Early Childhood Plan Stalls In Senate, State Raises Cap On Medical Marijuana Producers

Mar 4, 2019

Governor Undeterred On Trust Spending For Pre-KAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to keep the conversation alive about increasing withdrawals from a state endowment to pay early childhood education programs.

Lujan Grisham on Monday endorsed a scaled-back proposal to increase distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by half a percentage point. A proposal for a 1-point increase has stalled in the Senate amid worries that it would erode future investment earning from a $17 billion state trust for public education.

Lujan Grisham campaigned on efforts to provide universal access to childhood education, and she says the state general fund spending may be unreliable in the future.

The governor appeared alongside state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque to present a bill designed to build support for an eventual constitutional amendment to increase withdrawals from the Land Grant Permanent Fund.

The bill from Lopez and fellow Democratic Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces would suspend the increased withdrawals the trust's market value dips below $12.5 billion.

Preschool Funding Proposal Stalls In New Mexico Senate Associated Press

A proposal to increase spending on early childhood education from a multibillion-dollar state trust has stalled in the New Mexico state Senate and appears unlikely to advance this year.

A Senate committee voted 7-4 on Monday to set aside the initiative with fewer than two weeks left in the annual legislative session. The proposed constitutional amendment from Democratic Reps. Antonio Maestas and Javier Martinez of Albuquerque has House approval.

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez says it was unlikely that her panel would reverse course.

Advocates for increasing withdrawals from the Land Grant Permanent fund include Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Opponents fear the plan would erode investment earnings that have helped the fund grow to $17 billion even as it pays out annual dividends to public schools.

Plan To Protect Colorado River Still Isn't Done. Now What? - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Another federal deadline has passed for seven states in the U.S. West to finish a plan to protect the drought-stricken Colorado River.

The river delivers water to 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The states have been crafting drought contingency plans for years.

But Arizona and California missed a deadline Monday and another set earlier by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Without a consensus, the agency will allow governors from the seven states to weigh in with recommendations on what to do next. The federal government also could step in and impose its own rules in the river's lower basin.

The comment period ends March 19. The bureau says it can call off the process if all states complete work before then.

School For The Arts Seeks Statewide Residential StatusAssociated Press

A New Mexico-chartered performing and fine arts high school is seeking to drop its charter status and become a "special statewide residential public school."

A proposal to transform the status of New Mexico School for the Arts is moving through the Legislature and could create a new governing board.

Under the proposal, the Santa Fe high school would transition to a nine-member public school board of education, with four members appointed by the governor.

Officials say around 20 to 25 students currently live in dorms but the school hopes to expand student housing when its status changes.

The Senate Education Committee voted last week to send the bill to the Senate Finance Committee.

20 States Aim To Block Trump Abortion RuleAssociated Press

California and several other Democratic-led states have announced they are challenging the Trump administration's effort to set up obstacles for women seeking abortions.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Monday that the state filed a federal lawsuit aiming to block a new family planning rule from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. The rule bars taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring patients to abortion providers.

Washington, D.C., and 19 states said they would sue separately in Oregon on Tuesday. The states are: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The federal rule is set to go into effect in May unless blocked in court.

New Mexico House Halts Lottery Expansion To Sports BettingAssociated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has endorsed a bill that would halt plans to create a state lottery game tied to the outcome of sports.

The bill from Republican Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho passed the House on Monday without opposition. The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The New Mexico Lottery sustains scholarships to help state residents attend public universities and colleges. The board of the lottery has been seeking to cash in on last year's ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a federal sports gambling ban.

Harper's bill also would redirect unclaimed lottery funds directly toward scholarships rather than back into lottery prizes. He says between $2 million and $4 million remain unclaimed each year.

New Mexico Raises Cap For Medical Marijuana Producers - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is temporarily boosting the number of plants medical marijuana producers can have as the result of a court battle over the cap.

The state health department issued is an emergency rule change Friday, saying increasing the plant count acknowledges the exponential growth in the state's program.

Nearly 70,000 people are enrolled, and producers and patients have for years voiced concerns about having an adequate supply of medical marijuana.

Under the change, the plant count will be expanded from 450 to 2,500 through Aug. 28. It will be up to the state agency to initiate a rulemaking process over the next six months to determine what the final plant count should be.

Producers praised the emergency order, saying it marked a significant step forward for New Mexico's program.

