The Santa Fe New Mexican Staff

CYFD secretary confirmed: The Senate unanimously confirmed the appointment of retired state Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Vigil as Cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. Lawmakers heaped praise on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pick to lead an embattled state agency.

“Retired Justice Vigil has done what many people consider to be an incredible act of bravery by volunteering to step forward and assume responsibility for one of the more complicated and difficult departments in state government,” Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored her confirmation, told his colleagues.

Vigil, a New Mexico native who served as a Children’s Court judge for 10 years, said during a morning committee meeting her leadership would be focused on three core principles: transparency, accountability, and collaboration and inclusion.

“Our ultimate goal, my ultimate goal, is to achieve better outcomes for children and families,” she said. “It is my commitment to ensure that if a child and family come into contact with CYFD, that their lives must be better off for having had such contact.”

Opportunity scholarship: A bill that would cover tuition costs for all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges cleared the Senate Education Committee on a party-line 5-3 vote.

Republicans expressed concerns about the $85.5 million recurring cost of Senate Bill 140, also known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said she wouldn’t support anything that would create a recurring expense at that level.

“I’m convinced that the effort to end the source of revenue for this state is evident every single day I’m up here,” she said, referring to oil and gas.

“Those dollars are not going to be replaced by another industry for the foreseeable future, and yet we are acting like these dollars are going to be there,” she said. “I will tell you, in four years, three to four to five years, we’re going to be coming back, and we’re going to have to cut.”

Several educators urged the committee to pass the legislation, which is among the governor’s priorities.

“I really want to thank the governor for her leadership in advancing free college for all New Mexicans,” Joseph Shepard, president of Western New Mexico University, told lawmakers. 

Give her a gold star: Members of the House of Representatives unanimously voted to approve House Memorial 19, which honors educator Lorynn M. Guerrero, who was named New Mexico’s 2022 teacher of the year in October. Guerrero has taught for 15 years and currently teaches English language arts at the New America School-Las Cruces. Several House lawmakers spoke in tribute to her, with Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, saying, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child in New Mexico had the opportunity to have that kind of teacher?” The teacher of the year receives $10,000 in support and professional development programming.

Recall ’em all! The House Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee voted 3-2 to approve a resolution that would amend the state constitution to allow New Mexicans to recall public servants in both the executive and legislative branches. House Joint Resolution 12 would allow voters to submit a petition for recall citing acts or failures to act. The petition would be circulated for a period depending on whether the position is a statewide or districted position. It would require at least 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the last preceding general election in which the public official was elected. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 19 states — including neighboring Arizona and Colorado — plus the District of Columbia permit recalling public officials. 

Using data from the Secretary of State’s Office, the bill’s fiscal-impact report says the cost of a recall election would be the same as a general election, which is about $6 million. “Since the bill contains no limit to the number of recall elections, election officials could be subject to any number of recalls in a year,” the report said.

Quote of the day: “I’m not of the mind that all silence is awkward” — Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque. Romero, chairman of the House Education Committee, made the comment after a lengthy period of silence that some might consider awkward as committee members quietly pondered an amendment to an education bill.