Serving the High Plains

Lawmakers did good work in session

Pay too much attention to the goings-on in Congress and you’d think our nation is broken. But focus your attention closer to home and you’ll see an altogether different picture.

Take the New Mexico Legislature as an example. It just went through a whirlwind 30-day session and got plenty done, and not just for the special interests. The people of our state, both left and right, might actually benefit from our lawmakers’ recent actions.

Altogether, 72 bills were passed and now await Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature to become law.

That count is according to Source New Mexico, which also reported the governor wasn’t altogether satisfied with the crime-and-punishment legislation passed. “It’s not off the table that we have a public safety special session,” the governor said immediately after the session ended.

Crime and public safety have been top-of-mind for the governor since an 11-year-ol boy was shot and killed outside an Isotopes game in Albuquerque last September. At that time, she imposed restrictions on carrying firearms in public, riling up pro-gun enthusiasts around the state while promising to do what she could to stem the tide of violence.

Anti-crime efforts also helped pass a couple of measures pushed by Republicans — one to raise the prison time imposed on convicted murderers, the other to tighten up pre-trial detention for repeat felons. Other measures, for a seven-day waiting period for gun purchases and firearm restrictions in and around polling places, also passed this session, without the Republicans’ support.

Education also received a lot of attention, with an overall 6% hike in spending that included millions of dollars for literacy and bilingual programs, along with school employee raises to bring everyone up to at least $15 per hour. However, two other actions — to change high school graduation requirements and to curb the state Public Education Department and its effort to essentially require a five-day classroom schedule per week — really hit home for schools around the state.

Again, it was Republicans who got the PED restriction in place, with help from some rural Democrats. The governor may well line-item veto that right out, but if she does it will be to the consternation of a lot of rural school districts that have found four-day classroom schedules to be advantageous for their own budgets as well as a good for recruiting new teachers.

Republicans are making it out to be an issue of local control, and indeed it is — especially for the smaller districts where four-day schedules are already in place.

Meanwhile, the Democrats latched on to another issue that’s near and dear to the hearts of rural school districts — career technical education, or CTE.

Lawmakers, including some Republicans, see this as an important first step toward a stronger workforce, and again, they’re right.

Of course, all this and more was done in the shadow of a $10.2 billion budget, the biggest in state history. Lawmakers were able to throw plenty of money at just about every perceived problem this state has and still keep nearly a third of the state’s revenues in reserves.

But, despite the reserves, wasteful spending is taking place. I’ve never seen a government that doesn’t waste taxpayers’ money on something or another. But, unlike Congress, our state lawmakers are actually getting things done without having to scramble every few weeks just to pay the bills.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

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