Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday autographed 50 bills — including several related to public education and child well-being — in a flurry of signings that turn a vast array of legislation into law.
Among the high-profile bills the governor signed were Senate Bill 32, which enacts a ban on trapping on public lands, and Senate Bill 84, which will allow residents and business owners to access solar power as communities.
Among the education-related legislation is House Bill 222, creating a special-education ombudsman office to act as an advocate for families with special-needs children.
Rep. Elizabeth Thomson D-Albuquerque, cosponsor of that bill and mother of an adult special-needs child, said the ombudsman will serve as an independent advocate for public school students and provide support for families trying to make their way through that system.
She said the new position will give those families “a place to go where they feel they can have their concerns heard.”
The ombudsman will operate out of the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, a state government entity that advocates for developmentally disabled individuals and helps coordinate services.
“Nothing against the PED [Public Education Department], but it will be nice to have it be someone who works outside the PED,” Thomson said.
The issue of whether the state is providing enough support for its special-needs students came up repeatedly during the landmark Martinez-Yazzie court case. A coalition of parents, educators and legislators argued the state needed to do more to ensure the needs of the state’s at-risk students are being met.
In 2018, a Santa Fe judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor and ordered the state to come up with a plan to provide more educational opportunities for those students — which includes children from impoverished families, English-language learners and others.
New Mexico has 57,417 students identified as having learning disabilities — 16.6 percent of the state’s entire school population and higher than the national rate of 13.8 percent.
In an effort to help provide more services for some of the low-income children cited in the Martinez-Yazzie case, Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 17, which will require the Public Education Department to annually calculate a family income index to determine which students are most in need of extra help. Public schools with the highest rate of low-income kids would be eligible for extra money.
The governor also signed House Bill 6, which ends a policy of giving credits for federal Impact Aid payments in the state’s per-student funding formula. That will provide many school districts, particularly those that serve Native American students, with more than $60 million in new money. A provision including a $67 million recurring appropriation from the state’s general fund will ensure no districts get financially hurt from the initiative.
“Money designed to offset the impact of federal property in a district should go in full to that district without adversely affecting its state funding,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release issued by her office Monday. “This measure achieves that, ending a longstanding practice that was fundamentally unfair, disadvantaging too many Native American students and communities.”
Lujan Grisham also signed House Bill 43, creating a Black Education Act, which requires the state to develop programs and curricula to teach Black history and culture. That act also creates a Black education liaison in the state Public Education Department and a Black education advisory council. The bill also requires anti-racism and sensitivity training and professional development for school personnel.
Among the other bills signed Monday:
- House Bill 32, which bans trapping, snares and the use of wildlife poison on public lands in the state. The proposal, also known as Roxy’s Law — named after an 8-year-old dog who was caught and killed by a neck snare at Santa Cruz Lake in 2018 — establishes misdemeanor penalties for violations of the anti-trapping measure.
- Senate Bill 84 creates a Community Solar Act, allowing residents and businesses to develop community solar facilities within the service area of electric utility entities and rural electric cooperatives. The bill requires 30 percent of each community solar project to serve low-income residents.
- Senate Bill 140, which updates and clarifies the state’s child support laws to put them in compliance with federal law. That includes limiting how many years of overdue child support payments a parent can owe and revising how child support is calculated, which will allow the state to collect more in child support for its children.
- House Bill 29 and Senate Bill 80 are companion bills, known as the Crown Act, that prohibit discrimination or discipline of New Mexico students based on their hairstyle or religious or cultural headdress.
- Senate Bill 92, which allows people who have deliberately gone missing to stay missing. If a law enforcement agency finds a person who has been reported missing and that person requests confidentiality regarding their location, it can be granted. Minors are not included in the bill.
- Senate Bill 27 expands the purpose of the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund Act to include funding for rental and mortgage assistance and home preservation, among other needs. Money from the housing fund can now be used to help the tens of thousands of households at risk of eviction because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Senate Bill 71 creates the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act, which prohibits collection actions for health care services and debt for indigent patients.
- Senate Bill 121 authorizes the New Mexico Finance Authority to issue and sell state transportation project bonds for $234.6 million to fund eligible road projects around the state.
- Senate Bill 187 requires the remaining 50 percent of distributions to the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund for fiscal year 2022 — $12 million — to be funneled into the tobacco settlement program for legislative appropriation.