Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I write to update you on the just-concluded session of the New Mexico legislature. I hope you find this letter informative. I also hope that you will share your views with me and let me know how I may continue to be of service to you. Representing you in the House of Representatives is a great honor that I take very seriously. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.
As with every thirty day session, the main focus of 2012 was the state budget. This year, the legislature passed the first unanimous budget in a very great while – a tremendous moment of bi-partisan cooperation. The $5.6 billion budget is about ten percent smaller than it was when I took office in 2009, but it still makes new investments in education for early-childhood programs and programs meant to improve reading performance by our youngest students.
The legislature also tackled the urgent need to spur job creation and boost our local economy. We introduced and passed bills to invest more than $290 million in infrastructure and economic development projects statewide, including more than $25 million for projects in Santa Fe. The funding for these job creation projects will come from existing taxes on oil, gas, coal and extractive industries dedicated to funding capital outlay projects. The bills will not raise taxes. Local projects slated to receive new investment include road improvements, La Familia Medical Clinics, Women’s Health Services, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, and other economic development-focused initiatives.
I am proud to have had a pivotal role in the passage of several other important pieces of legislation. Below are some highlights, and a full list is available at www.nmlegis.gov:
1. A highlight of the session was the passage of Senate Bill 9. I was very glad to be the House sponsor of Senator Wirth’s bill to close the tax loophole that allows “big box” stores to evade New Mexico’s income tax. Closing the loophole eliminates big boxes’ unfair advantage over New Mexico’s home-grown businesses. The bill is now on the governor’s desk awaiting signature.
2. I was co-author of House Bill 201, which will eliminate major roadblocks preventing the development New Mexico’s geothermal resources. With the passage of this bill, New Mexico is poised to develop a clean, zero-emission, renewable energy source for electricity generation and bring new clean-energy jobs and tremendous environmental benefits for many years to come.
3. The House passed a memorial I wrote to study implementing statewide standards for safe nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals. We know safe ratios improve patient safety, reduce health care costs and make sure patients get the quality attention and care they deserve. I introduced this memorial as a direct result of last year’s dispute between Christus St. Vincent Hospital and its nurses, and I hope that this measure will provide a constructive way forward for both parties.
4. I was able to bring new attention to how unlimited special interest money in politics jeopardizes our democracy by co-sponsoring a memorial calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the dangerous Citizens United decision. In passing this bill, the House sent a clear message of opposition to the outrageous spending by “Super PACs” around the country.
Outside of the framework of passing legislation, I was also able to advance other issues that will be the focus of my work in future legislative sessions. As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I held the legislature’s first hearing on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and its effect on our groundwater and land. We highlighted several key issues that need further attention, and I will pursue efforts in the future to make sure that we have safe and clean water into the future
Despite these successes, many good ideas presented on both sides of the aisle failed to make progress. In fact, fewer bills passed this year than any year since 1976. The governor’s all-or-nothing approach on key issues means that no progress will be made for another year. Among these were bills to end the social promotion of 3rd graders unable to read at grade-level and to address fraud and abuse of our policy to issue driver’s licenses to foreign nationals without social security numbers.
I am deeply concerned about the poor reading performance of our students and I was eager to support many of the ideas presented in the governor’s education reform proposal. However, the bill contained a dangerous provision giving school administrators too much control and stripping parental rights to be involved in education decisions for their children. Ultimately, my opposition was based on the insufficient time allowed for remediation measures. With only 18 months to put in place early intervention programs and allow them to be effective for today’s 2nd graders, the bill carried tremendous risk that hundreds of children would be required to be held back at the end of the next school year. All of my efforts to add a small change and create a “safety valve” for children immediately affected by the bill were refused by the administration, but I look forward to revisiting this issue in the next session with the hopes that we can reach a compromise to move education reform forward.
Progress must also be made on driver’s licenses for foreign nationals. It is outrageous that “brokers” come into our state and arrange licenses for non-residents. There is far too much fraud in the system, the penalties for breaking our license laws are too lenient, and there is no way to verify the authenticity of documents submitted with an application. To address these specific problems, I sponsored legislation to impose tough new restrictions requiring finger printing, real residency verification, immediate document verification, shortened license periods, and significantly enhanced fraud penalties. These reforms would make our licenses more secure and our roads safer, but more importantly, they are not contentious. New Mexicans should be able to count on their legislature and governor to find common ground and make basic progress on fixing straight forward problems.