January 27, 2015

NM House Education Chair Bans Amendments From Committee

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New House Education Chair Supports Book Banning,
Disallowing Committee Amendments and Debate
Rep. Nora Espinoza has publicly supported book banning,
is now bringing same suppressive tactics to her chairmanship

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s new chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Nora Espinoza, told her committee members during Monday morning’s meeting that no substantive amendments will be allowed in her committee hearings. For real.

In a bald display of curtailing the democratic process, Rep. Espinoza told the committee that, “We will not do amendments in committee.” When asked by her Republican colleague Rep. Dennis Roch whether there would still be a process for substantive amendments to be introduced, Rep. Espinoza informed the committee that in such cases they would need to give all amendments to legislative analysts two days ahead of the committee meeting. (Just enough time to come up with strategies to defeat amendments Republicans may not like.)

Rep. Espinoza’s job as the chairwoman is to shepherd bills through the committee process, a process that requires spontaneous debate and substantive, impromptu alterations to bills. She decides which bills will be heard, and now she will be deciding which amendments are worthy of hearing. This raises the question: Since she is creating a process where she alone can choke off debate and decide which bills get a fair hearing, what kinds of bills does she prefer? We need only look back to last year’s legislative session for an idea:

During last year’s legislative session Rep. Espinoza opposed a memorial calling for the state’s school curricula to reflect “a spirit of acceptance and a celebration of different cultures and beliefs” that encouraged support for a group of books dealing with Chicano history and heritage. Rep. Espinoza called the books – written by authors such as Rodolpho Acuña, Elizabeth Martinez, and F. Arturo Rosales – “hate books” and “extremely racist” and suggested banning them from New Mexico schools.

Just in case you need a reminder, she is now one of New Mexico’s most powerful education policy influencers. Let that sink in for a minute.

While Espinoza’s move represents an incredible affront to democratic debate and a complete reversal of traditional committee protocols, it tracks with other moves already seen in the Republican-controlled House, like Rep. Paul Bandy’s arbitrary limiting of debate during a House Rules committee last week.

Sadly, we’re already seeing a disturbing pattern of anti-democratic moves by the Republican majority in the New Mexico House. Limiting debate by citizens and legislators and prohibiting amendments in committee are surefire ways to diminish any good will Republicans gained during the last election. Steamrolling your opposition by preventing them from sharing their opinions and concerns is the height of arrogance and sets a dangerous precedent. Debate does not equate to dysfunction. If Republicans want to be taken seriously, they must let all voices be heard in equal measure.