Legislative roundup — Feb. 11

Days remaining in session: 9

Rep. Jeff speaks out: Rep. Sandra Jeff says she has been the target of bullying since her vote last week against the state budget proposal backed by fellow Democrats.

“When did it stop being OK for members to vote their conscience?” Jeff said during a five-minute speech Monday on the floor of the House of Representatives.

She said certain legislators — she did not name names — even threatened to undercut legislation for casinos on the Navajo Nation because of her vote on the budget.

Jeff, D-Crownpoint, joined the 33 Republican members Friday in voting against the House budget bill. That created a 34-34 tie, meaning the budget remains unsettled.

Skandera awaits a vote: Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of public education, has been on the job for more than three years but still has not received a confirmation vote from the state Senate.

Will senators make a decision on Skandera before the 30-day session ends Feb. 20?

“I have no idea,” Skandera said Monday. “You’ll know sooner than I do.”

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, chairs the Rules Committee, where confirmation votes start before moving to the full 42-member Senate. Lopez has said she will call the vote on Skandera’s nomination this session.

But at least two senators, Democrats John Arthur Smith of Deming and Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, say there is no point to voting on Skandera now.

If Gov. Susana Martinez is re-elected this fall, another confirmation hearing on Skandera would have to be held in next year’s 60-day session anyway, so a delay is in order, Ivey-Soto said. Smith said the confirmation hearing would steal time from budget issues this session.

Skandera would remain in office with full powers if the Senate again does not vote on confirming her.

Giving foster kids a chance: The Senate Education Committee gave a “do pass” to Senate Bill 206, introduced by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, to waive tuition and fees at public colleges for students who have aged out of the state’s foster-care system.

Muñoz told the committee that many of those children might not be eligible for the state’s Lottery Scholarship fund and might not have familial support to pay for college. Likewise, many of these students might have to work to pay bills, he said.

Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Bernallilo, told the committee that he was a foster child and that, “85 percent of foster kids can’t start college for various reasons and this will provide them with a life-line.”

E-cigarette ban: A prohibition on minors buying or possessing electronic cigarettes advanced through the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, but anti-smoking crusaders complained that it doesn’t go far enough.

House Bill 15 sponsor Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, talked members of the panel out of an amendment backed by the American Cancer Society and others that would have classified the devices as a tobacco product. The battery-powered devices vaporize liquid capsules, often containing nicotine, for smoking.

The federal government could settle that question. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

Currently, neither state nor federal law regulates the sale of e-cigarette to people younger than 18. House Bill 15 would change that in New Mexico.

Although the panel universally favored keeping children from accessing e-cigarettes, some members balked at the prospect of labeling them a tobacco product. “It’s not a tobacco product,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque. “That’s kind of dishonest.”

Bandy appealed to the committee that by trying to improve his legislation, it might have the damaging effect of stopping his effort to get e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors as soon as possible. “I would hate for the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” he said.

The committee unanimously sent the bill to the House floor for debate with a “do pass” recommendation.

Looking Ahead: It will be Complete Streets in New Mexico Day at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Rotunda to promote the idea of ensuring safe access for all street users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders. It also will be Boys & Girls Clubs of America Day, as well as New Mexico Small Business Development Center Day at the Legislature. On Wednesday, acequia association leaders and young people will gather at the Capitol for Acequia Day at the Legislature, intended to call attention to various irrigation projects and water management issues.

Quote of the day: “I will always be a Democrat.” — Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, during her floor speech about pushback from fellow Democrats over her siding with Republicans against a proposed state budget last week.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

Speak Your Mind

*