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Columns

  • Moving needle, leveling playing field

    As I write this, House members were still nose-to-nose, haggling over the budget, and the Senate had begun the process. How is it, you might ask, that the two parties are stalled on what amounts to 1 or 2 percent of the total budget?
    The education arguments by now look like deep ruts in a dirt road, the kind that wheels and water keep following because it’s difficult to do anything else. We’ve heard them in countless meetings, newspaper commentary, and legislative hearings. So I wasn’t expecting the House floor debate to be much different, and yet there were some points made that bear repeating.
    House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, reminded everyone that the state’s financial underpinnings are oil and gas, but hanging our hats on oil prices is precarious because the horizontal drilling and fracking that increased production here have increased production everywhere else. Supply and demand could tilt prices against us.
    Employment growth in the state is inching along at 1 or 2 percent, so increasing the budget 4.8 percent doesn’t seem prudent to him.
    Worthy arguments.

  • Education presentation offers obscure ideas

    This is one of those words-mean-something columns, to wit, some words used in political and public policy conversations are code for policy prescriptions.
    At the start of a recent presentation about education to the Albuquerque Press Women, cautionary bells rang when, under the headline, “liberal egalitarianism,” I heard, “Grave inequalities keep people from being meaningfully free to choose for themselves. Fairness and justice require a safety net with a livable minimum of housing, income, food, education, healthcare and equal opportunity.”
    Under “free market libertarianism,” I heard some more appealing points. “Free people should choose for themselves. People are responsible for their own actions and their consequences. Redistribution of income or wealth is unfair, and creates disincentives for hard work.”
    The libertarianism-egalitarianism nuggets were offered to define the political dialogue.
    While “fairness and justice” live as technical jargon in the identity politics of the left, the notion of “being meaningfully free” is obscure. I don’t remember the phrase, have no idea what it means, and suspect rampant agendas.

  • The politics of child abuse

    If any one person deserves credit for the creation of New Mexico’s Department of Children, Youth and Families it must surely be Alice King, wife of the state’s longest serving (12 years) governor, Bruce King.
    Alice and Bruce King are now deceased, and more’s the pity.
    But during their three (non-consecutive) terms in Santa Fe it was widely understood that the governor not only cherished his wife, he trusted her judgment and valued her counsel.
    In the early years Mrs. King publicly feigned to be little more than the traditional “First Lady” — wife, mother, help-mate.
    One year into Bruce King’s final term as governor, however, Alice King came into her own by putting her experience and political savvy to the task of consolidating various programs critical to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children and young people that, despite good intentions, frequently languished throughout the far-flung agencies of state government.
    In 1992, that consolidation became the single, cabinet-level department we know today as Children, Youth and Families, CYFD, focused on issues central of New Mexico life.

  • Ways to protect a pet's dental health

     

  • E Pluribus Multi Stulti

     

    In  the United States Constitution, the Founding Fathers took great care with the inclusion and exclusion of various topics. Many aspects of what defines America are explicitly enumerated.

    And many other aspects were purposely avoided. For instance, they made no effort whatsoever to define a national language.

    Standing on avant-garde political terra firma of the times, these colonial guerrillas forged a joie de vivre mentality that gave birth to a nation. The omission of declaring a national language was, de facto, evidence of their compos mentis and a sense of Realpolitik.

    Then again, maybe this exclusion was per se, a faux pas? 

  • Agreement reduces separation anxiety

    There are many circumstances under which an employee and employer part ways.
    An employee can choose to leave a job, or the company may make a unilateral decision to end the employment relationship. Whatever the case, the separation should be documented in writing to protect both parties.
    For the employee’s benefit, a separation agreement should detail in writing what the employer intends to provide at the parting. These might include the final paycheck, severance pay, pay-out of unused vacation or sick time and/or any continuation of coverage under the company’s health-care plan.
    For the employer, an agreement can help protect against some potential lawsuits and clarify what the employee agreed to provide the company when hired. These might include an agreement stating that the employee would not compete directly against the company for a predetermined period, agreements not to disclose proprietary or confidential information and promises to return company property, such as a company-provided laptop or car.
    A separation agreement should identify the company and the exiting worker, and it should give the reasons for the departure. While this is especially important when the employee is fired for cause, it’s just as critical when the employee initiates the separation.

