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Still waiting on early childhood fund: Proponents of House Joint Resolution 1, a proposal to let voters decide whether to draw money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education programs, have to wait a little longer to see if the legislation will be heard on the Senate floor.

This story also appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican

The sponsors, Reps. Moe Maestas and Javier Martínez, Democrats from Albuquerque, once again touted the measure’s potential for changing the future for our state’s children, but the discussion was jammed into about a half-hour window at the end of Sunday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing. As a result, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, pushed the debate to Monday, assuring the sponsors the bill would get a final hearing and vote even if the discussion lasts late into the night.

The resolution has become one of the most vetted and publicized in recent years. HJR 1 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing for a 1 percent annual distribution from the $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund — almost $200 million a year — to pay for services for New Mexico’s youngest children.

Supporters of the legislation say it would better prepare pre-K kids for K-12 schooling, increase academic achievement and improve graduation rates in a state that generally is at the bottom of most national studies on public education. Critics have said any drawdown from that fund could hurt its future stability. And because the fund helps finance K-12 schools, they argue it also could hurt the public education system.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, told the sponsors he is dubious about the measure’s potential to change things for the better. He said the state already has invested more money in its pre-K system with little to show for it. “I’m glad you’re trying to do something,” he said. “I just don’t think this is the solution.”

Muñoz told Maestas and Martínez he still has some “tough issues” with the bill and they should expect amendments to be introduced in the next hearing, though he did not provide specifics.

Trapping ban rolls on: Members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Sunday voted 7-4 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 32.

The measure is called “Roxy’s Law” after an 8-year-old dog that was caught and killed by a neck snare at Santa Cruz Lake in 2018. With some exemptions, it prohibits the use of traps, snares or poison on public lands and establishes misdemeanor penalties for violations of the anti-trapping measure.

Proponents of the bill say it can protect members of the public and their pets from cruelty and a painful death. Opponents say it does not take into account the need to have such measures in place to cut back on predators, such as coyotes, that attack livestock. The bill’s supporters told stories of domestic dogs or endangered Mexican wolves caught in the grips of the traps.

Dave Clark, who was Roxy’s owner, told the committee “indiscriminate killing shouldn’t be condoned in a modern society.”

Opponents told tales of packs of coyotes devouring a newborn calf and, in some cases, that calf’s mother, causing grief for ranchers in the process. And, they said, some ranches extend onto public lands. “We’re elevating pets to a position superior to that of cattle owners,” Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said.

He joined the three other Republicans on the committee in opposing the legislation, which next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Bonuses for Capitol workers: Legislative staffers who have been working in the Roundhouse during the pandemic would receive a $300 bonus under a bill the Senate unanimously approved Sunday. “We figured out a number we can add to their pay for serving us and New Mexico, for really serving the people in New Mexico and being willing to come up here during this time of COVID and put them and their families maybe at risk,” said Sen. George Muñoz, who sponsored Senate Bill 439.

While lawmakers have a constitutional duty to be at the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the decision to work during the legislative session was not easy for many staffers. “This is just a minor, minor token of our appreciation for everything that you all have done, the sacrifices you have made to allow us to fulfill this constitutional duty,” he said. “What I want to thank them for,” joked Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, “is for allowing themselves to be subjugated to having a prod stuck up their nose every week.”

Senate passes bill to ban ‘gay panic’ defense: The Senate unanimously approved a measure Sunday that would end the use of the “gay panic” defense in criminal cases.

The sponsor, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, described the defense as a strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.

“Growing up as a queer person in this state,” Candelaria said, fighting back tears, “[I want] every one of you [to] understand, this bill is tremendously important. But there are still so many young people in our community who fear for their lives because of who they are. And that is still a reality. But by doing this, we send a clear statement of public policy that our state no longer gives quarter to those sort of discriminatory attitudes.”

After the vote, members of the chamber stood up in applause.

Play ball — and get paid: The House of Representatives voted 43-21 Sunday to approve Senate Bill 94, which would allow college athletes to enter into deals where they would get paid for endorsements.

The bill’s sponsors — Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque — said it would allow those students a chance to earn money to help them pay for college and succeed in life afterward.

Some lawmakers from both parties voiced concerns during Sunday’s floor debate, wondering if such a move would really help students focus on their academics and questioning the lack of limits on what students might endorse. The bill already cleared the Senate, so now it heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for a signature.  

Body camera exceptions: A bill signed into law last year that requires all law enforcement officers in New Mexico to wear body cameras will now include a series of exceptions under changes approved by the state Senate late Sunday.

“In our haste and the pace by which we passed this bill, we did not think through some of the issues,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. “We did not think through the circumstances when body cameras may not be appropriate.”

Officers would no longer be required to record death notifications, undercover operations sanctioned in advance and the recovery and disposal of bombs.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said he appreciated Cervantes bringing the changes forward but that it was a “perfect example” of lawmakers moving too quickly. The original bill came amid social unrest and demonstrations in protest of police brutality. “I was one of the ones that stood up and said we were moving too quickly, that it was happening too fast, and we needed to take our time and here we are again,” Pirtle said.

Quote of the day: “We’re about to legalize recreational cannabis. Hopefully. Maybe. We’ve got six days.” — Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, during Sunday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Senate Bill 340, which would close a gap in the state’s medical cannabis law that allows New Mexico residents to get a license to use medical cannabis from another state. Stewart was referring to legislation to legalize cannabis that has apparently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That legislation was slated to be heard Sunday, but it was pulled from the agenda before the hearing began. However, the committee did vote to approve SB 340.

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