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

Legislative Update March 7, 2013

Our first legislative session has been a busy and successful one.  We wanted to share with you a quick update on what we’ve been working on during the session based on the input we’ve received from so many of you about your priorities.

Many of you have shared with us that ethics reform and accountability are big concerns. To add more accountability to state government, I’m sponsoring a pair of bills requiring audits of “at-risk” capital outlay projects (HB345 & HB305). Capital outlay projects often cost millions of dollars, and these two bills create stronger safeguards to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent wisely.

As many of you know, water rights and conservation are a big issue in our community. I’ve sponsored a memorial for federal funding to help conserve and manage the San Juan/Chama project (HJM24), where a lot of Santa Fe’s city water originates. A second memorial requests funding to improve the Santa Cruz Dam (SJM6 cosponsored with Sen. Martinez). Both of these memorials will help our Congressional delegation secure federal dollars for these projects. In addition, we’ve been working with local acequiasto create a fairer system for capital outlay funding that allocates money to each acequiain equal rotation, starting with the first five acequias receiving funding July of this year.

Of course, most of us are deeply concerned with sustainable energy and environmental protection. I’m happy to co-sponsor a bill with Sen. Peter Wirth to extend the sustainable energy tax credit for homeowners (SB14). In addition, I’ve joined many of my fellow representatives in funding the installation of solar panels on the roof of the Roundhouse parking structure, and have also requested funding for solar panels for the Tesuque fire station. I’ve sponsored a request for clean up of Area G at LANL (HJM5). This clean-up will safeguard our environment while creating good, local jobs. Many of you have expressed a particular interest in Rep. Egolf’s bill requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals (HB136) — this is a bill I’m in strong support of.

Creating economic opportunity is on most people’s minds, of course. One of my bills, HB401, makes it easier for high tech industries to relocate to New Mexico. These clean, sustainable businesses grow our economy and protect our environment at the same time. And Rep. Tom Taylor and I are co-sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for start-ups who want to provide more energy efficient and innovative transportation alternatives by removing the current monopoly enjoyed by taxicab companies throughout the state (HB194).

We’ve also heard from a lot of community members who care deeply about animal welfare. To help protect our animal companions, I’m sponsoring a mirror bill to Sen. Martinez’s bill that strengthens penalties for animal cruelty (HB224). In addition, I’m signed on as a supporter for a bill banning unfair one-size-fits-all breed-specific regulations (HB63). I also spoke out against the creation of a Horse Slaughter Facility in southern New Mexico.

In addition, HB306 mandates that pueblos carry appropriate liability insurance and provide proper training for deputized tribal law enforcement officers. As many of you know, this bill addresses a critical public safety concern voiced by many in our community.

Finally, I’ve heard from a lot of bike riders, who made the excellent suggestion for a bill that makes it legal for cyclists to use left and right hands to signal turns (HB582) — a small detail, maybe, but an important one in our community where bikes are an important part of our way of life.

As a citizen legislator, my priority is to represent you.  To stay updated on what we’re working on and share your thoughts and input, you can subscribe to our Facebook page or email us at info@carltrujillo.com.

 

Autism Awareness Day at the Legislature

February 13, 2013 011One of the best things about serving as state legislator is being able to meet young people in our community who get the experience of serving as legislative pages for the day.

February 13 was Autism Awareness Day at the legislature, and to highlight the challenges faced by kids with autism, Carl hosted two very special pages (and one Very Special Grownup Guest, too):  Caitlin Herrera, her best friend Andrea Alarid and her grown up helper, Rebecca Baca.

Caitlin and Andrea are each 10 years old, and both of them had a lot of fun at the Roundhouse.  They were each introduced by Carl on the House floor, and then spent the day learning about state government and being Carl’s helpers.

Caitlin is 10 years old in 4th grade at Kearny Elementary.  We all have particular challenges in life and Caitlin’s is that she’s autistic.  But that doesn’t stop her from doing what she loves to do, including music, singing and loving cats.

Andrea Alarid is 10 years old and attends Wood Gormley Elementary.  She loves math and science and thinks maybe she’d like to be a Bio Chemical Engineer when she grows up — which was really fun for Carl because he works as a scientist when he’s not at the legislature representing us.  In her free time, Andrea likes doing crafts and volleyball.

