Days remaining in session: 23
Pause on special education office: Members of the House Education Committee were cool Wednesday toward a proposal to start a new office of special education within the state Public Education Department.
House Bill 285, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth "Liz" Thomson, D-Albuquerque, also calls for the governor to appoint the office's director — an idea some special education advocates said is troublesome because of the potential for turnover.
Earlier this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she had hired Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero as the new public education secretary. When he steps into office March 6, he will be the fourth in the role since the governor took office four years ago.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee brought up a number of problems with the bill, with Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, saying it should have been better vetted during the interim committee process. Others said they doubted the office and its new director could solve the many problems facing the state's special education programs.
Thomson agreed to work on the bill and bring it back for reconsideration. After the hearing, however, she said, "It sounds like they just don't have an appetite for it."
Wildlife corridors: The Senate approved a bill Wednesday to create a fund that would serve as a vehicle to build safe road crossings for wildlife and also reduce costly and sometimes deadly accidents with deer, elk and other animals on New Mexico's roadways.
Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the Wildlife Corridors Fund proposed under Senate Bill 72 would be used to obtain federal funds to pay for such projects.
"There is significant amount of money in several of the bills [Congress] just passed allowing states to apply for funding for wildlife corridors," she said. "This gives us that vehicle."
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he was "tickled" to support the bill.
"In my years up here, I have hit two deer coming back from Santa Fe and literally torn the hell out of my pickups," he said.
Secrecy in hiring: Only the names and résumés of up to three finalists for high-level appointed positions in government would be revealed to the public under a bill the Senate approved 31-9 Wednesday.
Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, would keep the identities of all other applicants hidden from the public.
The bill, which has drawn opposition from open-government advocates, adds an exemption to the New Mexico Public Records Act. It would allow governments to keep secret the identities of applicants for appointed executive positions, such as a city manager, police chief or school superintendent, except for finalists.
"We are one of only five states in the nation to permit the publication of all names of everyone who applies for these high-level public official positions," Tallman said.
Water Trust Board: The Senate Rules Committee endorsed a proposal Wednesday to tweak the composition of the Water Trust Board.
Senate Bill 391 would increase the number of public members to six from five and remove the executive director of the New Mexico Finance Authority and director of the Department of Game and Fish or their designees from the board, among other changes.
Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said his goal is for the board, which appropriates about $180 million for water projects around the state annually, "to look a little bit less like another branch" of the executive.
"What happens when they're approving these projects, reviewing these projects, from my perspective, they're going to naturally have a bent towards Santa Fe," he said.
While the state has enough money for all the projects that applied for funding this year, Cervantes said that's not always the case.
"When you [don't] have enough money and more demand, then who sits on this board becomes pretty important because they decide the funding and priorities," he said.
Year-round staff: A bill to provide two full-time staffers to the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee received approval in its first hearing Wednesday.
The Senate Rules Committee endorsed Senate Bill 263, which would appropriate $350,000 to the Legislative Council Service to provide year-round staff to the interim committee.
One of the sponsors, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the committee has a lot of unfinished business despite meeting 21 to 24 days a year.
"The breadth of responsibility for that committee is so extensive that we frequently finish up after having done all those hearings identifying eight or 10 issues that we never got to, that we had planned to and just couldn't squeeze onto the agenda," he said, adding permanent staff could help the committee with its work.
Lenten service: Deacon Steve Rangel, associate director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, distributed ashes to more than 100 people at the Capitol on Ash Wednesday.
"The legislators, for years and years, have asked the church if someone would come and do a service, so we begin with the liturgy of the word and then the distribution of the ashes," said Allen Sánchez, the conference's executive director.
The service, held in the room where the Senate Finance Committee meets, started at 7:30 a.m. and was scheduled to end at 9 a.m., but Sánchez said the deacon would stay longer if people continued to show up, which they did.
Quotes of the day: "We usually waste the first hour and a half, two hours doing memorials that really are meaningless except to the people that like them. I don't like memorials, as you can probably tell." — Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, explaining the ins and outs of the Senate and the Legislature to a group of a students visiting the Roundhouse. During a floor session later in the day, Brandt spoke for several minutes on a bill declaring Wednesday "Fentanyl Awareness Day" in the Senate.
"Is this a good call, complete fumble, or do I intercept to designate Opening Day of Hunting Season instead?" — Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, tweeted about a bill to designate the Monday after the Super Bowl as "Football Monday," an official state holiday.