Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico will scrap its A-F rating system for public schools, overhaul its campaign finance regulations and impose new firearms restrictions on domestic abusers under a number of bills signed into law Thursday by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham – marking an abrupt shift in policy from her Republican predecessor.
The state will also allow students to take medical marijuana on school grounds, in limited circumstances, under legislation approved Thursday.
The approvals come as Lujan Grisham faces a deadline of midnight tonight to act on bills passed in the final days of the 2019 legislative session, which ended March 16. A few dozen bills are awaiting action.
Thursday’s approvals highlighted the stark change in policy priorities after Lujan Grisham succeeded Republican Susana Martinez on Jan. 1.
Martinez vetoed similar campaign finance and firearms bills, and the A-F rating system was launched during her tenure. Martinez, a former prosecutor, couldn’t seek re-election because of term limits.
In her first State of the State speech this year, Lujan Grisham called on lawmakers to pass new gun laws.
And on Thursday, she signed Senate Bill 328, prohibiting gun possession by domestic abusers. Lujan Grisham and other supporters said it would help protect victims of domestic violence.
“No more will convicted domestic abusers be allowed to keep firearms in their homes with impunity,” Lujan Grisham said in a prepared statement Thursday. “A woman is five times more likely to be killed when a firearm is involved in a domestic violence incident – this new law will save lives.”
Martinez vetoed a similar a bill in 2017, arguing that judges already have discretion to prohibit firearms possession when the facts justify it.
This year’s legislation passed the Senate 27-15 and made it through the House 38-31 on one of the last nights of the session. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.
The bill prohibits gun possession by someone subject to an order of protection under the Family Violence Protection Act. The prohibition will also apply to people convicted of certain crimes, such as battery on a household member.
Proposed firearms restrictions emerged as one of the most fiercely debated issues of the 2019 session. Lawmakers also approved – and the governor signed – a proposal requiring background checks before nearly any sale of a firearm in New Mexico.
SCHOOL RATINGS: Lujan Grisham’s approval Thursday of changes to the school rating system undermines another Martinez policy initiative.
Under Martinez, the state launched the A-F grading system for public schools – an idea supporters said would give parents and others an easy-to-understand evaluation of school performance.
But opponents said the state should move to a more nuanced system.
Lujan Grisham on Thursday signed Senate Bill 229, ending the A-F grading system for public schools and replacing it with a broader “dashboard” of information on how each school is doing.
Lawmakers this year also approved legislation allowing use of medical cannabis at schools for children who are qualified patients. Lujan Grisham, a strong backer of the medical marijuana program, signed the measure, Senate Bill 204, on Thursday.
DARK MONEY: Thursday’s action also included approval of legislation to strengthen disclosure requirements for political spending by “dark-money” groups and revise limits on campaign donations.
Lujan Grisham said Thursday that the increased disclosure in Senate Bill 3 will give “the public and voters the information they need to determine who is trying to influence their vote.”
In 2017, Martinez rejected legislation to require disclosure of dark-money campaign spending by nonprofit groups, arguing it was poorly written.
This year’s bill also creates legislative caucus committees that can accept campaign contributions of up to $25,000 from a single donor before the primary and another $25,000 before the general election. Gubernatorial candidates, by contrast, will face caps of $10,000 before each election, and most other candidates will have a $5,000 limit.
VETOES: Also Thursday, Lujan Grisham issued her first vetoes as governor – rejecting about a dozen bills, including a proposed 15 percent increase in the salaries of some statewide elected officials and a proposed change to a bicycle safety law that some bike enthusiasts had objected to.
She said that the proposed raises in Senate Bill 547 would happen too quickly but that she was willing to consider “a longer timeline” for pay hikes.