Accompanying the girls was Caitlin’s education assistant, Rebecca Baca.  Rebecca is an inspiring example of a community member who figured out that one of the most rewarding things we can do in this world is to help others.  She started as a substitute teacher and, one day, accepted an assignment as a special needs aide, where she found her life’s passion in working as an assistant for kids with autism and other special needs.

In addition to the experience that Caitlin and Andrea had, Caitlin’s class got to enjoy the day with them by watching the webcast from their school.  (Did you know you can watch the legislature on webcast?  Tune in here.)

As part of Autism Awareness Day, Caitlin, Andrea and Rebecca all wore beautiful, brightly colored “Autism Speaks” scarves, and as you can see from the photo, they presented Carl with one as well.

Caitlin’s mom, Liz Valdez, who is also a dedicated autism citizen activist, shared with me a bit about Caitlin’s experience as a page.  “I was so very proud of Caitlin for doing so well.  She was treated with respect, and I am so thankful that Representative Trujillo was willing to sponsor the three of them.”

RE: HB 212 the Liquor Excise Tax Bill

Some of you may have seen the New Mexican editorial today re: HB212, the so-called “liquor excise tax bill.”  As is so often the case in New Mexico party politics, there is more to the story that what the press is reporting.

As a citizen legislator, my first priority is to represent the priorities of the people. Your priorities.   I also realize that to some of you, it may seem like HB212, which I voted against, represents those priorities.

The problem is that HB212 is one of those pieces of legislation that looks good, feels good and sounds good — but ultimately doesn’t do what it promises to do.

I share the urgent concern that I’ve heard from so many in our community about our spiraling DWI and substance abuse problem.  I’m particularly aware of the need to address this problem because substance abuse is a particularly urgent problem in the northern part of the community I represent.

I also understand the strong desire to tax liquor companies to hold them responsible for the damage their product does to our community. But liquor excise taxes don’t hold the liquor industry accountable, any more than gas taxes punish the oil industry or cigarette taxes punish the tobacco industry, because of course, the liquor companies won’t pay those taxes, they’ll just pass it on to the people as a “cost of doing business,”

And finally, I’m also very aware of the unfair and disproportionate amount of political influence the alcohol, tobacco & gambling lobbyists have in our state government. Too many New Mexico politicians are in the pockets of the liquor industry. That’s why I haven’t — and won’t — take any political contributions from the liquor, tobacco or gambling industries (or any other corporate special interests).  My responsibility is to represent the people, not the liquor industry.

Based on my research, I don’t believe that HB212 will be effective at addressing any of the three priorities listed above.

In the past, when liquor excise tax has been attempted as a way to fund substance abuse, the fund has been raided for other purposes. In 1993, for example, only 40% of the money that was supposed to go for substance abuse treatment and prevention actually got used for its intended purpose.

That means 60% of our money, as taxpayers, went somewhere else besides where the people said it should go.  This doesn’t seem right to me — I think that if taxpayers decide that money should go to a specific use, it should go there.  And I think I have a moral obligation not to vote for legislation that won’t do what it promises to do just because it looks good for me to do so.

There is another bill dealing with this issue (HB527) that accomplishes much the same thing as HB212 but in a way that gets the money where it needs to go more quickly — and likely more of it as well.

HB212, the bill I voted against, would mean communities get the much-needed funds in 2015 at the earliest, and possibly as late as 2017 — and even then, there’s no guarantee any of that money would actually go towards substance abuse treatment.  HB527 gets the money to communities July 1, 2014 and could end up bringing double the amount of money to substance abuse programs — and the funds would be guaranteed to get there.  A big difference!

As a citizen representative, I took an oath to do what’s best for our community and to represent the people’s best interests.    That means I’m going to do what politicians won’t do — I’m going to vote against legislation that misleads, deceives and doesn’t serve our community, and I’m going to support legislation that I believe makes our community better.  Because that’s what representative democracy is, I believe, meant to be. A government not for politicians and corporate special interests, but for the people.

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