Behind-the-scenes on HB356

For those of you wondering about the behind-the-scenes activity on HB356 (which would have required that electrical right away fees be fair and reasonable), the El Rancho Community Center newsletter published the following article (note: this is their summary not ours, but it’s a good one). And a true “across the aisle” effort to protect our community, and a good example of how our legislative process does not yet put people before politics. We have more work to do!

HB 356 was on the agenda to be voted on by the House floor but was not presented by House Speaker W. Ken Martinez. In the final hours of the 2014 Legislative session, apparently there were a few very important bills still pending such as the Lottery Fund and the Indigent Fund Sole Provider which took much time to debate.

We like to remind everyone that participated, either by attending the meetings or by emailing Representatives, what a difference their voice made and how important it is to get involved. This started as a Memorial which is only recognition that a problem exists, to a Bill that went through two key legislative committees with much support and recognition by many Representatives as being a very important and complex issue that needs to be addressed.

… Representative W Ken Martinez was elected to his seat as Speaker of the House because the Democratic Party is currently the majority in the House. It is the Speaker who assigns house bills to committees and it is the Speaker who decides which bills get presented to the House floor for debate and a vote.  HB359 was first assigned to the Health, Government, and Indian Affairs committee.  In this committee, Chair Roger Madalena (D) gave the opposing side the opportunity to speak for a total of 1 hour between Tuesday and Thursday on their opposition of HB356, yet gave the taxpayers, who were the majority attending, only 10 minutes! Thankfully, Nate Gentry (R) disagreed with the Chair, and demanded he give the committee members a voice after Madalena attempted to table the bill with no input from the committee. Alonzo Baldonado (R) seconded the motion and HB356 passed to the next committee. Yvette Herrell (R) not only supported this bill, but after Memorial 17 was presented, co-wrote HB356. Twice, Donald Bratton (R) stood up to those opposed to this bill and asked how such unfair business tactics could even be allowed to take advantage of any consumer. Rep. Bratton spoke the words our community was not allowed to speak!

These are Republican Representatives who crossed party lines to help support our State Representative Carl Trujillo (D) in an attempt to pass legislation for fairness to ALL people of our community! They, along with Rep. Trujillo, did not stand up for special interest groups but against unfair business practices that punished innocent people for something the federal government created with a law (25CFR169.12) that gives no limits to what Sovereign nations can charge for utility easements.

 This is not an attempt to promote any political party, this is a plea for our community to become informed and know who we are electing to our Legislation. Remember, taxpayers in our community are almost 90% of the voting power. We have the power to help decide who is running our government – let’s choose wisely regardless of party affiliation!

source: El Rancho Community Email Newsletter, 2/24/14

Aamodt Water Settlement Community Meetings

If you feel your questions weren’t answered as to all your options available with the Aamodt Water Settlement Agreement, please join Representative Carl Trujillo and representatives of the county and state government for a Q&A session so you can make an informed decision!

NOTE: These meetings are not the same as the workshops being held by the County in which Darcy Bushnell and staff will help you fill out your Aamodt settlement forms.

Everyone is welcome to attend any and all of the scheduled meetings:

Nambe Community
Location: Nambe Community Center
Date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Time: 6:00pm

Pojoaque Community
Location: Frank B Lopez Gym
Sixth Grade Academy Conference Room
Date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Time: 6:00pm

El Rancho Community
Location: El Rancho Community Center
Date: Thursday, March 6, 2014
Time: 6:00pm

2014 Legislative Wrap Up

As many of you know, our second legislative session wrapped up last week — here’s an update on what we worked on.

Many of you wrote in to express your thoughts on some of our biggest and most divisive issues — things like driver’s licenses for undocumented workers, legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage.  However, since this legislative session was for the most part limited to bills related to budgetary items, these issues did not make it to the House floor for a vote.

For this session, our primary focus was on securing funding for a variety of projects that encourage high tech investment and job creation here in New Mexico.  As a materials science researcher, I’ve seen firsthand how high tech jobs and businesses can grow a sustainable, vibrant economy like almost nothing else.  High tech businesses tend to be cleaner and more respectful of our environment.  And the high tech jobs they create tend to pay higher salaries and have more promising career paths — all of which benefit all of us here in New Mexico and create opportunities for our brightest young people to stay here rather than having to move away to build their futures.

Among the high tech initiatives we worked on this session was HB36, which creates tax incentives for small high tech businesses who expand or start up in New Mexico.  HB36 in particular focuses on promoting home-grown high-tech business ideas developed right here in New Mexico.   HB36 was unanimously approved by the House, but did not make it through the Senate.

