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Hair-based discrimination: As a youngster, Harold Pope Jr. was teased so badly when his mother braided cornrows in his hair that he went home from school one day. “I can remember going to school and being treated unfairly; I was the only Black student at my school,” said Pope, now a state senator. On Thursday, the Albuquerque Democrat championed a bill that prohibits discipline, discrimination or disparate treatment in New Mexico schools based on a student’s hair or cultural headdress — a measure unanimously approved by the Senate.

This story also appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican

The bill states no local school board shall allow for the imposition of discipline, discrimination or disparate treatment against a student based on the student’s race or culture or because of the student’s use of protective hairstyles or cultural headdresses. “If we’re going to truly have a New Mexico for all, we must have protections in place that respect all New Mexicans,” said Pope, adding Senate Bill 80 was a “big deal” for him because the issue personally affected him.

Civil rights bill: The earliest the Senate will consider a proposal to create a New Mexico Civil Rights Act is Saturday. That’s when Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 4, will return to the floor. The news came after Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, asked for the measure to be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration — a request Senate Republicans have made before, arguing the financial implications of the bill on state government need to be vetted by the committee. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, asked Sharer to hold off on the motion until Cervantes returns to the chamber “just out of respect to him” and also to allow Cervantes to argue the motion.

“Can we just keep it off the calendar until this debate has been completed with the sponsor?” Sharer asked. Wirth said the bill would appear on the calendar. “But here’s the thing,” Wirth added, “I will assure you right now, we’re not going to hear it until the sponsor, the Senate sponsor, is back.”

Helping rural communities: Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said it’s all about ensuring “the voice of rural New Mexico still has a voice.” Toward that end she co-sponsored, with Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, Senate Bill 193, which would direct the state Department of Finance and Administration to hire a rural equity ombudsman. That official would work on rural issues of concern and provide help, planning assistance, advocacy efforts and complaint resolution, among other tasks. The ombudsman would make annual reports to the governor and the Legislature on the ombudsman’s activities, complaints received and resolved and other problems and issues related to rural communities. Members of the House, Local Government, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee unanimously passed the measure, saying such an effort is long overdue. The Senate unanimously supported the bill earlier this week. It now goes to the floor of the House for consideration.

Quote of the day: “I appreciate the desire to support Make-A-Wish Foundation, but my wish is that we don’t have any more specialty plate bills.” — Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, arguing against a bill that would allow a special license plate to support Make-A-Wish New Mexico. The measure, sponsored by Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, passed the Senate on a 26-10 vote. It was Gallegos’ first to pass through the chamber.

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