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Opinion

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • Those of us deeply involved in “consequential matters,” such as politics, the Legislature, the potential $417 million shortage for estimated Medicaid expenses, the non-performance of the state economy, sometimes need reminding that life exists outside the arenas.
    The national political overlay doesn’t help, what with Hillary Clinton’s lies, Bernie Sanders’ delusions, Donald Trump’s destructive offensiveness, the youth of the two senators and John Kasich’s decency.
    A massage therapist in Albuquerque feels doubly pressured. She finds Trump scary and fears the effect on her customers when Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s bus rapid transit fiasco destroys Central Avenue in front of the building where she has been for 17 years.
    A recent Sunday had, as bookends, regular life on Saturday and the governor on Monday.
    For us, regular life meant the sunny and warm Jemez Springs Cabin Fever Festival Feb. 21. Festival vendors included artisans from four pueblos – Acoma, Zia, Jemez and Taos.
    Cars lined the main street. The Bodhi Mandala Zen Center filled its grounds with cars parking at $2 each. Restaurants overflowed with people. After checking the legendary Los Ojos Bar, we ambled a few blocks south for a dandy pastrami sandwich at the Highway 4 Café.

  • BY CATHY SORENSON
    Community Development Officer, The Loan Fund
    Finance New Mexico

  • The workers’ compensation coverage requirement in New Mexico has always been a mess. Finally somebody is paying attention to it.  
    A state Court of Appeals decision last year yanked away the exemption that protected farmers and ranchers for decades from concerning themselves with this convoluted language.  After the decision, the Workers’ Compensation Administration told them they would have to start buying workers’ comp insurance.  The state Supreme Court has temporarily stayed the requirement, pending its review of the case. But now, in case the Supreme Court doesn’t bail them out, they are grappling with it (paragraphs 52-1-6 and 52-1-7 of the statutes).     
    Most businesses with three or more employees are required to buy coverage, and that ends the discussion for them. (Construction is the exception, requiring all employers to have coverage, regardless of the number of employees.)
    But for very small businesses, the question of what constitutes “three” is a serious matter.  (My slogan: There are many ways to count to three.) So is the question of what constitutes an employee. These issues are not simple.
    Farmers and ranchers are looking to change these paragraphs. If you operate a very small business, or are employed by one, any changes will affect you.  

  • Jobs bills took a backseat to crime and budget wrangling in this legislative session, even though New Mexico has the nation’s worst unemployment. But as the smoke clears, we see some good bills emerging while others wait on the runway for next year.
    Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed two bills. One of her priorities was the Rapid Response Workforce Program to quickly train workers – a shortage of trained workers will keep a company from relocating. This is a challenge around the state. Endorsed by the bipartisan legislative Jobs Council, the bill passed both houses unanimously. By some miracle, legislative budgeters found $1.25 million to fund it. Kudos to the governor for championing this bill.
    A second measure signed into law allows small and mid-size communities (up to 35,000) to use local funding through the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) for retail projects. That might not sound impressive, but in small towns, a new store is economic development, and it’s important in larger towns that lack certain kinds of shopping.
    More good news: The Tourism Department will have $300,000 more for advertising and $300,000 more for event sponsorship grants. And the public-private New Mexico Economic Development Corp. will get about $1.4 million more.

  • Consideration of history in New Mexico usually stops around Socorro and the year 1900, with passing mention of Roswell for aliens, Lincoln and Billy the Kid for murder, and perhaps White Sands for the Trinity atomic bomb test in 1945.
    OK, that’s an overstatement. But a brief survey of my four-volume New Mexico history book collection finds them well short of mentions of Clovis, Hobbs, oil, Silver City and more.
    The history of New Mexico is taught in the public schools, more often than I thought. Seventh-graders get a year. State history appears in elementary school and high school. How well the history is taught could be another story.
    Thinking of our history was spurred by three comments.
    For a Smithsonian magazine article, Richard Grant is in Jones County Mississippi, “to breathe in the historical vapors…” The article is “The Raging Rebellion of Jones County.” Historical vapors are well breathed in New Mexico, too.
    In a newspaper review of a book about Romania, “Trapped by the New Iron Curtain,” Edward Lucas chides the author, Robert Kaplan, for saying, “I liked having the place to myself.” People complain about New Mexico’s growth, which has reversed the past two years, with the same whine.

  • BY TERRY JARRETT
    Attorney, Hush & Blackwell LLP

  • BY STEPHEN S. HAMILTON
    Attorney & Mediator, Montgomer & Andrews. P.A.

