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Legislative roundup: 3-14-2019

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The New Mexican

Days remaining in session: 2

Confirmed: The Senate on Wednesday voted 41-0 to confirm John D'Antonio as the new state engineer, again making him the state's top official on water issues.

D'Antonio was state engineer from 2003-11 and most recently worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He takes over his old post amid a high-stakes court case over the Rio Grande and as New Mexico faces the effects of climate change.

The Office of the State Engineer has also seen staffing shortages in recent years and has frustrated plenty with what many have argued is a lack of transparency as well as a lack of direction.

Being a familiar face who has worked on water issues for decades now, D'Antonio easily won bipartisan support.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he was "tickled" D'Antonio is in the post again.

"We really need someone in that job with longevity," he said.

As for some of the big challenges facing him, D'Antonio did say he is optimistic about settling the water rights lawsuit with Texas.

Hot buses, Part 2: State senators last Saturday defeated a bill to pay for air-conditioned school buses. But on Wednesday, the proposal was back in slightly different form, buried deep in Senate Bill 280, to fund capital projects.

This rankled Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who said a backdoor maneuver was being used to overturn the will of the Senate. He proposed an amendment to remove any funding for air-conditioned buses.

But this time senators rejected his amendment on a 22-16 vote.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsor of the original bill, was elated.

"Karma," he said.

Steinborn said the funding for air conditioners probably would be modest, perhaps $100,000. Other senators said they believed the cost would be much higher.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said Steinborn's bill was motivated not by reason or need, but on "the whim of one constitutent."

Dyslexia bill advances: A bill that would require all schools to test first-graders for dyslexia is on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after the House of Representatives approved it on a 40-15 vote.

Senate Bill 398, introduced by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would require early screenings for dyslexia, an impediment to reading and learning.

State data says 20 percent of New Mexico children have some form of dyslexia.

Small business help: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed a bill doubling funding for the Small Business Investment Corp. from $50 million to $100 million. The money comes from the state Severance Tax Fund.

Lujan Grisham said much of the new money will be targeted at helping minority-owned businesses.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, sponsored the measure, Senate Bill 10.

Cultural protection: The House voted 65-3 to approve a memorial asking the Indian Affairs Department, the Cultural Affairs Department and the Attorney General's Office to work with the state's tribes and pueblos to protect their cultural property, including dances and songs.

House Memorial 70, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, also asks those agencies to find ways to penalize any individual or group that exploits the cultural property of any of the state's tribes, nations and pueblos.

Memorials have no force of law.