Legislators talk issues as session looms

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Politics > Session begins Tuesday with a mixed bag of priorities

By Tris DeRoma

Three of Los Alamos County’s representatives to the Round House stopped by Fuller Lodge this week to talk with residents about their goals for the upcoming legislative session that gets underway Tuesday.


Rep.-Elect Stephanie Garcia Richard D-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba Counties
Garcia Richard was elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in November. She teaches third grade in the Pojoaque School District, so it was no surprise then, that Richard told the audience she’d be their champion for education reform. However, she also tempered her enthusiasm with a dose of reality, by telling those on hand that it may take some time to get things done.

“... You may put your heart and soul into something, but it may take a few sessions to get there,” she said. “... I know that I’m starting out with a lot of idealism and enthusiasm, but hopefully, by the time we meet again I will still have some left.”

One thing Garcia Richard wants to reform is the teacher evaluation system, taking the emphasis off of testing and having it rely more on student surveys and peer review.

Another issue she would like to tackle is “third grade retention,” a state requirement that says if students are not reading by a third-grade level they are automatically held back. “Initially the problem I had with that proposal is that there was not enough of an emphasis on early prevention of getting to the point of not reading at third grade level,” Richard said. “I would like to see a lot more attention paid to early intervention.”

“In the state, we are facing a real downturn in job creation and job growth,” Garcia Richard told the audience. She added that there will be one particular proposal that she will support, as well as sponsor, to help turn things around. That would be the creation of the Jobs Training Incentive Program — a plan that offers incentives for on-the-job and classroom training.

“One of the obstacles that we face in our state in terms of the ability to grow industry and fostering an economic boom is an unskilled workforce,” Gacia Richard said. “That’s one way to duly influence our ability to attract industry and grow industry in the state is to have some job incentive training and incentive programs.”

Garcia Richard thanked the Los Alamos League of Women Voters for making water availability in New Mexico a priority.
She mentioned that many of the ranchers and farmers in La Cienega have not had water from the Santa Fe River for two growing seasons. She said she is working on a bill that will help change that with a sound water plan.

“There are bigger picture ways of looking at this water issue,” she said.

DUI laws
Once in office, Garcia Richard said she will work toward closing what she said are loopholes in the current drunk driving laws. She told the audience that she has been talking with Dr. Richard Roth, the person who designed New Mexico’s interlock laws about ways to do that. One of the things he’s’ currently looking at is a “home photo breathalyzer” a device that can be used at home, for those convicted drunk drivers who say they don’t have a car so there’s no need for an interlock system.

“They can always use someone else’s vehicle,” she said.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros D-Los Alamos Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos counties
This upcoming two-month session is going to be a busy one, according to Sen. Carlos Cisneros.

“There are many things on our agenda,” he said. “That’s fairly typical of a 60-day session pretty much anything goes as legislation is introduced that covers everything from expenditure of revenues to DWI legislation and pretty much whatever constituents request of their legislative body and its individual members.”

$282 million windfall
Cisneros, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, did have some good news for the audience. He said that they just released the budget projections for 2013 and that New Mexico should expect $282 million more in the budget than last year.

He said that after experiencing shortfalls in recent sessions, “It’s been extraordinarily difficult to function over the last three years, but it’s been very energizing to see substantial revenues come in for this legislative session. We clearly intend to go back and make up some of the losses.”

“Some of the issues that will come up, ones not recommended by the Legislative Finance Committee necessarily include issues of taxation, tax reduction and tax reform and we’ve witnessed jobs decrease rather than increase in our state over the course of this last year and that’s something I think we can focus on and try to remedy,” Cisneros said.

One thing that might change is New Mexico’s corporate tax policy. Currently, New Mexico goes by a gross receipts tax, and Cisneros said they may make the transformation over to a more corporate-friendly “single sales factor tax.” A reason, he said, is that computer chip maker Intel decided move a 6,000 employee operation to Chandler, Ariz., from New Mexico.

Salary increases for teachers
“One thing we haven’t done in three years is provide salary increases for our state employees — in particular, teachers,” Cisneros said. “In this budget proposal we will ask for a 1 percent increase in salary. It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing at all.”

Martinez told the audience at Fuller Lodge probably about 1,100 bills will be introduced in this session, and also wished the Los Alamos Public Schools luck in getting its $20 million bond request approved by voters. LAPS recently sent a ballot out to Los Alamos residents asking it to approve a bond referendum that will allow another $20 million in general obligation bonds to be issued to continue its 20-year mission to revamp and rebuild LAPS’ aging public schools.

“Children and education should be our top priority for all of us,” Martinez said. “It’s one of our most important issues.”

Driver’s licenses for immigrants
“One of my top priorities is to make sure Gov. Martinez does not repeal the driver’s license for immigrants bill,” said Martinez, adding he was the original sponsor of the legislation in 2004.

“It’s important to allow our visiting immigrants to have driver’s licenses, because it’s an issue of safety.”

He said everyone should have a valid driver’s license and registration.

“I think it’s important that the person who’s driving toward me knows how to drive safely, because everyone knows they’re going to drive regardless,” he said.

Martinez also said that the revenues generated through license and registration fees help everyone.

“They help in the sustainability of our government and much of that money is used to fix our roads,” Martinez said. “The reality is that we need to collect those fees.”

Other issues
Martinez said bills have already been introduced that will reduce the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission’s control over insurance regulation, transfer the commission to the Secretary of State, and up the educational requirements of the commissioners.

Martinez also said reform needs to come to the voting process, especially when it comes to the identification of “undocumented citizens.”

“It’s important that we do not infringe on anyone’s rights when it comes to voter identification,” Martinez said. “I think that usually elderly people are disenfranchised when they are forced to produce identification when they vote.”

Martinez also said he will be reintroducing his cruelty to animals’ bill this legislative session, and as well as examination of a study that would stipulate motorcycle clubs that are qualified to work as funeral escorts.