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Legislative decisions range from schools to crime

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By Harold Morgan

Recently, this column looked at the Legislative Council Service (LCS) report on the legislative session and considered the budget (the biggest part of the picture), listed state government’s major functions, and briefly discussed Medicaid.
Today we look, from the policy view, as before, at legislative decisions affecting those major functions and touch on a few of the tiny and always interesting items. “Less than very seldom” is how often really big changes happen in state government.
Scrounging money required considerable creativity during the session. The term “skimming money” isn’t usually associated with doing good, legal things. But skimming money is the LCS description for pulling money from “various reserves.” House bill 311 did the deed.
Public schools get 44.3 percent of the money budgeted through the General Fund, the state’s operating account. Education changes amounted to bits and pieces, the same as for all of state government in this year of reduced spending. One change, following the precedent from the 2008 recession, allows school districts to change requirements for class size, length of the school day and other factors. This suggests Santa Fe doesn’t know all the details of running the schools.
The K Plus program providing extended schooling for some disadvantaged kindergarteners was extended though the fifth grade as a pilot. Breakfast availability was expanded. Some standardized test preparation was reduced. All this and more came in the seven bills signed by Gov. Susana Martinez out of 123 education bills introduced.
Changes for health and human services functions outside Medicaid included expanding availability of an upload antidote, tightening upload prescription requirements, and creating brain injury protocols for young athletes.
Democrats accused the administration of an “all crime all the time” approach to the session. Measures dealt with child pornography, children taken into state custody, people whose violent behavior started young, getting more federal money, malpractice claims, and record keeping by sellers of secondhand metal.
A few brief items follow, indicating the activity of general government.
The Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Department will be part of two interstate compacts, one dealing with preventing and fighting forest fires and the other providing discussion and training about mining issues, especially coal mining. A fund for reducing forest fires now can be used for more things. And here’s a big one for someone; dealing with geothermal matters is being moved to a new place in the department.
If sponsorship means anything, House Bill 177 must be a big deal. The sponsors were House Speaker Don Tripp and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, and the bill came from the legislative Jobs Council. The bill creates a “solo-worker program” in the state Economic Development Department to recruit individuals with full time jobs, either self-employed or working for an employer elsewhere. The program will match other money to support development agencies. Such situations happen. My daughter worked from Lincoln, Neb., before moving to the company office in New Hampshire. A neighbor followed her husband to Albuquerque but kept her Minneapolis job. Efficiently making more such situations happen remains a mystery. It appears to be a good deal for the development agencies.
One bit of fluff that stayed was $75,000 for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s dream of a hiking trail north to south across the state.
Real government work—suing the feds over the Gold King Mine mess—got $1 million for the Environment Department. The state filed suit May 23 against the EPA and the mine owners.
Setting the stage for further discussion is one legislative function. A guess is that will be the result of the veto of 25 local acquits and water projects costing $836,000 proposed by the Interstate Stream Commission. What about those acquits anyway?