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Lawmakers aim to reduce technical errors

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SANTA FE – Legislative leaders are examining how to reduce technical mistakes in the lawmaking process after learning that one of the landmark education bills approved this year inadvertently dropped language setting minimum teacher salaries.

It isn’t a consequential error this time, because both chambers approved nearly identical education bills, and the Senate version included the salaries. But it’s rare to have two matching pieces of legislation that both become law.

The mistake happened in the “enrolling and engrossing” process handled by staff to compile action taken by lawmakers. Staff members accidentally deleted provisions for minimum teacher salaries as they prepared the final version of House Bill 5, which was later sent to the governor and signed into law.

A nearly identical measure, Senate Bill 1, was also signed into law, with the minimum teacher salaries included.

House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said the duplicate bill saved the Legislature from the expense of having to call a special session to establish the minimum salaries.

“That’s a major mistake to me,” Williams Stapleton said Monday. “I guarantee we would have been in here trying to do a special session.

By law, under Senate Bill 1, the minimum annual salary for a Level 1 teacher will be $40,000.

The state budget actually has a slightly higher amount – $41,000 – which is in effect for just the next school year. The budget bill, however, was contingent on passage of the other education bills, so it wouldn’t haven’t been enough to set the minimum salaries on its own.

The mistake was disclosed Monday in a meeting of the Legislative Council, a panel of high-ranking lawmakers who meet between legislative sessions.

The council directed legislative staffers to research how other states handle similar technical mistakes. Lawmakers also suggested they will make some changes aimed at making it easier to track amendments to bills.

“We need to be able to fix these errors without reconvening the entire legislative body,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

In other action: Legislative leaders announced the first two members of the new state Ethics Commission.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, appointed Stuart Bluestone, a former chief state deputy attorney general, to the commission.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, appointed Frances Williams of Las Cruces.