Lawmakers pleased with budget, less so with other issues

The good: Tax breaks for energy superstation Tres Amigas.

The bad: No driver's license or education reform.

The ugly: "The leadership (state Legislature) knows how to use procedure to get what they want and once again thwarted the will of the majority of New Mexicans." — Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico.

Those are the conclusions of four eastern New Mexico lawmakers fresh from the 30-day budget session of the Legislature that ended Thursday.

Roch, Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, and Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, all said they were pleased the Legislature was able to present Gov. Susana Martinez with a balanced budget and no new taxes.

But it was almost all downhill beyond the budgeting process. They cited politics as the reason two of Martinez's signature issues — driver's license and education reforms — failed.

All four lawmakers supported changing the state law that allows undocumented persons to obtain a driver's license in New Mexico as well as the end of social promotion in state elementary schools. They were also disappointed that many of their own bills failed.

Here are highlights of what they had to say:

• Clint Harden, Senate Dist. 7

Harden, who announced Saturday that he is retiring, noted the $5.6 billion budget approved amounts to about a $220 million increase. He said the bulk of that 4 percent increase will go to Medicaid and public schools.

Two bills Harden introduced for the Corrections Department both failed. One would have enhanced the victim notification system and he said the other would improve public safety by allowing for more offenders released from prison to go into an intensive supervision program.

• Anna Crook, House Dist. 64

"I was pleased we got a budget and all but there were a number of things … that didn't get through the process."

Crook also praised lawmakers for approving a bill that exempts the Tres Amigas project planned in Clovis from gross receipts taxes.

David Stidham, vice president for Tres Amigas, said previously that a tax break could definitely influence his company's decision whether to build its headquarters in New Mexico or Texas. The energy superstation is still being planned for a location north of Clovis. But tax incentives offered in Texas has Tres Amigas considering locating the business sales end of the operation in that state.

Crook said she was sorely disappointed at the failure to reform the driver's license law. Crook said she ran a poll in local newspapers early on in the session and "95 percent of my constituents (responding) favored not having a driver's license for illegals."

On social promotion, Crook said she supported a bill that would stop the practice in elementary schools. The bill was rejected, Crook said, because opponents felt it limited parental input on the decision whether or not to promote a student.

They felt, Crook said, that holding back a student could stigmatize the child. Crook said she believed any kind of emotional trauma caused by failing to be promoted paled in comparison to what they would encounter as adults unable to read.

• Dennis Roch, House Dist. 67

Reforming social promotion has been a long-term goal for Roch, who is also assistant superintendent of Texico schools. He pushed for it in a special redistricting session late last year, and helped lead the unsuccessful fight in the latest session.

Stopping the practice of promoting third graders who fail a reading proficiency test is only common sense, Roch said.

"We have standards in high school that say we're not going to give students a diploma unless they meet certain graduation standards," he said. "What we don't have now are standards requiring students be able to read."

Asked why the effort to stop social promotion failed, Roch said, "I believe the true picture is the governor. The Democrats obviously didn't want to give her a win over one of her signature issues."

Roch's bill to change teacher evaluations also failed. He said under the current system, a teacher evaluation is 100 percent based on the principal's evaluation of their work.

"That means if a principal likes a teacher," said Roch, "that teacher could get great evaluations. The flip side of that is a teacher could be doing great things. But, if they don't get along with the principal, they could wind up with a negative evaluation."

Roch said his bill would have changed it to 25 percent evaluation by the principal, 25 percent based on evaluation of either the teacher's students or their parents and the remaining 50 percent would be based on student success.

• Stuart Ingle, Senate Dist. 27

"We had a very deliberative session and we have produced a good budget for the state," Ingle, the Senate minority leader, said in a prepared statement.

"It is disappointing," Ingle said, "that we were not able stop the state from issuing driver's licenses to people who come to our state illegally. Many come here solely to get our license to be used as a legitimate form of identification to be able to travel freely around our country. I dread the day one of our New Mexico licenses is used by someone who was not here legally to do great harm against our country and our against our people. I fear New Mexico will deservedly receive the rage of the world."

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