New Mexico Lawmaker Pushing 'Historic Hotels Trail'Associated Press

A New Mexico lawmaker wants state tourism officials to create a trail centered on historic hotels in the state.

KRQE-TV reports Rep. Matthew McQueen said a historic hotel trail could help ramp up tourism and give people unique places to sleep during their time in New Mexico.

His House Memorial 55 asks the Cultural Affairs Department to study setting up a state historic hotels trail.

Santa Fe's La Fonda and Hotel St. Francis and the St. James hotel in Cimarron could be included on the path.

But Rep. Kelly Fajardo says the Cultural Affairs Department could set up a historic hotels trail without legislation. She says such memorials take time away from other important bills.

Survey Finds Half Of Las Vegas Trees In Poor Condition Or DeadLas Vegas Optic, Associated Press

Officials say nearly half of the trees surveyed in Las Vegas are in poor condition or dead.

The Las Vegas Optic reports state forestry officials told residents this week that the city's well-stocked Siberian Elms trees were ticking time bombs and were posing a danger to the community.

Of trees inventoried in Las Vegas, 40 percent were in fair condition, 34 percent were in poor condition and 12 percent were dead. Only 2 percent were considered excellent.

New Mexico State Forestry's urban and community forestry program manager Jennifer Dann says more than one-tenth of Las Vegas' trees surveyed are already dead, posing a threat of falling on people, pets, vehicles or structures.

Sweeping Tax Overhaul Clears New Mexico House - By Morgan Lee And Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

It's billed by Democrats as New Mexico's best chance to save thousands of children from a life of poverty by investing more money than ever before in public education and other government programs.

For Republicans, it's a cover for taking money from the pockets of hard-working New Mexicans and placing unsustainable demands on the state's coffers.

A proposal to overhaul key portions of New Mexico's tax code prompted hours of debate late Friday as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle shared their visions for how best to jump start a state that has been stricken for decades by poverty, poor educational outcomes and slow economic growth.

"We need to rebuild our state," said the Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf.

He pointed to a decision by his legislative predecessors to enact what amounted to a flat income tax that eroded the state's tax base and cost a generation of New Mexicans the revenue needed to fund the schools, health care systems and roads that they deserved.

He said the proposed reforms represent the first step to turning things around.

The Democrat-sponsored measure passed on a 40-25 vote and now heads to the Senate with about two weeks left in the session.

New Mexico Officials Break Ground On Pipeline Project - Eastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

A multimillion-dollar project aimed at shoring up drinking water supplies for communities in eastern New Mexico is marching ahead.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports the pipeline project stretching back over half a century finally broke ground last week.

The $28.6 million project has been a major focus of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority since 2016, when it completed phase 1 of a $14 million intake structure at the Ute Reservoir in Quay County.

Decades in the making, the project aims to ease the strain on the Ogallala aquifer along the Texas-New Mexico border by tapping into Ute Reservoir.

The idea over the next several years is to create lateral connections to all the nearby communities.

UNM Officials Say Academics Would Face Cuts To Reinstate Teams - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

University of New Mexico officials say legislators' attempt to force reinstatement of intercollegiate sports teams for skiing, men's soccer and women's beach volleyball would cause funding to be diverted from other parts of the university.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that university President Garnett Stokes contends it is hard to rationalize providing more money for sports in the wake of major cuts in spending on academics in recent years.

A $7 billion spending bill approved by the state House would require UNM to reinstate the sports programs or do without $4.6 million in state funding.

The UNM Board of Regents last year voted to cut the teams to shore up a budget deficit within the university's athletic department and address compliance issues with federal mandates on equal opportunity for women athletes.

Dolores Huerta Joins Right-To-Die Bilingual Push In 4 States - Associated Press

Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta is joining a push in four states to legalize medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

The advocacy group Compassion & Choices announced Thursday that the 88-year-old activist will take part in a bilingual education campaign promoting legislation to expand end-of-life care options in New Mexico, Nevada, New Jersey and New York.

The campaign will involve bilingual videos for sharing on social media.

Huerta in the videos will urge Hispanic residents to support state legislation allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication.

Medically assisted suicide is legal in seven states and Washington, D.C.

The New Mexico-born Huerta is known for starting the United Farm Workers union with the late Cesar Chavez in California during the late 1960s.