New Mexico Speaker Appeals For Bipartisanship, Gov Seeks End To Social Promotion

Jan 17, 2017

New Mexico Speaker Appeals For BipartisanshipThe Associated Press 

New Mexico's incoming speaker of the House of Representatives is urging his Democratic allies and Republicans to work in cooperation to help provide greater economic security for local families and businesses.

House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe told lawmakers Tuesday that businesses are struggling to find qualified employees even as people leave the state in search of jobs. He says schools must be fixed to resolve that equation.

Egolf says he hopes legislators can balance the state budget, close tax loopholes and collect taxes that are due to the state during the 60 day session. Democrats won back full majority control of the Legislature in November elections.

New Mexico Gov Seeks End To Social PromotionThe Associated Press 

Gov. Susana Martinez says New Mexico is seeing record improvements in its graduation rates but more needs to be done to ensure the state's students are better prepared at a younger age.

The Republican governor used her State of the State address on Tuesday to resume the push against so-called social promotion, when third-grade students are passed on to the next grade even though they can't read at grade level.

The Public Education Department released data earlier this month that shows 6,815 students in third grade during the last school year did not attain proficiency in reading and that more than 95 percent of those students moved on to fourth grade in the fall.

New Mexico is one of eight states that allow for retention but do not require it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen states require students to repeat the grade if they lack reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

New Mexico High School Graduation Rate Hits All-Time HighAssociated Press

New Mexico officials say the state’s high school graduation rate climbed to an all-time high of 71 percent last year.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced the increase in the graduation rate Monday as she pushes for legislative reforms to crack down on truancy and retain more students in third grade if they can't meet literacy requirements.

The rate is up from 68.6 percent in 2015, and about 63 percent in 2011 just after Martinez took office.

The Public Education Department says graduation rates increased at 48 out of 89 school districts in 2016, including districts in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Gadsden, Santa Fe, Ruidoso, Taos and Carlsbad.

Nationwide, the high school graduation rate was 83 percent in 2015.

New Mexico Legislation Would Spare Some Bears That AttackAssociated Press

New Mexico lawmakers may scrap and rewrite regulations that currently mandate the euthanizing of bears and other wild animals that attack a human so that animals can be tested for rabies.

A bill has been pre-filed as the Legislature convenes Tuesday that would give health and wildlife officials the ability to consider the current risk of rabies and also whether the animal acted in self-defense.

Los Alamos resident Karen Williams says she helped develop the legislation after being attacked in northern New Mexico by a mother bear that she believes was acting in defense of her two young cubs. The bear was captured and destroyed, and the cubs were eventually re-released in the wild.

The proposed legislation follows rabies assessments from the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

Rule Easing Public Lands Transfer Concerns Hunters, OthersAssociated Press

A change in U.S. House rules making it easier to transfer millions of acres of federal public lands to states is worrying hunters and outdoor enthusiasts across the West who fear losing access.

Lawmakers earlier this month passed a rule eliminating a significant budget hurdle. It was written so broadly that it includes national parks.

President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Interior Secretary, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, voted for the rule change as did many other Republicans.

Attempts by some Western state lawmakers in recent years to wrest control of federal public lands have failed. But U.S. lawmakers have the authority regarding such transfers.

Outdoor recreationists fear states would sell the land to private entities that would end public access.

Boise State University public lands policy expert John Freemuth says any land transfers would face significant challenges.

NMSU Eliminated 727 Jobs At Las Cruces Campus Since 2011 Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University has eliminated 727 faculty and staff positions at its Las Cruces campus since 2011 due in part to a steady decline in enrollment and state appropriations.

Chancellor Garrey Carruthers told the Las Cruces Sun-News that the need to examine the staffing levels and "right-size" the university was apparent before enrollment and appropriations became an issue.

The university in 2015 contracted with a consulting firm to examine staffing levels and organization structures on the campus. The study found the school to be top-heavy, with too many managers overseeing too few employees. A campus-wide reorganization is nearing completion.

All told, the university has eliminated 64 faculty positions and 663 staff positions since 2011 — a reduction of more than $17 million per year in payroll.

Advocates Oppose Bill To Block Public Job Applicant NamesAlbuquerque Journal

A move to withhold the names of applicants for jobs at public agencies is drawing criticism from open government advocates.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the bill pre-filed by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, would create an exception to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act that would keep the names of applicants for public jobs secret.

That exception would not cover the name and resume of a finalist for the top slot of a public agency or institution. Papen said her hope is the change would help attract high-quality applicants for government jobs without risking their current employment.

Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, called the bill outrageous and warned it would create an environment of cronyism.

The New Mexico Press Association and the Society of Professional Journalists-Rio Grande Chapter also oppose the bill.

Bill Seeks To Bar Donations To Lawmakers During SessionSanta Fe New Mexican, AP 

A state lawmaker wants to close a loophole that lets members of the New Mexico Legislature accept campaign money while they're in session.

Current law prohibits members and candidates for the Legislature from soliciting contributions from Jan. 1 until they adjourn, but still lets them accept donations.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo filed a bill to close the loophole.

At least 55 members of the state Senate and House of Representatives reported receiving donations totaling nearly $108,000 during the 30-day legislative session last winter.

In addition, at least 53 legislators reported receiving donations during a weeklong special session last fall that came at the height of campaign season, about one month before the general election. Those contributions totaled more than $102,000.

Lawmakers Gather To Resolve Budget Crisis In New Mexico Associated Press

Filling a budget hole and finding enough money to maintain state government services next year are top priorities as New Mexico lawmakers convene for a 60-day legislative session.

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is scheduled to outline budget and policy priorities in a State of the State address on Tuesday. She says state government should be able to resolve a budget deficit and restore depleted reserves without raising taxes.

Plunging state revenues and economic difficulties are linked to a downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors.

Democrats who took back majority control of the Legislature in November elections have given a cold reception to the governor's proposals to sweep money from local school district reserves and reduce take-home pay to teachers and state workers through increased pension contributions.

Kids Count Report Sees Little Improvement In Child Well-BeingAlbuquerque Journal

Children in New Mexico are doing better on some measures according to the new Kids Count Data Book, but the state ranked 49th in overall child well-being.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports this is the second year in a row where the state occupied that slot. The report, released by New Mexico Voices For Children, found 3 in 10 children live in poverty and more than three fourths of kids are lagging in reading and math skills.

However, there were also improvements. Nearly all children have health insurance, fewer teens are abusing drugs and alcohol and there were declines in teen birth rates and in low birth-weight babies.

The report’s policy recommendations including raising the minimum wage and investing more in early childhood education programs. Those issues will be part of the Legislature’s agenda as it convenes Tuesday for a 60-day session.