Well citizens, you may be wondering about this year’s legislative session over at the Roundhouse in Santa—that’s what they call our state’s capitol building, even though it might be more properly described as a cylindrical section—and of course we’re here to tell you.
It was a heroic convocation that featured a measure of bipartisanship among a group of politicos who clashed badly at last year’s session, requiring a special session in May of 2017 to clear up important monetary disputes. This year though, lawmakers, lobbyists, state officials and yes, the public, brought this year’s 30-day session to a close last week after working diligently to bring peace, justice, and most importantly, money to the Land of Enchantment. Let’s see what they were up to, then.
As reported earlier in these here pages, state lawmakers approved a $6.32 billion state budget with little partisan hemming and hawing getting in the way of making sure our state had enough in its coffers to effectively continue operations and otherwise provide needed services for the citizens of the state.
According to Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Bernalillo) the House Majority Floor Leader, the budget bill “increases funding for safety and crime reduction, public education, economic development and jobs, our state agencies and our general fund reserves.” In a written correspondence to constituents, sent just after session’s end, Stapleton added, “We are fortunate to be able to use $293 million in new revenue to provide some increased funding for high priority needs and help our state get back on sound financial footing.”
That sounds great, Representative Stapleton, as long as you (and the rest of us tethered to life in this state) remember that approximately $188 million of that “new revenue” comes from an late upsurge in gas and oil receipts, a fact which the legislative finance committee warned gathered lawmakers about early in the session. Something, something about not depending on a volatile revenue source from a volatile industry for sustained economic relief. Just saying.
Though increased penalties for child abuse, as well as increased funding for early childhood care and education programs were on the minds of many lawmakers as they worked their way through the yearly gathering, bills providing for both stalled in the senate chambers.
Despite a last-day call from La Tejana herself for review of legislation—Martinez sent an official letter to the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, near the session’s end, writing that “I do not need to tell you about the tragedies we all have faced in the last few months as children 12 and older were brutally beaten to death”—the bill, HB 100, designed to provide harsher penalties for the violent abuse of children older than 11, failed in committee before she could take action on the legislation.
One of the bills that will be taken upstairs (or wherever the heck La Gobernadora hangs out when she’s ready to wield the pen) is an important item that defines and seeks to prevent a particularly insidious form of physical abuse. SB 61, sponsored by Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) gives prosecutors the tools they need to go after offenders who have engaged in strangulation, making the act a felony related to aggravated battery.
Ivey-Soto credited the bill’s success to the untiring, years-long efforts of domestic violence advocates, prosecutors and first responders who are concerned about the prevalence of this particular type of violence against women in New Mexico.
In addition, the Governor will also get to review HB 40, a measure introduced by Representative Monica Youngblood (R-Albuquerque) that would require law enforcement agencies to provide officer in-service training about strangulation and its documentation when working on domestic violence cases.
Although the governor’s spokespeople have been mum about whether she’ll sign this particular bill into law, domestic violence advocates, such as Sheila Lewis, of Santa Fe Safe, says she is confident that the governor—long known for her law and order priorities—will approve the measure.
• Attempts to change the amount of funding for the state’s lottery scholarship program failed to make the grade, resulting in stasis for a program that some lawmakers see as troubled, but which, factually speaking, provide an effective, if imperfect path to higher education for students who live in a state plagued by poverty and illiteracy.
• Spaceport America, located in the southern part of the state, somewhere in the general vicinity of the place flying saucers supposedly landed and interacted with human beings about 70 years ago, may get more funding and tighter security parameters to operate within—although some lawmakers are concerned how the proposal shields information about the program’s finances from public scrutiny—because state officials are now convinced the human space takeoff and landing spot is due to finally grow into a giant this year.
If the governor agrees, then she’ll green light the part of the budget that calls for $10 million to build a new hangar, as well as a healthy boost to the port’s operating budget and language that exempts Spaceport America and its operations from the usual scrutiny guided by open records laws.
• Although both houses of the legislature approved of SB 176, a measure to raise the salaries of high ranking state elected officials (including the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General) by 10 percent, La Tejana was quoted as saying she would apply the veto pen to the legislation. How’s that for bipartisan fair-mindedness? This particular move shows some foresight and concern for citizens, which strikes this reporter as ironic, as she’ll be done with governating (for good) within a year.
This is the real home of N.M. politics.