Bill targeting private paramilitaries passes first committee

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would make creating a private paramilitary organization a crime.. HB 14, sponsored by Rep. Raymundo Lara, D-Chamberino, seeks to create a crime out of establishing one’s own private paramilitary organization and that organization’s actions would also be deemed a crime. Expert witness Mark Baker, an Albuquerque attorney who has worked on paramilitary cases in Sunland Park and Albuquerque, explained the bill substitute. “The substitute for the committee substitute for House Bill 14 has a couple of changes,” Baker said. One change was to change the definition of “dangerous weapon” to “deadly weapon,” which is already included in law. 

The substitute also made the punishment for violating the law uniform instead of multiple different options.

Legislature looks at paying for educators’ health care premiums in full

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Kevin Darrow, a music teacher at Wood Gormley Elementary School, estimated he spends nearly 14% of his earnings — some $600 per month — on health insurance. 

“For a teacher, that’s a lot of money,” he said. 

And Darrow said he’s one of the lucky ones because he shares that cost with his spouse. As the cost of living in Santa Fe continues to increase, he noted many of his fellow teachers — often master’s degree-level professionals — have to find roommates or get creative to stretch their earnings. Figuring out how to pay for health insurance is part of that household budget calculus. 

A bill before the Legislature this session is intended ease the burden of high health care costs, specifically for educators. House Bill 102, which would require school districts, charter schools and other educational institutions pay for the first $10,000 of health insurance costs for educators, secured a do-pass recommendation from the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee in a unanimous vote Tuesday, despite scrutiny from Republican committee members. Currently, educators pay an average of about $10,000 per year — $3,000 more per year than most public employees — on health care, state Department of Finance and Administration analyst Simon Miller told the committee. For many educators, that’s just unaffordable, said Lori Ortega, executive director of the state’s branch of the National Education Association.  

The bill is designed to fix that problem.

Bill to eliminate GRT on early childcare centers passes first committee

The House Education Committee unanimously passed a bill that would eliminate the Gross Receipts Tax on small business owners operating early childcare centers. HB 137, GRT Deductions for Child Care Assistance, will, if enacted, eliminate the 8 percent to 9 percent GRT that early childcare centers are required to pay on children who qualify for state assistance. State Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, a Democrat from Mesilla, sponsored the bill and she called the bill an equity issue as most early childcare centers are operated by women of color. Cadena said that early childcare centers that serve Children Youth and Families Department contracts “have to pay GRT on those same contracts and reimbursement rates.”

“We hold providers to really high standards. We expect them to meet those same outcomes, have the same quality of care and we expect them to meet that with 8 percent or more less revenue.

Free college tuition proposal could get a second chance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to offer free tuition to all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges might get a second chance. A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state Higher Education Department would cover tuition for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status. The plan would combine all of the state’s existing college scholarships into one aid pool and steeply increase the available funding. “The real goal is to ensure college affordability, to establish an all-encompassing free college package combining all the scholarships for New Mexicans looking to enroll,” Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the possible legislation, told lawmakers on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting Monday. For years, New Mexico has developed initiatives to cover some tuition costs for in-state college and university students, including both new high school graduates and adults.

Minimum wage hike passes House with phased-in raise for tipped workers

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour in July and increase it annually starting next year. But amid heavy opposition from the restaurant industry, lawmakers backed off immediately abolishing the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and instead elected to phase it out over the next few years. Democrats made boosting the minimum wage a central promise of last year’s campaign and argue House Bill 31 will amount to a raise for about 150,000 workers across the state. With a bigger Democratic majority in the House this year, legislation proposing an increase of several dollars per hour was bound to pass the chamber. But HB 31 is still likely to meet opposition in the state Senate, even from some Democrats, spurring what will likely be a round of negotiations over just how high legislators on both sides of the Capitol can agree to raise the minimum wage.

Three Dem legislators lose in primaries

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.