Carl on the House floor with Gifted Dual Language students from Salazar Elementary

Carl on the House floor with Gifted Dual Language students from Salazar Elementary

Of course, if we’re going to create more high tech jobs here in New Mexico, we need to prepare people to succeed at those jobs.  That’s why I also sponsored HB17 and HB21, both of which provide funding for programs that give our kids in high school and college additional access to programs that teach them about computers and science.  I’m happy to say that HB17 was approved by both House and Senate and is part of the overall budget currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Protecting our environment requires more than just high tech business development, so I also sponsored HB124, which offers tax credits for homeowners who want to expand or renovate their homes to make them more energy and water efficient.  Although HB124 was approved by all of the committees that heard it and had widespread support across multiple coalitions, it was not heard on the House floor due to time considerations.  A big thank you to BuildGreenNM and SF Community College Green Building and Energy Efficiency Center, who worked hard to get this bill passed — we’ll try again next session!

And speaking of water, water rights and conservation remain a big issue in our community.  This past session, we worked on preserving some of our oldest water right systems by funding to maintain the infrastructure of our local acequias. HB299, would also assist in providing funding to our “small mutual domestics” that help ensure that our small communities have a reliable clean water source.  However, due to some technicalities on which entities are considered “small mutual domestic water systems,” we pulled the bill for this session pending resubmission in 2015.

As always, we’re proud to represent the very large part of our community that cares deeply about animal welfare.  To help protect our animal companions, we sponsored HB20, which allocates $250,000 for statewide spay/neuter programs.  There are places here in our state where the pet euthanasia rate is over 80% — we can and should do much better in preventing the tragedy of pet overpopulation and stopping the cruelty of euthanizing healthy, adoptable pets just because there are no homes for them.  Unfortunately, HB20 was hung up in House Appropriations, but the good news is that the team at Animal Protection Voters with the help of Sen. Richard Martinez, was able to put $100,000 in the budget for spay/neuter programs.  We’re still hard at work figuring out more ways to protect the animals that are an important part of our community.  Thank you to Animal Protection Voters for their hard work on this one.

We also sponsored several bills designed to strengthen our communities.  HM17 and HB356 seek to address the issue of electrical right-of-way fees that are excessive and mandate that these fees be set at fair, just, and reasonable – a measure designed to keep everyone’s energy rates fair and equitable. HM17 was approved by the House and now goes to the PRC for study.  And due to a heroic, bipartisan effort on the part of so many of you, HB356 made it through all of its committees — further than anyone expected it to.  And given how important this issue is to so many in our community, we’re not going to give up on this one.

Finally, to address the continuing epidemic of drunk driving & alcohol abuse here in our community, HB16 increases the percentage of existing liquor tax revenue to DWI Grant Fund, which assists counties with DWI education, prevention and intervention — because those businesses who make a profit from selling alcohol need to be paying their fair share for the damage that drunk driving does to our communities. I’m happy to report that HB16 was approved by both House and Senate and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Funding for education was a big issue this session as well.  Many of you already know that I voted to table HB67 out of concern that it was unfair to our most experienced teachers.  (For more on HB67, click here).  While I continue to have concerns about the specific pay structure advocated in HB67,  I’m happy to have voted to include an across-the-board 3% pay raise for all of our teachers.  Education is and has always been a big priority for our community, and I share the belief I’ve heard over and over from educators that raising teacher salaries and prestige has to be a big part of any education reform we undertake.

As a citizen legislator, my priority is to be your voice in the Roundhouse.  I can only do that if concerned citizens like you share your thoughts with me on issues that matter to you- – so I hope you’ll continue to communicate with us about them as we prepare for the 2015 session.

Yours truly,

Carl Trujillo, Citizen Legislator
State Representative, District 46

Response to vote to table HB67 (tiered teacher salaries)

Many of you have written to me expressing your concern re: my vote to table HB 67, the tiered teacher salaries bill (click here to see the bill itself).  I know this is an issue that means a great deal to many people in our community, and I’d like to briefly share with you my reasoning for voting to table it on the House floor, as well as why I’ll be voting in favor of HB391, the resubmitted version.

I strongly believe — and have always believed — that raising teacher salaries needs  to be a big part of improving our schools here in New Mexico.  Whether we like it or not, we live in a culture where salary = prestige and respect, and one of the very best ways to attract and keep the best teachers in our schools is to make sure they are paid in line with the importance of the work they do.  Our teachers, students and communities deserve nothing less.

As a citizen legislator, my very first priority is to represent the people’s interest in the legislature.  What I’m not and have never been is a partisan — I don’t believe that every bill Democrats write is good any more than that every bill the Republicans write is bad.  My responsibility is to the people of my community, not to the Democratic Party, and as such, you have my word that I will always vote on how good the bill is for the people, regardless of political pressure.

