Death Penalty Bill Stalled
Lawmakers in New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, and a bill that would have reinstated the practice was stalled in the House last Sunday. HB 72, sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood (R-Albuquerque), was tabled after a 3-2 vote in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. The bill would have reinstated the death penalty for those convicted of killing law enforcement officers, corrections officers and minors. Nearly two dozen opponents of the bill spoke before the committee Sunday, including a number of religious leaders. Similar legislation was approved by the House during a special session last fall, when Gov. Susana Martinez called for a reinstatement of capital punishment following a number of high-profile murder cases in 2016, but it was never acted on by the Senate. In New Mexico, the harshest penalty for any crime is life in prison without the possibility of parole. Before abolishing the death penalty, only one person had ever been executed in the state.
N.M. Schools Face Budget Crisis
The state's institutions of higher learning are struggling amid state budget cuts and declining enrollment. UNM has eliminated staff positions and New Mexico State University is losing positions and programs as part of a full reorganization of the school. Administrators at San Juan Community College have laid employees off and restricted the budgets of those who remain. Critics of the schools' current operation model have pointed out that while in New Mexico each school has its own board, some states have only one board to oversee all of that state's schools. This other model would cost less in salaries and communications between different boards would no longer be a problem. Proponents of the current model argue that separate boards give schools autonomy, allowing them to better serve their individual communities. In their 2018 budget recommendation, the state's Legislative Finance Committee said, “With fewer students and declining revenue, the current number of access points for higher education may become more difficult to maintain.”
House Approves Minimum Wage Increase
Last week, the New Mexico House of Representatives endorsed a proposal to increase the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 per hour. HB 442, sponsored by Representatives Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe), Debbie Rodella (D-Española), Patricio Ruiloba (D-Albuquerque), Carl Trujillo (D-Santa Fe) and Miguel P. Garcia (D-Albuquerque), passed the House in a 37-30 vote. The bill will also increase the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.13 an hour to 40 percent of the new rate. The state's current minimum wage is $7.50 per hour.