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Legislators update county on session

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By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County’s three state legislators talked about what they’re going to be working on in next week’s 30-day legislative session to a packed house at the Fuller Thursday night.

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The event was cohosted by the League of Women Voters Los Alamos and the American Association of University Women, a non-partisan organizations that promote awareness of political candidates and issues through a public forum.

State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-43, talked to the audience about education, and gave them some good news.

“We (Garcia Richard, and Sens. Carlos Cisneros and Richard Martinez) stood before you a year ago $350 million in the hole, and it is so great to stand before you know in the black,” Garcia Richard said.

This January, the New Mexico State Legislature announced it was going into this session with a $200 million surplus.

Some of that funding, she said, may be used to give teachers a raise (1.5 percent proposed by legislature, 2 percent by governor and a 1 percent raise for all state workers).

She also said the Legislature would try to restore money for transportation, instructional materials and other “middle-of-the-line” items, money that was cutback when the state budget was running a $350 million deficit.

She also said both the Legislative Finance Committee’s and the governor’s budget contain increases for pre-K education.

She also said the Legislative Education Committee (Garcia Richard chairs the house committee) and the Legislative Finance Committee will look to make education funding more equitable among the 89 school districts and 100 charter schools.

She noted that because of language barriers and other markers, “some students are harder to educate than others,” and that there will be bills being considered that will help get more money to these students.

She also talked about bills she’s sponsoring with State Sen. Carlos Cisneros, Bill SB17. The bill, if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, would enable the state to continue collecting proceeds from non-profit companies that manage and operate the state’s two national laboratories, Sandia and Los Alamos.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory’s management and operations contract is currently out to bid. The winning bidder is expected to be announced by the National Nuclear Security Administration sometime this year.

Currently, New Mexico has an exemption in place that does not allow the state to collect GRT tax from non-profits.

Cisneros told the audience that the budget contains a $6.26 billion General Fund capacity, a 2.9 percent increase over the adopted 2017 budget.

Martinez wants to introduce a veteran’s home repair funding bill. It would appropriate about $2 million toward repairs and rehabilitation of homes owned by low income, honorably discharged veterans.

Martinez has also prefiled a bill that makes it a fourth degree felony for leaving the scene of an accident where serious injuries are reported.

The legislators were also asked about sexual harassment, and whether or not legislators should take sexual harassment awareness training. Cisneros said they will take the training Monday.

“This is certainly the first time in my 32 years in the state Legislature that we actually had specific training on this issue,” Cisneros said.

Garcia Richard said success comes when everyone who visits the capitol is aware that sexual harassment is not OK at any level. 

“We all need to help each other build a culture of safety, to build a culture where we believe folks who come forward with their story,” she said.

Garcia Richard also noted that the Monday training will just be a two-hour introduction, and that training will continue during the session. She also said New Mexico has been given an opportunity to lead on the issue, if they take it.

“New Mexico has an opportunity to be the leader of the nation in changing culture at state legislatures because (state legislatures) have an egregious reputation for this type of thing,” Garcia Richard said.

Garcia Richard also told the audience that this would be the last time she would be attending a legislative preview in Los Alamos as a state representative, since she formally announced last year that she’s stepping down to run for land commissioner.