It's a shorty this year—not a fine female, but a 30-day jaunt at the Roundhouse that's supposed to focus primarily on the budget, though the governor can ask lawmakers to consider other matters. In odd-numbered years, it's twice as long, anyone can introduce legislation and the agenda can be sprawling.
The guv stuffs even brief sessions with contention: 2012 brings us relentless hammering on driver's licenses, an embattled education secretary, abortion, medical marijuana, bullying and prescription pills.
This week, we peek in on the festivities, which are scheduled to end Thursday, Feb. 16.
Hundreds rallied in support of the standing law that allows driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. It’s become a flash point for Gov. Susana Martinez, and she says she won’t compromise on a bill that does anything less than repeal it.
In late January, the Associated Press reported evidence that some such licenses are obtained fraudulently, with business addresses used repeatedly for dozens of applications. But, argues Somos un Pueblo Unido—one of the organizations that helped create the law—that also shows 97 percent are using the system legally.
Twin bills have been introduced that mandate the notification of parents or guardians when a person under 17 seeks an abortion. Emancipated minors wouldn’t be subject to this law. Also, if someone were in mortal danger, notice would not be required.
The measures also leave room for a pregnant teen to take the matter to court if she would rather not have her guardians notified. She would be allowed to undergo the procedure “if the judge determines that the pregnant female is mature and capable of giving informed consent to the proposed abortion.”
Health Department Secretary Catherine Torres estimates there will be 8,000 to 10,000 patients enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program by the end of the year. There aren’t enough employees on hand to review the decisions of the medical board, she says.
Patients request cannabis from a physician, who makes a recommendation that goes on to the medical board. The board decides whether the patient should be part of the program.
The fund could speed the application process. Money would come from fees already paid by producers.
Late last year, a local group formed to speak out against bullying. The New Mexico Coalition for Student Justice comprises students, parents and teachers seeking change in state schools.
According to a 2007 state survey, 9 percent of high school students had ditched class within a month because they felt unsafe. Bullies are more likely to break the law, drink alcohol and end up with a criminal record as an adult, states a bill aimed at addressing the problem.
The measure asks that schools engage parents in creating anti-bullying programs. Tucked into another piece of legislation is funding for after-school prevention programs.
Activists say they will also seek anti-cyber-bullying rules in the future.
Flip the Scrip
According to the Heroin Awareness Committee, addicts usually start by abusing prescription opiates. New Mexico has become No. 1 in the country for overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sen. Bernadette Sanchez (D-Albuquerque) is sponsoring a bill that aims to tighten the restrictions for prescribing opiates. Patients would have to sign consent forms, and doctors would have to alert them to the risks. There would be no refills on such drugs. Those who received opiates after dental work would only be allowed a three-day supply. A prescription for other medical reasons would max out at 30 days.
Additionally, Sanchez has sponsored a measure that creates a prescription drug monitoring program, which would link to similar programs in other states. The legislation also declares an emergency. “It is necessary for the public peace, health and safety that this act take effect immediately,” states the bill.
Hanna Skandera came to New Mexico from Florida at the start of 2011, and she’s been the secretary of education designate ever since. That “designate” tag gets tacked on because she’s never been confirmed by the Legislature. It’s unclear whether she’ll ever get a hearing or how it would go.
She was criticized early on for hiring a team of out-of-state advisers with ties to ex-President Bush and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez told reporters Thursday, Feb. 2, that Skandera might not meet constitutional requirements because she’s never been a teacher or school administrator. Sanchez pointed that out last year, too.
In 2012, the education secretary’s advancing a plan to tie teacher pay to student test scores. A bill is making its way through the session that would alter the criteria for teacher evaluations: 35 percent of a yearly review would be based on standardized test scores, and another 25 would come from classroom observation.
If Skandera is given a hearing this session but is not confirmed, she’ll have to step down. If she never gets a hearing, she can remain in her position, according to the Chief Clerk of the Senate’s Office.
And the Budget?
Ah, the elusive beast that evades lawmakers and sparks special sessions: a budget compromise.
This year, the measure is about a week behind schedule. But it’s hard to say how these things will go, as budget issues usually come down to the wire. At the last minute, parts of the state’s budget are amputated or replaced, negotiations fire back and forth, and deals are struck.
Still, on Monday, Feb. 6, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee unanimously gave a thumbs up to a $5.6 billion spending bill. Legislators are still figuring out what should happen if there’s less money rolling into state coffers than expected.