    Finance New Mexico

  • Education has become a tug-of-war – or maybe just a war – and this legislative session was no exception.
    Democrats couldn’t convince their opponents to use the state’s permanent funds to support education, and Republicans didn’t make any headway in ending social promotion. Give them credit for trying hard.
    Beyond those top-tier bills were several layers of lesser issues that did see compromise, and legislators deserve a pat on the back for finding a little more money in the budget for public education, even in a year when other departments saw cuts.
    In 2003, we tapped the permanent fund to support teachers’ salaries, and that amendment to the constitution was controversial. The cities supported it, and the rural areas didn’t. This year that revenue stream was scheduled to drop from 5.5 to 5 percent, and Dems also wanted more money for early childhood education, so there were three proposed amendments.
    Nobody argues the good of early childhood programs. Sponsors honed their proposals to answer criticism that the early childhood spending measure lacked a plan and added a sunset. They failed.

  • BY BOB HAGAN
    Special to the Monitor

  • Republican faithful filled the ballroom at Albuquerque’s Crown Plaza hotel for the pre-primary convention. The crowd was around 500 plus staff and security.
    The room’s fullness on a sunny Saturday less than two days after the legislative session ended is worth noting. In some previous years, one veteran observed, the room had not been full.
    As people entered the hall, bunches of buttons and brochures introduced them to Judith Nakamura of Albuquerque, appointed last fall to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Because Nakamura was appointed to fill a vacancy on the court, to keep her new job, she must run in the 2016 general election. The run requirement is in Article VI, Section 35 of the Constitution, one of those long, detailed parts of the Constitution that add length and require amendment to make even small changes.
    Nakamura gave a vigorous speech, something often lacking in judge candidates. The buttons and brochures suggest her campaign is well underway. Judicial campaigns come with restrictions unknown to other campaigns. Basically judge candidates can only say how much the law infuses their soul.

  • BY ZEINA KARARM & DAN PERRY
    Associated Press News Analysis

  • BY REP. NATE GENTRY
    House Dist. 30, House Majority Leader

  • This was the year we were supposed to see real ethics reform in Santa Fe, and it seemed that the stars had lined up.
    Secretary of State Dianna Duran and Sen. Phil Griego delivered scandals that were still fresh in mind. The public was more than ready – a poll for Common Cause New Mexico found that 85 percent of respondents supported creating an independent ethics commission. Another poll found 82 percent of New Mexico business leaders liked the idea.
    A Republican freshman, Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque, and a Democrat, Rep. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, joined to carry a bipartisan bill.
    House Joint Resolution 5 would have created a nine-member ethics commission whose members would be appointed by the Legislature, judiciary and administration. The commission could initiate or receive complaints and investigate alleged violations by state officials, lobbyists, state employees, contractors, or would-be contractors. It could look into possible breaches of state ethics, campaign finance and procurement laws and hold public hearings to resolve complaints. Those making the complaints could not be anonymous.

  • BY KATHY KEITH
    Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Relations and Partnerships Office

  • BY CHRIS CHANDLER
    Los Alamos

    Guest Columnist

  • Evaluation of bills introduced in the Legislature would have become more thorough if Senate Bill 9 had passed in the just completed 2016 legislative session. Because it often takes several years to pass a bill, this one could return.
    The bill had to do with state budgets and what it calls “evidence-based, research-based and promising sub-programs.”
    It had bipartisan sponsorship, but with a double minority. The Senate sponsor was a Republican, Sander Rue of Albuquerque. In the House it was Gail Chasey, a Democrat from Albuquerque. In their respective chambers, Chasey and Rue are in the minority.
    SB 9 would not apply to all of state government, though that isn’t clear from the bill’s text. Chasey told New Mexico In Depth, a news website, (nmindepth.com) that the bill built on the present application to early childhood education and some adult criminal justice programs of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. Working with the Pew Charitable Trusts (pewtrusts.org), starting in 2011, the Legislative Finance Committee did the research and put the program in place.

  • Leading up to the hearing Saturday night of the three-strikes bill, Roundhouse watchers were caught in political crossfire.
    In this legislative session, Republicans unfolded a big crime package and hollered that anybody who didn’t support it was soft on crime and didn’t care about the state’s children. The Democrats hollered back that the crime bills were just a distraction from the state’s dismal economy, wouldn’t work, and would bust an already fragile budget.
    So with this backdrop, coupled with the tiresome nastiness of national politics, the Senate Public Affairs Committee, with its majority of Democrats, took up HB 56, by a retired policeman, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque.
    An amazing thing happened on Saturday. During a long evening of tears and personal stories, our legislators laid down their rhetoric and spoke from the heart. The Ds and Rs were kind to one another. And they passed the bill.
    HB 56 would enlarge the meaning of “violent felony” to include shooting at or from a vehicle, aggravated assault, kidnapping, child abuse, sexual assault of a minor and aggravated burglary. A third conviction for any of these crimes would bring a life sentence.

  • BY JUSTIN HYDE
    New Mexico Market Manager, Accion

  • BY REP. JIM SMITH
    House Dist. 22, Chair, House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee