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Feb. 20 First News: State Senate In Defensive Posture As It Considers House Bills (Listen)

With the 2015 New Mexico Legislature now past its halfway point, the focus is on the State Senate, which will be taking up House-approved bills reflecting its Republican majority and the priorities of GOP Governor Susana Martinez. The chamber will soon be considering proposals including student retention, so-called “right to work” legislation and driver’s licenses for immigrants. The new Republican House majority means a change in roles for the Senate: *****022015-Papen-2B :02***** Mary Kay Papen, a Las Cruces Democrat, is the Senate President Pro-Tem: *****022015-Papen-2A :40***** What does Papen think is the biggest surprise so far this session? *****022015-Papen-6 :28***** Despite that, Papen is one of many Democratic Senators who support current law allowing New Mexico’s undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, and says she has problems with the concept of holding third-graders who don’t read proficiently back a school year. And a Senate Committee voted along party lines last night to kill a Senate proposal that would do that. A House bill on retention is still alive, however.

If you’re a new teacher or a state police officer, you can expect a pay raise in July when the next fiscal year rolls in. This, as New Mexico lawmakers get closer to hammering out a spending plan despite lower state revenues. Most department budgets remain largely flat under the House Appropriations and Finance Committee scenarios that will become part of House Bill Two, the budget measure members are scheduled to vote on later today. As expected, K-through-12 schools get the lion's share of increase in spending in next year's budget proposal. Both Governor Susana Martinez and lawmakers have highlighted education as a priority in a state with some of the lowest performing schools in the nation.

Two controversial abortion bills will be heard at the Roundhouse today, one limiting abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and another forcing young people to tell their parents before having the procedure. Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains says both bills would be a step backwards for New Mexico at a time when young people and women need support making difficult decisions. She says that restricting a woman's right to abortion after 20 weeks --which House Bill 390 proposes-- is not understanding the circumstances under which the procedure has to occur. *****022015-Cowart-1 :27***** Cowart adds that House Bill 391, or forced parental notification, stems from a similar misunderstanding.: *****022015-Cowart-2 :49*****  Advocates of the bills call them common sense. Both bills are scheduled to be heard before the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee at 1:30pm in room 307.

A bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales aimed at alleviating New Mexico’s shortage of physicians has passed the State Senate on a 37-to-three vote. Ingle says the problem—more pronounced in the southeastern part of New Mexico—is that typically, doctors are signed to a three-year contract to practices, but when the contract expires, the docs remain bound by a non-compete clause that prevents them from practicing at nearby health facilities. As Ingle explains, that clause is used against them. *****022015-Ingle-1 :30***** Ingle’s desired outcome is to help retain healthcare professionals in New Mexico, especially rural areas-- most underserved—by limiting enforcement of non-compete clauses

Governor Martinez has announced that Deborah Dixon has been appointed the state’s new director of the Interstate Stream Commission. Dixon will start her new position in mid-March. Dixon’s responsibilities will include serving as the Deputy State Engineer and directing the Commission, which has broad powers to investigate, protect, conserve, and develop New Mexico’s waters including both interstate and intrastate stream systems.

Santa Fe Weather: Mostly sunny today, with the high near 60. Tonight: Partly cloudy, with a low around 26. Tomorrow, expect partly sunny skies, with the high near 53.