This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
State senator eyes congressional seat: Add state Sen. Mark Moores to the crowded field of candidates who hope to fill the soon-to-be-vacant 1st Congressional District seat now held by Rep. Deb Haaland, who was confirmed Monday as U.S. Interior Department secretary.
In a letter posted by political blogger Joe Monahan, the Albuquerque Republican informed members of the Republican Central Committee on Sunday of his intent to seek the GOP nomination.
“Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have their slimmest majority since the 1940’s. Republicans are energized against the Biden agenda and voters are willing to cross the aisle to vote for candidates who oppose endless shutdowns related to COVID-19, and who are against socialism,” wrote Moores, who has served in the Senate since 2013.
Including Moores, seven Republicans have expressed interest in the seat. And six Democrats have announced their intentions to seek the nomination, including three state representatives and a state senator.
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Capital outlay transparency: Legislation that would shine a light on lawmakers’ capital outlay appropriations received unanimous approval Monday from the Senate Finance Committee.
“This is just a no-brainer for all kinds of reasons,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. House Bill 55, championed by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, would require the Legislative Council Service to publish on the Legislature’s website a searchable database showing how coveted capital outlay dollars are being spent.
The database would include the project and “the appropriation or bond authorization amount allocated by each legislator or the governor,” according to a fiscal impact report.
“Transparency is the intent and how people choose to use that information or interpret that information is sort of up to them,” McQueen said.
The bill cleared the House of Representatives and goes to the Senate for consideration.
Education Committee speeds up: With time running out on this year’s session, the Senate Education Committee moved quickly to pass several education-related bills Monday. It approved legislation that would allow public school districts to take part in an extended-learning program that adds an hour of after-school time at elementary schools, rather than adding summer days to the calendar, as the state’s K-5 Plus program does.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, added an amendment setting up a pilot program in the initiative, and the committee unanimously approved the amendment and the bill.
The committee also unanimously approved Senate Bill 266, which amends the School Personnel Act to create a Level 1 alternative teaching license for individuals who teach students with disabilities.
The bill requires candidates to participate in a 15-week apprenticeship under a Level 2 or 3-A special-education teacher for a special-education alternative teaching license, while taking related coursework at a postsecondary educational institution. If passed into law, the bill would be effective July 1, 2022.
Finally, the committee also unanimously voted to support House Bill 6, which would redirect federal Impact Aid money to schools with primarily Native American students. Currently, 75 percent of that funding goes into the state’s per-student funding formula for all public schools.
Medical cannabis: Out-of-state visitors who have medical marijuana cards that are not issued by a government agency won’t be able to buy cannabis in New Mexico any longer under a bill the Senate passed on a 28-10 vote Monday.
“This is a bill that is is an effort at preventing some of the abuses that have begun creeping into our medical cannabis program in the state,” said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, adding Texans and others are obtaining medical marijuana cards online from California doctors “without ever having actually been seen by that doctor” and then buying cannabis in New Mexico.
He described Senate Bill 340 as an effort to close a loophole in the state’s medical cannabis program.
“What we’re trying to do is to make our reciprocity agreement much more effective so that if you’re living in Texas, you have to have a medical card issued by Texas in order to purchase [cannabis] here, and if you’re a New Mexico resident, you cannot get a card in another state and then try to use it here,” he said.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, introduced an amendment to increase the amount of cannabis patients could purchase, but the proposal was shot down. Ortiz y Pino said Candelaria’s amendment “basically converts our carefully regulated medical cannabis program into a come-and-get-it free-for-all.”
Education Freedom Accounts: Libre Initiative-New Mexico is new to the state’s education game, but it has found allies in Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, and Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso.
They teamed up to introduce House Bill 292, the Education Freedom Account Act, and the corresponding House Joint Resolution 11, which would allow the appropriation of public funds for private educational purposes.
The bill would allow state funding to go families of students who create individual accounts to be used strictly for educational purposes. It states funding would be equal to the average amount spent by the state and school districts on public school students. The resolution would change the state constitution to allow public funds to be used in that fashion.
Edwin Aybar of Libre Initiative-New Mexico said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how education is done and the accounts give the power back to families to determine their child’s educational needs. The funding could be used in a variety of ways, he said, including for public, private and charter school education.
The bill and the resolution remain in the House Education Committee.
Quote of the day: “It doesn’t feel like medical cannabis anymore. My guess is that 108,000 New Mexicans just smoke dope. … And you’re right, not all 108,000 of them smoke dope. Some of them eat brownies.” — Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, expressing surprise that such a large number of people in New Mexico have medical cannabis cards. When the state’s medical cannabis program was started some 14 years ago, Sharer said it was estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 people would sign up for it.