In Session: Lawmakers have 30 days to pass a budget and tackle myriad policy issues
Oringalliy published in the Santa Fe Reporter, written by By Julia Goldberg: https://www.sfreporter.com/news/2020/01/22/in-session/
Education. Cannabis. Public safety. Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham put forward some of the top priorities she wants lawmakers to address in the legislative session that kicked off at noon on Jan. 21. By law, the 30-day sessions occurring during even-numbered years are restricted to fiscal matters—budgets, appropriations and revenue bills—along with items called for by the governor.
Here is a look at some of the top issues lawmakers will address over the next month—keeping in mind the governor can add to her list and lawmakers have until Feb. 5 to file proposed bills.
In the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers, backed by Lujan Grisham, created the new cabinet-level Early Childhood Education and Care Department. “This new department is the vehicle,” Lujan Grisham said in a release at the time, “to arguably the most important turnaround we must and will make as a state in the coming years.” In November, the governor named Elizabeth Groginsky, a former assistant superintendent of early learning for the District of Columbia, as the department’s first secretary.
For the 2020 session, “Education leads the charge,” says Victor Reyes, the governor’s legislative director. At the top of the list is establishing the Early Childhood Trust Fund, House Bill 83, to create sustainable revenue for early childhood education programs.
Katherine Freeman, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Fe County, says supporting the trust fund bill will be United Way’s main focus during the upcoming session. The nonprofit’s policy arm, the New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership, is working on a strategic plan that builds on a statewide needs assessment it conducted last year. Its findings included exigencies in recruiting, training and retaining professionals who work with young children, and highlighted “the depth of the workforce issues,” Freeman says, and the “need to think about alternative models of credentialing and really an approach to workforce development that supports the long-term contribution of providers in the community.”
Early childhood isn’t the only high-stakes education proposal: Lujan Grisham’s New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship would create tuition-free college for New Mexico residents; the proposal made big national news when she first announced it in September. The scholarship program would benefit an estimated 55,000 New Mexico students by covering tuition and fees at any of the state’s 29 public institutions of higher education through a $35 million appropriation to the Higher Education Department.
Increasing teacher salaries also is in the pipeline. The governor’s proposed budget includes a 4% increase for teachers. State House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, has called for a 10% increase. At a Jan. 15 legislative preview sponsored by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, Egolf said during a recent visit to Carlsbad, he learned the salary for an entry-level teacher there is $41,000, while a job driving an 18-wheeler in the oil fields pays $100,000. “Both jobs are important,” he said. Still: “We need to be putting more money into these districts so they can pay competitive salaries and we can get the best and brightest into the classroom.”