NM expands early childcare subsidies

For the next two years, New Mexico will raise the income eligibility for childcare assistance from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent of the federal poverty level with a phase out at 400 percent of the federal poverty level, officials announced Thursday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Early Childcare Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and state Sen. Michael Padilla spoke during a press conference Thursday to announce the change. The press conference was also part of a one-year anniversary celebration for ECECD, which is an agency that began under the Lujan Grisham administration to improve early childcare education. The press conference was held in Santa Fe and online. The department will use emergency funds available through the federal American Rescue Plan to increase the assistance starting August 1.

Senate committee advances paid sick leave bill

Private employers in New Mexico may no longer get to decide whether paid sick leave is a benefit they want to offer their workers. A bill that would ensure employees in the state have access to paid time off when they’re sick cleared the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on a party-line 6-3 vote Sunday. “Access to paid sick leave protects workplaces, families, and communities statewide,” read a tweet sent from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s account minutes after the vote. “I appreciate so many key stakeholders being at the table for this important discussion and I look forward to signing this legislation when it gets to my desk.” Known as the Healthy Workplaces Act, House Bill 20 would require private employers in the state to provide workers at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, or 64 hours per year.

Gas tax increase aims to help state’s subpar roads

New Mexico’s roadways are in terrible shape, and they’re costing the average driver $767 annually in additional vehicle operating costs, according to a new report. But motorists don’t need to read a narrative to understand the condition of New Mexico’s interstates, highways and roads. “All you have to do is hop in your vehicle and drive a couple of miles,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Thursday during a virtual news conference. “Our roads at the moment are a complete disaster, and we do need to take it seriously,” added Padilla, vice chairman of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. The report by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found 56 percent of major roads and highways in New Mexico are in poor or mediocre condition due to inadequate state and local funding.

New Mexico broadband bill passes first committee

Despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained out of reach for many New Mexicans in rural and impoverished areas. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that problem, especially when it comes to public school students trying to learn remotely. 

That’s the message members of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee heard from a number of lawmakers, experts and members of the public during a Tuesday hearing on the issue. “We don’t need to talk about the need, we need to talk about the how — how are we going to do this?” said Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque. 

Figueroa is one of five House legislators, all Democrats, pushing for passage of House Bill 10, an initiative that would create a broadband division within the New Mexico Department of Information Technology. The committee voted 8-1 to approve the measure, sending it on to the House Appropriations Committee. 

That proposed department would serve as a center of operations to provide planning and technical assistance to local governments, state agencies and public education institutions to develop and initiate broadband programs. Assistance will include guidance in applying for funding for such initiatives. 

The goal, Figueroa said, is to create a central state agency focused on expanding affordable broadband access to all parts of the state.

Nondiscrimination bill to protect cultural hair and hairstyles receives unanimous support in Senate Education Committee

A nondiscrimination bill to protect cultural hairstyles in the workplace and school settings received bipartisan support in the Senate Education Committee Friday. The No School Discrimination for Hair bill passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee Friday. More than one state senator expressed shock that discrimination around

cultural hair and hairstyles is still possible with impunity. “We should’ve been doing this decades ago,” state Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat from Albuquerque, said. Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Harold Pope Jr., of Albuquerque, SB 80, protects children in public and charter schools and people in the workplace from discrimination based on cultural hair and hair styles, such as braids, locs, twists, and knots.

ACLU spending on education in two state senate districts targeted by progressives

Two progressive Democrats, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, who are challenging  incumbents who lean more to the right within the Democratic party, are getting a boost in their campaign efforts. Correa Hemphill is running against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Gabriel Ramos. With her May filing report, she has outraised Ramos by $53.26. Ramos, who was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to replace Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, is running his first election for the seat. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is spending $150,000 in the remaining weeks of the primary to educate voters on the fact that Ramos and state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, also a Democrat, both voted against HB 51 in 2019.

Bill that helps kids who ‘age out’ of foster care passes Senate

A bill to provide support to children who have “aged out” of foster care but still need a safety net passed unanimously in the Senate chamber Monday. SB 168 would allow children who are 18 to 21 who lack resources necessary to enter adulthood to access aid from the Child, Youth and Family Services Department. CYFD would be able to leverage federal dollars to pay for the services. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill. Padilla said while on the Senate floor that the bill aligns New Mexico with federal law and federal requirements for funding already available.

Groginsky becomes New Mexico’s first early ed secretary

The New Mexico Senate unanimously confirmed the leader of the state’s newly established Early Childhood Education and Care Department on Friday following an overwhelming show of support from educators, child advocacy agencies and fellow Cabinet leaders. “Elizabeth Groginsky has already earned the respect of the early childhood community in New Mexico — as underscored by the deeply positive testimony we heard in support of her confirmation today,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in a statement after the Senate vote. Groginsky, 53, is a Colorado native and former Washington, D.C., education official who has spent her career in early childhood services and policy development. She is leading an agency that will consolidate a range of services for children from birth to age 5, as well as prenatal programs.

Lujan Grisham appointed Groginsky to the Cabinet position in November. Her confirmation comes as the governor and Legislature are working to close a gap in proposed spending on the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, which is set to take over services when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

House sends bill creating new early ed department to governor’s desk

One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pet initiatives will soon be on her desk for a signature, after the state House of Representatives on Saturday voted 41-8 to approve a bill that would create an Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The department would oversee all programs for infants and young children in New Mexico, including home visits for families of new babies, child care assistance and prekindergarten. Currently those programs are spread out over a number of state agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children, Youth and Families Department. State Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said this bill will combine all of those services into one new division, overseen by a Cabinet-level secretary. “What we are doing here with this bill, by combining all of the services for early learning, we are in fact making it more efficient,” said Trujillo, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 22 with Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque.

Senate Finance Committee restores bill creating early ed department

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.