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 Jan 10 - 16, 2019 
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New Mexico News

Here Comes the Legislature!

60-day sesh ensures hijinks will ensue

By
roundhouse at night
NMLegis.gov

At noon on Tuesday, Jan. 15 they are holding a special grand opening up en el norte, up in Santa. The elected representatives you’ve chosen and their duly chosen administrators, assistants and sometimes, enablers all plan to be there.

Maybe there will be ice cream and cake. For sure there will be a keen focus on instituting a progressive agenda in the wake of eight years of Republican dominance. With a bountiful surplus—mostly provided by the volatile gas and oil industry—questions of sustainability as well as spending versus saving are sure to be part of the festivities.

With a Democratic administration at the helm of the Merry Roundhouse, those interested in the legislative and governance process in these parts—which should, at this critical juncture in our history translate as every citizen of voting age—are guaranteed great action as heroic attempts are made to sustain this state and ultimately preserve the larger republic.

Here’s what’s coming up, fellow watchers:

Recreational Cannabis

The local daily led with a story that aims to tell the tale of the path toward legalization, if you can follow them for the next five days. In an act of magic surpassing that of Joe Monahan making a plate of ribs from El Modelo disappear, we here at Alibi HQ can do the job in just a few paragraphs—although we’ll probably write a lot more about the subject in the next couple of months.

It comes down to this: there is a substantial grouping—not a cabal—of relatively conservative, long-time New Mexican Democratic senators who have consistently voiced opposition to the legalized recreational use of cannabis. They’re as hard as El Morro, ese.

And though current legalization legislation sponsor Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) referred to those traditionalists as “30 years behind the times,” it appears that bi-partisanship is the only way forward here, determining whether or not the perennial, pot package gets sent up to the Governor’s office. There’s a razor-thin margin in the upper chamber this year, and flipping a couple of votes could well be the key to passing the bong upstairs.

Education and Education

Education reform is a priority for Michelle Lujan Grisham, a point the governor made with one of her first official acts. By executive order, Grisham halted the statewide use of the PARCC test. The test has been used to determine not only student outcomes, but has also played a significant role in teacher evaluations and school “grades.” It was a Tejana legacy.

As the session approaches, the Legislature is in rhythm with the governor, ready to change the landscape for New Mexican students, instructors and the institutions they fill.

Back at the end of December, Senator John Sapien (D-Corrales) pre-filed SB110, a bill that would permanently do away with PARCC and require our schools to use an exam designed by a newly reformed, Dem led Public Education Department.

State Representative Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) prefiled legislation aimed at lifting up teachers throughout the state. HB 39 and HB 42 would provide funding to secure $3,000 bonuses across a five year span for New Mexico-born teachers or those willing to commit to working at or improving schools that have been deemed to be failing or alternatively have a population of students dependent on the free or reduced lunch program.

Additionally, the keystone educational reform of the Lujan Grisham platform—improved and consequential upgrades to early childhood education—seem to be on the advance track this year. A House Joint Resolution introduced by Representative Antonio Maestas (D-Albuquerque) would earmark funding—one percent per year—from one of the state’s permanent funds to pay for early childhood education programs now and in the long-term.

In another prefiling that portends much reform, Senator Michael Padilla has introduced legislation that will revisit and revise our state’s commitment to its youngest citizens. His bill will see to the formation and management of a new cabinet level department: the Early Childhood Education and Care Department. Though some in the press have invoked the traditional “careful with those expansive funds” rhetoric here, we believe it a step in the right direction. Adequately providing for the management of funding designed to help our children on the path to becoming educated and informed adults is a goal whose achievement may be further marked by an improved economy and other positive consequences.

Behavioral Health

One of the travesties of la Tejana’s reign—beyond the scope of even Pizzagate—was the deconstruction of essential state-funded mental health and addiction services—a destruction of important practices whose aftermath can be readily observed in a growing homeless population, in a growth of recidivism and consequently crime.

This lapse has been noted by your progressive legislators; this year they aim to rebuild a badly deteriorated situation.

Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Albuquerque) has prefiled HB 43 to begin addressing the matter. Her bill would amend sections of the human services act to provide interventions for individuals who have behavioral health diagnoses and are currently incarcerated.

Padilla meanwhile has introduced a bill (SB 31) that would provide the funds necessary to place a social worker in every high poverty public school in the state.

Most importantly, Sentate President Pro Tem, Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) has already introduced legislation aimed at providing much needed funding for behavioral health initiatives at the local level. Her SB 128 would make certain local govenment-owned behavioral health facilities eligible for state funding through the New Mexico Finance Authority, something that would be a huge rock lifter for cities like Cruces and Burque, where homelessness and its consequences seem to be vigorously retrenching, despite all that city government can do without its upriver compatriots.


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