law. The chamber voted 22-20 to pass an amended version of Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. Under the legislation, law enforcement officers would be able to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if they are found to pose a threat to themselves or others. The measure now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass and make New Mexico the 18th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to have a similar so called red flag law on the books. A comparable bill passed the House in last year’s session but didn’t make it to the Senate floor.

Senate committee passes red flag legislation

So-called “red flag” legislation narrowly cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 6-5. Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, now moves to the Senate floor for consideration. It would allow law enforcement officers to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms. A judge would require the person to give up their guns for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if probable cause is found that the person poses a threat to themselves or others. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, is one of the most contentious of this year’s legislative session. But it is one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s key crime-fighting initiatives, and gun-safety proponents say it will save lives and reduce gun violence.

Bill to fund mental health programs for university athlete advances

Teton Saltes said he will always remember the text message he received from his friend Nahje Flowers on an early November morning. 

Flowers texted to say “he loved me and he was sorry for what he was about to do, that he couldn’t fight it anymore and had nothing left,” Saltes told legislators on the Senate Education Committee  during a Monday hearing on a mental health measure. Flowers, a 21-year-old University of New Mexico football player, then used a gun to take his own life. He left his dreams and ambitions “splattered on the walls” of his bedroom, said Saltes, who also plays football for UNM. He was testifying for a bill that would provide additional funding for mental health programs for student athletes at both UNM and New Mexico State University. 

Senate Bill 56, introduced by Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, would allocate $500,000 to each school in the coming fiscal year to expand mental and behavioral health programs. Among other initiatives, the funding would pay for more counselors and psychologists, and cover the costs of educational campaigns to let college athletes know help is available. 

The committee voted 8-0 to advance the bill to the Senate Finance Committee following almost an hour of often-emotional testimony about difficulties young athletes face in an era when social media can make them a star or a forgotten hero almost overnight. Moores, who played football at UNM years ago, along with college athletes, athletic directors and other administrators from both schools told lawmakers about the pressure athletes face as they strive to maintain good grades while achieving success on the court or field, and dealing with increasing media attention and criticism. 

It’s not easy for those athletes — male or female – to ask for help, Moores said.

Pueblo eyes film production facility to meet what state says is rising demand

Tesuque Pueblo is actively pursuing plans to turn its old Camel Rock Casino into a film production facility after the space was used last year for the movie production of News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. 

The Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp. is in talks with scouts for film and television companies about using the location for future productions, said Timothy Brown, the entity’s president and CEO. The former casino, located off U.S. 84/285, could be used on a short- or long-term basis or rented to a major production company, he said. 

“We feel it’s a great use of that facility,” Brown said Wednesday. “It’s a great space because of the numerous rooms and the size of the rooms for production facilities, wardrobe, building sets and for storage.” The pueblo’s pivot to film comes as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says demand for production facilities in the state is on the rise.

Sine die: Legislature adjourns from busy session

The 60-day legislative session ended Saturday with a down-to-the-wire agreement on a sweeping tax bill that will raise rates on e-cigarettes and new vehicles while nearly doubling an income tax credit for some families. The scaled-back version of House Bill 6 approved by the Senate in the last 20 minutes before the final bang of the gavel was a fitting end to a session dominated for better or worse by the state’s financial outlook. Driving the session was a whopping budget surplus and the substantial increases in funding for education that it has financed. An oil boom generated the windfall, but there was fear among several lawmakers about what might befall New Mexico if fickle energy markets take a turn. For Republicans and even some skeptical lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, the tax bill represented a sort of “only in Santa Fe” paradox, with newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham looking to raise revenues at the same time that the state had a surplus of $1 billion this year.

Lawmakers pass bill to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Goodbye, Christopher Columbus. New Mexico may observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. The Senate voted 22-15 Friday to send Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would rename the holiday commemorating the Italian explorer. The legislation comes as the holiday that took off in the late 19th century as a celebration of Italian-American heritage has in recent decades spurred debate over the real legacy of a man who represents the beginning of European colonialism in the Americas and how best to tell a fuller story of the continent’s history. “I see this as a reconciliation process, not only as New Mexicans but as Americans,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo.

Coyote-killing contest ban now up to governor

The Legislature has sent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would outlaw coyote killing contests in New Mexico. A 37-30 vote late Tuesday by the House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 76 came after the Senate approved the measure last week on a vote of 22-17. As to whether the governor plans to sign it into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki on Wednesday said only that, “At this point, we’re reviewing the legislation.” The House vote came after a two-hour plus debate that was often punctuated with imagery of bloodshed, ambushes and shootings and which highlighted the divide between rural and urban communities when it comes to dealing with coyotes. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Bill 76, saying they see such contests as inhumane.

After Senate vote, wage issue heads for showdown with House

The lowest paid New Mexicans are closer to getting a raise. The Senate passed a bill Friday night that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 from in October, phasing in increases all the way up to $11 in 2022, which would still be below the wage floor established in cities like Santa Fe. While it passed 25-17, Senate Bill 437 represented a messy compromise after the state House of Representatives had approved a higher increase backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and in turn stirred heavy opposition from the business sector, particularly the restaurant industry. The Senate’s industry-backed proposal goes now to the House. But even though it would allow Democrats to follow through on a central campaign promise from last year’s election, several lawmakers from the party argued Friday night it does not go far enough.

Senate approves pay raises for elected state officials

New Mexico’s governor and other statewide elected officials would get 15 percent raises starting in 2023, under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate. The proposal, Senate Bill 547, next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The state’s five public regulation commissioners, who are elected from districts, also would receive 15 percent increases. Salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials were last increased in 2002. Sens.