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NM House override attempt on teacher attendance bill fails

SANTA FE — A bid by the New Mexico House to follow in the steps of the Senate and override Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of a teacher sick leave bill has failed, leaving the veto in effect.

On a party-line vote, the House voted 36-31 this afternoon in favor of the override — or nine votes short of the two-thirds majority that was needed to approve it.

The veto override bid was launched by Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, who said the vetoed bill would have helped teachers and students.

That view was backed by other House Democrats.

“If a sick teacher has to force herself to come to work … that ultimately impacts student learning,” said Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos.

However, Rep. Jim Smith, R-Tijeras, called the override attempt premature, and pointed out teacher attendance only makes up 5 percent of educators’ state-sanctioned evaluations.

“I’m confident we can work with the governor to come up with a reasonable solution,” Smith said.

Martinez vetoed the bill last week, despite it having received overwhelming support in both legislative chambers. That included a 64-3 vote in the House on Feb. 20.

The Senate then voted 34-7 to override Martinez’s veto, with Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, leading the charge. The vote marked the first time either legislative chamber had moved to successfully override a Martinez veto.

However, without the support of House Republicans, whose leadership had vowed not to back the override attempt, the effort appeared doomed from the start in the 70-member House.

The legislation, House Bill 241, would have allowed teachers to take all their contractual free time – 10 days annually in most school districts – without facing a deduction on their evaluations.

Under the current system, educators can be absent from the classroom for three days without penalty but lose points on the fourth unexcused day.

The second-term governor said in her veto message that she understood the desire to help teachers, but the proposal went too far. The attendance component of evaluations, she said, had resulted in a substantial drop in teacher absences, which saves money by decreasing spending on substitute teachers and helps students learn.