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‘Rocket docket’ zooms forward in committees – with a few bumps

House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, argues before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday for a bill she sponsored. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – A “rocket docket” of fast-tracked bills is still on schedule – for now – to land on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk by next week.

But several bills included on the docket stalled after hitting turbulence Monday, including a measure dealing with school textbooks that ran into thorny questions about recent court rulings.

That measure, House Bill 45, would give school districts and charter schools more flexibility in purchasing textbooks and other instructional materials, but would exclude private schools from the law.

The state Supreme Court ruled last month that taxpayer dollars can be used for nonreligious textbooks in both religious and secular private schools, reversing its previous decision on the matter, and some lawmakers suggested excluding private schools could lead to a new lawsuit.

“Why are we going to pass a bill that’s going to lead to litigation?” Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, asked during a Monday meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

But backers of the proposal said the threat of a lawsuit, which was hinted at by a lobbyist for Albuquerque Academy, a private school, should not sway legislators’ thinking.

They also pointed to a landmark July court ruling in a separate case that found New Mexico was not meeting its constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education to all students. A lack of uniform access to textbooks played a role in that case.

“Public school children are not receiving … sufficient funding to receive textbooks and instructional materials,” said House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor.

Other bills included in the rocket docket that won approval Monday included legislation to clarify how many sick days teachers can take annually before their performance evaluations are affected and a bill allowing rape victims’ names to be kept private until charges are filed.

The 48 bills on the rocket docket are based on previous bills that passed the Legislature by overwhelming margins but were vetoed by former Gov. Susana Martinez.

Top-ranking lawmakers have said Martinez, who stepped down when her second term in office ended last year, provided little or no explanation for vetoing the bills.

In all, more than 30 of the bills were passed by House or Senate committees Monday, paving the way for them to be voted on later this week on the floor of their respective chambers. They could then be sent to the new governor’s desk for final approval by as soon as next week.

Most of the remaining bills are scheduled to be voted on today or Wednesday in committees.

Some House GOP leaders have criticized the process for handling the rocket docket bills, describing it as unfair for first-term lawmakers.

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