KUNM

Prominent State Lawmaker Threatens Transparency Of Public Education Meeting

Sep 29, 2018

A prominent New Mexico lawmaker threatened to shut the public out of a legislative committee meeting concerning a landmark education lawsuit after journalists brought recording equipment.

Students and educators packed the Hawthorne Elementary school gym in Albuquerque Friday morning for a meeting of the interim Legislative Education Study Committee.

Legislators were gathered to discuss how to fix New Mexico’s public school system since a judge ruled recently that the state has violated the constitutional rights of English Language Learners, Native American students, low-income students and those with disabilities by failing to provide them a sufficient education.

KUNM reporters planned to live-stream video of the meeting, but committee staff blocked access to necessary equipment in the gym.

Chair Mimi Stewart, a Senate Democrat, insisted reporters needed approval to record. She then threatened to close the session—which would force the public to leave the room—while lawmakers questioned the plaintiffs’ attorneys from MALDEF and the NM Center on Law and Poverty about their proposed changes to the education system. 

By state law, any member of the public may record open meetings, and legislative committee meetings cannot be closed partway through.

Stewart, who also serves as Majority Whip in the state Senate, later tweeted that the committee would not go into closed executive session, but indicated that there would be fewer questions asked because KUNM was there recording. 

Judge Sarah Singleton ruled for the plaintiffs in July, giving the state until next spring to come up with remedies. The state has said they plan to appeal, but has not yet filed an appeal. 

Less than half of the lawmakers in attendance asked questions, and Sen. Stewart ended the meeting 20 minutes earlier than scheduled.

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Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.