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Editorial: Important bills deserve full Senate consideration

Several hot-button initiatives have hit the state Senate logjam that deserve the full attention – and vote – of our elected officials before the 60-day session ends next week.

Some of the contenders are repealing the state law that gives immigrants in the country illegally driver’s licenses, mandatory retention of third-graders who are not proficient in reading despite intense intervention and making New Mexico a right-to-work state.

And two abortion-related bills also are bottled up in the Democratic-controlled Senate after moving through the Republican-controlled House last week.

House Bill 390, sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, would ban abortions in or after the 20th week of pregnancy unless necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman or if the pregnancy resulted from sexual abuse, rape or incest.

New Mexico is one of a handful of states that allow late-term abortions. As a result the state has become a destination for women throughout the country seeking the controversial procedure. New Mexico remains an outlier even though national polling in recent years has shown a strong majority of Americans support banning late-term abortions.

A second bill, HB 391, sponsored by Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, would require that parents or a guardian be notified at least 48 hours before a minor child can have an abortion. The minor could petition a court to get a waiver of the notification requirement.

House passage of these two bills shows some lawmakers are listening to public opinion.

Right-to-work legislation – now the law in 25 states (including Wisconsin, which made it law this week) – was tabled in the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday night. HB 75 would give New Mexico workers a choice about paying union fees – as well as put New Mexico into consideration for new private-sector businesses and their jobs.

The sponsor, Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, correctly argued that many out-of-state companies won’t even consider the Land of Enchantment because of its lack of a right-to-work law. Sixty percent of New Mexico voters polled said workers should not be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

Is a full vote important? Yes, but only if you care about doing something that turns around decades of a stagnant private sector economy and giving people a choice.

Then there’s the practice of continuing to issue unrestricted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, making us an international fraud magnet, risking the nation’s security, keeping us out of compliance with REAL ID, victimizing law-abiding residents and perpetuating an underclass of immigrants. HB 32 has passed that chamber and would repeal the 2003 law that hands a state-of-the-art government ID to virtually all comers. The Senate is considering a two-tier system in SB 653 today that would issue REAL ID-compliant licenses to those who provide a Social Security number or proof of lawful presence in the country, as well as non-REAL ID-compliant licenses to those who cannot.

And, there’s education reform. In a state where fewer than half of K-12 students can read or do math at grade level, it is incomprehensible why the Legislature cannot find a way to send to the governor any major reforms beyond a school grading system to improve the academic futures of its children.

This issue is only important if you’re tired of New Mexico being ranked at the bottom and would like to see our embarrassing dropout rate improved. Then again, it only affects chances for student success and the system only costs $2.7 billion a year.

Four House bills would ensure third-grade students can read before being advanced (HB 41), allow teachers evaluated as highly effective and exemplary to advance through the pay tiers more quickly (HB 76), fast-track qualified teacher candidates into principal positions (HB 71) and allow professionals with certified adjunct status to teach in public schools.

All have been sitting in Senate committees for 24 to 34 days. Senate bills that would address these reforms plus truancy have all been killed or put on hold in that chamber.

All of these issues are of sufficient public interest. The Senate should move these bills out of committee and onto the floor for full votes.

Voters deserve to know where their legislators stand. That way every senator can point to his or her actual record when the electorate gets to cast its votes.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.