Holding criminals accountable, supporting law enforcement and boosting Career-Technical Education rank high among hot topics for the upcoming legislative session, local lawmakers said during a round-table discussion Wednesday.
The 60-day session is scheduled to start Jan. 17.
District 40 state Sen. Craig Brandt, District 44 state Rep. Kathleen Cates, District 60 state Rep. Josh Hernandez, District 29 state Rep. Joy Garratt and District 23 state Rep. Alan Martinez participated in the discussion at the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon at Rio Rancho Events Center. Cates and Garratt are Democrats, while Brandt, Hernandez and Martinez are Republicans.
Brandt, a former Rio Rancho Public Schools board member, said New Mexico’s education system needs a lot of work.
“If we could just duplicate Rio Rancho Public Schools and put it in every community in the state, we’d be a lot better off,” he said.
More Career-Technical Education (CTE) is necessary, he continued.
“Not every student needs to go to college,” Brandt said. “And quite frankly, we don’t need every student to go to college, because if we don’t have plumbers, I’m going to have to fix my own toilet and that’s not fun.”
He expects to see a bill that allots $100 million to New Mexico school districts to use according to local boards’ discretion for five options, including CTE and security.
He also said the school funding formula needs to be fixed to account for CTE being more expensive than other classes. He doesn’t know of any forthcoming bill on the issue because no one has a solid number for how much funding is needed.
Brandt said legislators have been discussing the matter for six years, and it will probably take another six years of research for anything to get done. He wants to see high school students graduating with CTE certifications that allow them to get a job immediately.
Garratt, a retired Albuquerque Public Schools teacher, added that CTE classes should count as electives and she wants businesses to offer internships in those fields.
Martinez said his biggest priority is crime.
“Retail crime is putting people out of business,” he said.
If someone steals $500 from a mom-and-pop shop, Martinez said, that’s a significant loss of revenue for a small business. He wants to make people afraid to steal from businesses and to show business owners it’s worth it to set up shop in Sandoval County.
He’s also concerned about law enforcement officers feeling unsupported and wants to reinstate the qualified immunity that used to exist for officers in civil lawsuits.
“I want to make sure that our smaller police departments know we support them,” Martinez said.
He is concerned about his brother, a Santa Fe police officer, and the heavy burden his brother carries.
Hernandez mentioned a recent ride-along with Rio Rancho Police, when he met two officers who had transferred from other departments because of the support for law enforcement in Rio Rancho.
Martinez also dislikes the “catch and release” laws that allow a criminal to bond out of jail and go back to committing the same crime within hours of being arrested.
“We need a well-thought-out policy,” he said.
Garratt said the state should support police long-term, including better health benefits for their families. She also wants increased penalties for drug crimes involving guns, and to see legislators, police, judges and others involved in public safety working together instead of blaming each other.
Cates said public safety needs to be addressed from multiple angles, including behavioral health, education and the community-policing model that works in Rio Rancho.
“There’s going to be a swarm of bills,” she said.
Brandt said that for change to happen in public safety, people have to get concerned enough to stop voting for legislators who don’t fix the problem.