Schools might be aided by new bills

March 11, 2013 • Local News

With the state Legislature scheduled to wrap up this week, there has been a flurry of activity at the Roundhouse. Here’s a brief look at some of the bills passed over the weekend:

Friday, the Senate passed SB 464, sponsored by Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, which would give public school districts a year of flexibility to deal with budget shortfalls involving issues such as class and teaching loads, length of school day, staffing patterns and instructional material purchases.

“No one is happy that this type of measure is needed for another year,” Kernan said in a statement. “But until school budgets are restored to their pre-recession levels, districts have almost no choice but to seek flexibility.

“Particularly with the threat of sequestration hanging over the heads of many districts, another year of these waivers will be vitally important for our [auth] schools.”

Sunday, the Senate voted unanimously to pass SB 115, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, which would increase retirement contributions for public school educators in an attempt to ensure pensions.

The Education Board Fund, which manages public educational employee pensions, has an unfunded liability of $5.9 billion. The bill would make changes to the ERB such as increasing employee contributions, increasing the age to qualify for the cost of living adjustment for new hires and requiring a minimum age of 55 to receive retirement benefits that are not reduced.

The bill’s proposed changes are an effort to get the ERB more than 100 percent funded by 2043.

“We need to do this now,” Ingle said in a statement. “The legislature has the ability to hopefully fix this matter now so the fund will grow healthier well into the future. I appreciate the Senate taking a hard look at it.”

The bill now advances to the House of Representatives.

Also on Sunday, the Senate passed SB 60, sponsored by Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, which would invest $222 million into the state’s infrastructure.

“We are hopeful this huge investment will create jobs while it builds, repairs and renovates state-owned facilities, fixes sewer systems, equips state police district offices and addresses many other pressing needs in our state,” said Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, in a statement.

The capital outlay projects throughout the state will be financed by severance tax bonds and he said most of the funding is generated by the extractive industries in the northwestern and southeastern parts of New Mexico. “Passing this capital outlay bill is a good time to recognize and appreciate what the oil and gas industry does for the entire state,”he said.

The bill will soon be heard in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

Monday, the House of Representatives passed House Memorial 81, sponsored by Rep. Bill Gray, R-Artesia, which recognizes the contributions of Estelle Yates to her community and the youth of New Mexico.

The S.P. and Estelle Yates Family Foundation, created in 1955, has supported arts and human services, such as the Artesia Arts Council, the National Dance Institute of New Mexico and the Assurance Home in Roswell.

“I am pleased that the House passed this memorial to honor a wonderful woman who truly is a New Mexico treasure,” Gray said in a statement. “Mrs. Yates and her family have touched the lives of many in Artesia and beyond. We are incredibly grateful for her influence, service and commitment.”

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