Senate confirms Romero to lead PED

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The Senate unanimously confirmed the appointment Wednesday of Dr. Arsenio Romero as Cabinet secretary of the Public Education Department, the fourth person to lead the agency under the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “I’m here for the long haul,” Romero, a longtime educator, said during his initial confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to take on this challenge, and we’re going to steer this ship in the right direction,” he said. Senators lauded Romero as the right man for the job.

Senator: Mountain unlikely to get confirmation hearing during session

By Robert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

James Mountain, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s controversial pick to head the state Indian Affairs Department, could spend most of his first year in office as Cabinet secretary-designate. State Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee — the first stop for the governor’s appointees before they face a confirmation hearing in the full Senate — said Thursday the Senate is unlikely to hold a hearing for Mountain before the end of this year’s 60-day legislative session. “He has not been submitted to the Rules Committee for confirmation; my understanding is that he will not be this session,” Duhigg said. Mountain, a former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo, was accused of rape in 2007 and indicted on a number of related charges, including kidnapping and aggravated battery, the following year. The case was dismissed in 2010 after the prosecution said it did not have enough evidence to take it to trial.

Bill to end gag on ethics complainants clears committee

The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill that will, if enacted, allow a complainant who files an ethics complaint to speak publicly by a vote of 9-1 on Friday. HB 169, Disclosure of Legislative Ethics Complaints, would fix a constitutional issue in a law enacted in 1993, bill sponsor state Rep. Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, said. The current law prohibits both the complainant and committee staff from speaking publicly about a complaint even though the respondent to a complaint can speak publicly, she said. Szcepanski said the current law has “an uneven requirement,” and that passing HB 169 would make the law more equitable and restore the complainant’s constitutional right to free speech. The bill generated a discussion around the constitutional right to free speech.

Senate committee passes Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, but strips it further

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass a committee substitute to the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill that strikes back end automatic voter registration. The 6-3 vote came along party lines. The Democrats voted in favor of the SB 8’s committee substitute, introduced by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. The Republicans on the committee voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill.

Committee advances salary proposal for lawmakers

A proposed constitutional amendment that would task the State Ethics Commission with setting the salaries for all state elected officials — from the governor to lawmakers, who are now unpaid — cleared its first committee hearing Monday. The legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 8, also would change how commission members are chosen, allowing the New Mexico Supreme Court to make two of the seven appointments. The Senate Rules Committee advanced the proposal 7-1. The lone Republican attending the hearing, Sen. Greg Baca of Belen, cast the dissenting vote but didn’t explain why. The push to set a salary for lawmakers comes as the Legislature considers a separate proposal to increase the pay of New Mexico’s statewide elected officials by five figures; though, lawmakers aren’t included in that bill. 

As members of the only Legislature in the nation that serves for free, New Mexico lawmakers have long broached the idea of giving themselves a salary.

NM Senate committees advance two redistricting maps

Two New Mexico state Senate committees advanced two redistricting maps on Thursday, one for Congress and one for the state Senate. A New Mexico Senate bill that would redraw the state’s congressional districts inched closer to a full Senate vote on Thursday after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would make significant changes to the three congressional districts by grouping much of northern New Mexico with a portion of the southeast part of the state. The bill also suggests including rural areas like Carrizozo with much of the urban Albuquerque area. But more rural areas of Albuquerque would be included in the southern congressional district. 

The proposed map is similar to what is largely being referred to as the “people’s map” which was backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups. Proponents of “the people’s map” have also added their support of SB 1, arguing that it would group together large populations of Hispanic and Latino voters.

Offensive phone calls disrupt House rules committee meeting

A House committee charged with creating rules for running the special session got an earful Wednesday when some telephone callers into the meeting criticized social protests and uttered racial epithets. The scene, legislators on both sides of the aisle said, pointed to the challenge of running a nontraditional session of the Legislature. Members of both political parties expressed outrage at the calls, which effectively ended any effort to take public comment by phone during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee at the Roundhouse. “What we just heard is pretty disgusting,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Rep. Jim Townsend, the minority leader in the House, agreed. 

“I am the strongest proponent of public involvement that there is, but when I hear comments like that … that’s uncalled for,” said Townsend, R-Artesia.

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. 

“I apologize.

Senate committee spikes lobbying disclosure bill

There are about 700 registered lobbyists bustling around the Capitol this year. What are they working on? They don’t have to say. A Senate committee shot down legislation on Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session.

Senate committee deadlocks on ethics panel

New Mexicans voted in a landslide for an ethics commission to police those in state government. But a Senate committee can’t seem to agree on how it should work. The Senate Rules Committee deadlocked Monday in a round of votes on two different bills that would set up the commission. The logjam comes amid questions about how much the public should know about the panel’s work and how much authority it should have to subpoena documents or witnesses. This disagreement is not a surprise given that lawmakers have been left to decide how to police themselves.