  • Eleven of 34 proposed Constitutional amendments target education

    Amending the New Mexico Constitution ought to be more difficult, says Sen. John Ryan, Albuquerque Republican. Ryan has proposed a constitutional amendment to that effect.
    Ryan’s Senate Joint Resolution 17 is but one of 34 amendments introduced for consideration during the current legislative session. Bill introductions ended Feb. 5. Senators introduced 330 bills, House members, 357.
    SJR 17, while hardly momentous, might be a good idea. Ryan proposes requiring that two-thirds of legislators approve an amendment instead of the current majority. However it would not really address and certainly not solve the salient characteristic of the Constitution, which is that it is often amended. Once blessed by the Legislature, proposed amendments are voted upon at the next general election.
    After a quick slog through the 2014 proposed amendments, four ideas stand out — one good, three marginal — and a theme emerges.
    The marginal ideas are proposals to regulate moral behavior that I think do not fit in a constitution, which is supposed to outline the fundamental framework of government.

  • Should you buy pet insurance?

    One topic I’ve learned to avoid with new acquaintances until I know them better (along with politics and religion) is where they stand on the treatment of pets. Some people, when their dog gets sick or badly injured, say, “It’s an animal — that’s just part of the circle of life.” Others consider Rover a close family member and would take out a second mortgage to save his life.
    Pet owners from both camps probably see the barrage of ads for pet insurance and wonder whether it’s worth the expense, which might be several thousand dollars over the life of your pet. I did some research and the best answer I can come up with is, it depends.
    First, ask yourself: Do you regard pet insurance as a financial investment, where you expect to get back more in benefits than you paid out in premiums over the pet’s life? Or, is it more like auto or homeowner’s insurance, where you hope nothing ever goes seriously wrong, but you want coverage in case there’s a catastrophe?
    Either way, here are some basic facts about pet insurance that may help you decide whether it’s right for you:
    Pet insurance shares many features with human health insurance: Policies typically have annual deductibles, copayments and exclusions, and some limit which veterinarians, clinics and hospitals you can use.

  • Election could be determined by what else in on the ballot

    The 2014 election is officially underway, with the filing of qualifying petitions last week. Five Democrats have lined up to challenge Gov. Susana Martinez. All five met the goal, submitting petitions with more than 3,000 signatures. Though there’s little media attention so far, the race is already energetic.
    Martinez doesn’t have re-election locked in. She’s believed to be the heavy favorite today against an unnamed Democrat, but she could be vulnerable on a number of counts. So far, she’s managed to keep her public image separate from the most serious controversies of her administration. But we don’t know yet what voters are thinking.
    The Democratic nominee could make hay of Martinez’s many out-of-state trips pursuing her own or her party’s political interests. Her well-publicized jaunt to New Jersey in November, campaigning for the re-election of Gov. Chris Christie, could turn out to be a liability — maybe because his reputation is now in question, or maybe just because she was gadding about the country instead of doing her job in New Mexico.

  • Rural dental care stumbles in Senate

    If you live in a rural area and you have a toothache, chances are you’ll have to drive for several hours to get help.
    A bill to remedy that, now stuck in a Senate committee, shows us both the strengths of our legislative system and the weaknesses. The strengths are the power of bipartisan cooperation, in this case, between Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Springs, and Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico. The weakness is the power of one person to mess things up.
    You probably know by now that New Mexico doesn’t have enough dentists. We rank 39th in the United States, according to Health Action New Mexico, a consumer advocacy group. More than a third of rural school kids have tooth decay.
    Senate Bill 76 would create a new kind of dental provider, the dental therapist-hygienist, who would occupy a niche between a dentist and a hygienist. With supervision from a dentist, the therapist-hygienist could provide many services, including extractions.
    The model is a program that has served Alaska Native villages. People in the village choose an individual, who receives training and then returns to provide dental care for his or her village.
    “The Alaska model is a Native solution to a Native problem,” Shendo told me. “It would work here.”