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Rural libraries bill goes to the governor

SANTA FE – A bill to establish an endowment fund for small rural libraries in New Mexico has passed both chambers of the Legislature and now is in the hands of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Senate Bill 264, which had previously received Senate approval, sailed through the House by a vote of 64-0 late Monday night.

“Rural libraries are the heart of our communities in rural areas and they are also kind of the brain trust of a rural community,” Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said during the brief House discussion on the measure.

The rural library proposal started the legislative session as a request for a $50 million endowment fund, with money for rural libraries coming from the endowment’s investment earnings. Also, a now-scrapped proposed constitutional amendment would have waived the state’s so-called anti-donation clause to allow direct funding for the 15 of 50 rural libraries that are private non-profits.

The $50 million request was quickly reduced a $5 million allocation in House Bill 2, the state budget bill. But the amount was recently increased to $6 million by the Senate Finance Committee, according to Shel Neymark.

Neymark, an Embudo resident who helped establish the Embudo Valley Library in Dixon, has been the main driver of the rural library initiative. He told the Journal Tuesday he’s “overjoyed” about the unanimous House vote for the library bill.

“It was unanimous in the House and only six votes against it in the Senate, so I suspect (Lujan Grisham) will sign it,” Neymark said. “But, you know, you never know until she does.”

Money will be distributed as grants by the state librarian. Nonprofit libraries can receive money through contracts for services but will not be able to use it for capital improvements. A small part of the funding will also go to the state librarian to provide technical support to the rural libraries as well as for a grant program for communities to start libraries.

Sen. Gerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, are the main sponsors of the legislation. At one point in the bill’s trip through the legislative process, it appeared that the library money would not be invested as an endowment and instead the appropriation would just become a fund from which disbursements would go to the libraries.

But on Tuesday, Ortiz y Pino said endowment fund structure will in fact be used, with money for the libraries coming for earnings from investment of the $6 million. Ortiz y Pino said annual disbursements to the libraries will likely be around $6,000 a year.

Distributions would not happen until 2021 if the governor signs onto the libraries bill and the $6 million stays in the budget and starts earning interest. “Our intention clearly is to come back and get some more money (in the endowment fund) and eventually try and build it up” to the originally proposed $50 million, said Ortiz y Pino.

If the governor OKs the funding plan, Neymark, said the state librarian will organize a committee to draft guidelines for disbursement.

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