More than a dozen UNM students spent Friday in a legislative boot camp, sponsored by UNM Government and Community Relations and designed to prepare them for internships in the New Mexico House and Senate. They are enrolled in Professor Tim Krebs’ political science class and will each spend a full week in the Roundhouse, shadowing and interning with a legislator. Their Friday training gave them a rare opportunity to learn from the leadership in state government.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, chair of Senate Finance, gave the students a primer on the expected battlegrounds in the comittee. “Above the line” and “below the line” in public education:

** Above the line funding flows through the formula and is available to all districts. Below the line funding is not formula driven and may not be available to all districts. There is substantial disagreement on how much will go to each.

** Higher education accountability: Just how much of higher ed funding should be held out to be redistributed to institutions based on their outcomes performance? HED proposes 10 percent while the LFC suggests a lesser amount would be more reasonable.

** Lottery scholarship solvency:  Sen. Smith says the “witching hour is now.”  The LFC is suggesting reforms, with decoupling the scholarship from tuition promising the most savings. The LFC proposes a minimum 15 hours, higher GPAs and capping scholarship levels based on sector. All will face different levels of opposition.

** Constitutional amendments:  A number of bills are being introduced that seek changes to the state constitution on wildly varying topics – minimum wage, marijuana, pocket vetoes and the permanent fund. As approval from both houses sends the initiative straight to the voters, this is seen as a way to avoid potential vetoes.

Charles Sallee of the Legislative Finance Committee and Richard Blair from the Department of Finance and Administration gave students a glimpse of the behind the scenes workings of state government, with advice on how to navigate the weeds.

Raul Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, spoke of the non-partisan, confidential process that goes into drafting pieces of legislation. Burciaga notes the process can be effective, but is not designed to be efficient, as it is supposed to be stopped at several stages for debate and review. The goal is to “rein in any rush to judgment.”

UNM Government Relations Director Marc Saavedra briefed the students on UNM’s legislative priorities, while UNM lobbyist Joe Thompson drilled them on protocol and how to get the most out of their internships. The students in turn grilled each presenter with pertinent, insightful questions. Their internships begin next week.

Saturday at the Roundhouse
In a rare First Saturday hearing, members of House Education and other legislators are listening to comments this morning from public school teachers and other educators from around the state on their perspectives on the state of public education in New Mexico. House Education is scheduled to take up the education budget early Monday morning.