Staff Report The Santa Fe New Mexican

Members of the House of Representatives moved quickly to approve a number of bills late Saturday night. Most, but not all, earned unanimous support.

Among them:

* House Bill 164 would require the state Environmental Department to coordinate a statewide effort among various executive agencies to clean up and reclaim legacy uranium mine and mill sites. That department also has to provide an annual report on those efforts.

* House Bill 43 would create a charter school facility revolving fund and authorizes the New Mexico Finance Authority to make loans to charter schools for the purchase, construction, expansion or renovation of facilities or to pay off lease-purchase agreements. The legislation also requires school districts to make any of their facilities not being used for educational purposes available to charter schools for lease or purchase.

* House Bill 145 would create a new section of the Children’s Code establishing a child welfare ombudsman office administratively attached to the Department of Finance and Administration. The office would be led by a chief child welfare ombudsman, appointed for six years by a committee with membership selected by the governor and legislative council. Among other goals, the new office would review the state Children, Youth and Families Department’s operations and receive and review complaints about its effectiveness.
All three bills now go to the Senate for consideration.

Free college bill: A bill that would expand eligibility to the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship passed the Senate with bipartisan support, marking another win for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s legislative agenda. Unlike the lottery scholarship, which is for high school graduates going directly to college, the Opportunity Scholarship provides free tuition to other New Mexicans.

“We made history in 1996 by being the first state to tell high school students they could go to college tuition-free,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, who sponsored Senate Bill 140. “But there are so many more New Mexicans of all ages and backgrounds who could benefit from higher education. We’re hoping to make history again by establishing the most accessible free-college program in the United States.”

After the Senate approved the bill 30-6, Lujan Grisham lauded the passage of one of her priority bills, which goes next to the House.