Given this, I had some serious concerns about HB67, which is why I voted to table it until I could meet with the sponsor and address those concerns.

It’s difficult, I think, in our hyper-partisan times, because there’s so much game playing that goes on on both sides of the aisle under the guise of “procedure.” Oftentimes, as you know, when politicians vote to “table” a bill, they’re really voting to kill it without really killing it — so it’s understandable that you’d think that’s what I was doing.  But since I’m a citizen legislator and not a partisan politician, I vote to table things for the reason tabling was originally intended — when I need more information before making a decision that’s right for our community.

The frenetic pace and structure of the legislature means that unless a bill is heard in my committee, the first time I usually get to see legislation is before the vote on the House floor — oftentimes, only minutes before the vote. That’s obviously not an ideal situation, and it’s often not nearly enough time to vette it thoroughly and address any concerns, particularly with an important bill like HB67.  In this case, I had concerns that HB67 was in fact doing harm to teachers, and I needed time to talk with the sponsor and do some research before supporting it.  Over the weekend, while the bill was tabled, my staff and I worked hard to get the answers we needed, both from the bill’s sponsors and from teachers like yourself,  the vast majority of whom have indicated that support for this bill.

More specifically, here are the two concerns I have re: this approach to teacher pay raises:

Concern #1:

The first concern I had with HB67 was that there was no guarantee in the bill that the funds would be available to our school districts to be able to afford these salary increases, and that passing the bill would put many local districts, particularly more vulnerable smaller and poorer ones, into the no-win situation of not having the money to make good on the commitments the legislature made on their behalf — that faced with limited funds and no means to pay the increased salaries, the districts could be forced to increase class sizes and lay off good teachers to avoid being in violation of the law.

SOLUTION:  In order to protect our smaller and more vulnerable school districts from financial hardship, the plan will be to pass a waiver in the legislature that stops implementation of the salary increase if the state does not have the money to fund it.  This isn’t an ideal solution, but it at least prevents our most vulnerable districts from being forced into a financial commitment they can’t pay.

NOTE:  Some of you have emailed asking about funding this initiative through a change in the distribution of the Land Grant Permanent Fund.  I am aware of this as a viable possibility that’s definitely worth exploring.  If you’d like to talk through the specifics of how this might work, I’d be happy to share the analysis with anyone who’s interested.  You can, as always, reach me at my direct line — 505-699-6690505-699-6690.

Concern #2:

The second concern I have with this salary structure is that it risks undermining teacher seniority, and sets up a potential situation where a teacher who has taught for only a handful of years could end up making the same salary as a teacher with 20 years of experience.

Let’s take two teachers as an example:

 A New Teacher who has just started in tier II and currently makes $40,000, and a 20-year Teacher who has been a tier II for many years and currently makes $48,000.

 New Teacher moves up $2000.00 per year  in salary, reaching  $48,000 a year in four years.  while the 20-year Teacher has potentially not had a pay raise for four years . 

 In year five, both New Teacher and 20-Year Teacher 2 are now moved up to the $50,000 salary, even though 20-Year Teacher has invested far more time, skill and resources into their career than New Teacher has.

In general, my understanding from what I’ve heard from teachers and education advocates in my community is that most believe the traditional seniority system is the most fair way to pay teachers.  HB67 has the potential to undermine that seniority.  I doubt many seasoned teachers will feel good about having a relatively new teacher make the same amount of someone who’s put 20 years into their profession.

SOLUTION:  Candidly, after talking with the sponsor of HB67, Rep, Mimi Stewart, I still have this concern.  I think 20 years of teaching experience and commitment ought to count for something when it comes to salary.  There are avenues by which a more seasoned teacher can step their salary up into the $60,000 range, but those avenues for advancement are not ideal and are often cost prohibitive, as many have pointed out.  But there is at least the possibility of seniority not being entirely undermined, and most of the teachers I’ve heard from have indicated they’d rather have the imperfect HB67 than nothing at all, which sounds reasonable to me!

In short, this is not a perfect bill .. there are very few of those to be had on any issue, but I believe in light of the revised strategy, it is a “good enough” bill that does what we very much need to do and that is do everything possible to pay our teachers more.  We should not sacrifice the good in pursuit of the perfect, as the saying goes.

I hope that as we move forward, you’ll share with me any ideas you might have on how we could adjust this salary structure so that it more fairly rewards teachers who have given a lifetime of service to their profession.

Sincerely,

Rep. Carl Trujillo
Citizen Legislator

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