Tue March 15, 2011
State Senate tightens restrictions on schools' ability to call police on students
By Jim Williams
Santa Fe, NM – The state Senate has passed a measure that will require school districts to develop policies around when they call police over the actions of their students. Advocates for the developmentally disabled say some districts are bringing in law enforcement at inappropriate times. There've been lawsuits filed by parents as a result.
The measure is sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, who described a scenario where a child had a temper tantrum over not being able to get some work done.
"And the teacher tried to restrain him," Ortiz y Pino said. "This is a nine year old boy. And in the course of restraining him, the teacher called for the security guard to come, and they held the boy down, who then panicked and started kicking and struggling. And in that action the teacher was slightly injured. That's a judgment call about whether you're gonna call the cops in or not. And we're simply saying let's have the school system put down on paper some guidelines so that it's clear that minor things like that shouldn't go to the court, where they're just gonna be tossed anyhow. And instead dealt with internally in the school."
But opponents of Senate Bill 418, like Farmington Republican Senator William Sharer, called it an Albuquerque problem that probably doesn't exist in most of the other 88 school districts around the state.
"My guess is that in most places the sheriff or the local law enforcement is in fact working with the schools and the superintendent," Sharer stressed. "And you know, rarely do you hear about these kind of things in Roy or Masquero or Hagerman or Tatum or Lovington or Jal. So now we're gonna put a bunch of additional things on here that the school district has to deal with. And you know, they're irrelevant to most of those schools."
Roswell Republican Senator Rod Adair put out a call for the governor to veto the bill. He said he didn't believe parents who had filed lawsuits over treatment of their children wanted to work things out with the districts.
Adair added, "and this bill just appears to be another in a series of initiatives like that which will not only be impossible for schools to deal with and interfere with the educational mission, but be, I am almost certain, the goal of a new and perpetual multi-decade lawsuit."
The measure also requires training of school resource officers around responding to special-needs kids. Senator Clint Harden of Clovis, who has an autistic grandson, was the lone Republican to support it. He noted that autism levels continue to rise, and schools need to respond appropriately.
"I think as we move more and more into a situation in our education system of inclusion," Harden said, "where children with special needs especially, where we're not just warehousing these children anymore, we're trying to give them the proper training, get them the kind of help they need, to move through the education system so that they may, and can at some point in their life be self-sufficient."
The measure passed 25 to 14 and heads now to the House. Then Senate then moved on to debate the removal of locomotive fuel from the list of taxable items in the state. Democratic Las Cruces Senator Cynthia Nava sponsored the bill that would do it.
"The purpose for this legislation is to attract Union Pacific Railroad away from Texas and to New Mexico," Nava said. "Currently Texas does not tax locomotive fuel. In order to recruit this business into our state, we must remove the tax from locomotive fuel."
Nava added that the resulting growth in the Dona Ana County area would benefit New Mexico with hundreds of jobs eventually, both to build the new railyard, then to run it with Union-Pacific employees. The tax break could cost the state as much as 8 million dollars a year. The bill would require that a railroad after 2012 make a 100 million dollar investment in new construction or renovations of a railroad locomotive refueling facility. And the measure requires a yearly analysis of how much in taxes the company saves, and how many jobs are created. The legislature would, every 6 years, review the tax break. Opponents said the state should be investing instead in schools. Las Cruces Democratic Senator Steve Fischmann:
"I think we have to get away from the idea that it's the state's job, and the taxpayer's job," Fischmann argued, "to take the risk and subsidize these projects. And we need to leave some of the benefit for our taxpayers and for ourselves. And this is particularly critical now when we're facing a budget crisis, when we're telling teachers and we're telling state employees you're gonna take a de facto pay cut'."
Nava acknowledged the tax break will attract workers from El Paso, so it's unclear how many New Mexicans would get jobs from it. There were attempts to amend the bill to ensure a majority of jobs went to the state's residents, but they failed. The Senate ended up passing the locomotive fuel tax exemption, and the measure heads now to the House.