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Friday, December 19, 2014

Senator: Session was ‘utter waste of time’

As of Thursday at noon, the 2012 Legislative session is over, but lengthy discussion prevented some bills from reaching a vote.

Sen. Rod Adair (R, Roswell) said inconsequential speeches and ceremonies meant some important legislation died.

“Ninety-five percent of the time was wasted,” he said. “It was wasted on speeches on the floor, things like Chile Day, Firefighter Day, Rio Rancho Day, fill-in-the-blank day and introducing visitors … instead of doing something for the economy and doing something for tax refunds to stimulate the economy. It was a complete, utter waste of time.”

Rep. Dennis Roch (R, Texico) used a filibuster Thursday morning to delay the State Graduate Employment Tax Credit (SB 16), which would have given businesses incentives to hire college graduates from New Mexico. GPSA President Katie Richardson said the bill died waiting to be heard.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for students to get jobs in New Mexico, and for the state to bring in high tech industry and cultivate high tech industry in the state,” she said. “We received tremendous support at every turn in the legislative session, … I think GPSA will regroup again next year.”

Sen. Timothy Keller (D, Albuquerque) sponsored the bill and said it was heralded as one of the best of the session. The good news is it should be straightforward when the legislature hears it in the next session, he said.

“The graduate students did a great job advocating for the bill and so did UNM officials,” Keller said. “How far it got is because of the great job they did.”

The same filibuster kept Educational Retirement Changes (SB 150) from the House floor, said Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D, Questa). The bill would have increased employee contribution to the retirement fund by 0.75 percent and increase the retirement age to 55, Cisneros said.

“That was an issue of contention, mostly by the employees themselves, teachers in particular,” he said.

Two bills that would alter the social promotion law in education weren’t heard because the issue was so polarized, said Sen. Mary Jane Garcia (D, Doña Ana). Social promotion means allowing students move through grade levels based on age, rather than learning achievement.

She said the House couldn’t decide between Limits Retentions Through Interventions (SB 96), which would eliminate parents’ rights to advance their children into the next grade when the child isn’t prepared to advance, and Limits Retentions Through Remediation (SB 50), which would create remedial programs to give children extra help and prevent them from being held back.

As it stands, the law allows students who do not read at the level appropriate for their grade to be promoted if parents say they will try to correct it themselves, she said.

“The majority of us support early-childhood education,” she said. “I, for one, indicated several times that it’s too late for a child who can’t read by third grade; it’s got to start sooner.”

One of Gov. Susana Martinez’s initiatives in education reform was a comprehensive reading program for students in kindergarten through third grade, Adair said. The program would have cost $29 million, but failed to pass when extensive discussion exceeded the time available, he said.
“The collective actions of the majority of the Legislature means they’re not committed to education reform,” he said. “They’re satisfied with the status quo and being last in the nation.”

Limit Issuance of Driver’s Licenses (SB 235) was an effort to substitute the governor’s proposal to repeal outright the 2003 state law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, Garcia said. The majority of the House wanted to compromise: The bill would grant undocumented immigrants a driver’s license for one year. The license would need to be renewed every year under the condition that undocumented immigrants keep their residence for six months and commit no crimes.

“They’re doing the jobs that a lot of our own people don’t want to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of jobs that these people do, happily and willingly and for low wages. Another issue, I don’t like idea of separating children from their parents.”

Garcia said she’s received emails calling her names like “Latino lover” and “illegal-alien lover,” telling her she should be working for the people who pay taxes. But Garcia said the emails aren’t based on fact. She said undocumented immigrants do pay taxes when they shop, for instance, and that deporting thousands of workers would hurt the economy.

“I think that this issue, quite frankly, my sense of it is that this is a diversion tactic to get away from the real issues that we should have been talking about and debating the day we arrived here,” she said. “They’re concerned about employment and they need legislation that creates jobs. That’s what we need to do rather than fighting about a license and who gets it.”

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D, Albuquerque) said legislators heard several requests from state companies for tax breaks. Cisneros said legislators granted $41 million in tax relief measures.

Each company said they would have no choice but to leave the state if their requests weren’t granted, Ortiz y Pino said he can’t think of one that wasn’t granted. The tax breaks were not figured into the budget, and he said a task force has never been created to explore their claims that they are vital to the state economy.

“I think any business in the state that hasn’t been (asking for tax breaks) ought to have their heads examined, because that’s apparently the way to get everything you want from us is to blackmail us,” he said. “This is all future revenue. We didn’t even realistically take it into account in the budget this year.”

The General Obligation Bond Projects (SB 66) passed, which puts $139.3 million into various projects statewide. For UNM specifically, $3 million will go toward Castetter Hall.