Last night, something amazing happened. After weeks of the newly emboldened House Republicans arbitrarily changing rules and flaunting established parliamentary procedure, House Democrats said “enough.”
During last night’s debate about a bill regarding the way teachers advance through the licensure system, this happened:
Hours of debate over an education bill turned into a partisan battle on the House floor tonight, as Democrats walked out of the chamber to protest what they said was unfair treatment by majority Republicans.
The legislation at the core of the dispute, streamlining the way teachers advance through their licensure system, passed 37-0, with only Republicans voting.
Democratic leader Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called it a “naked power grab” by Republicans, in an interview after the floor session.
Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, accused the Democrats of hypocrisy, saying they had used the House rules the same way when they were in charge.
The vote followed more than three hours of debate over the licensure advancement bill. Early on, Democrats had wanted to amend the bill to include salary hikes for all teachers, and Republicans agreed.
At the end of three hours, however, Republicans offered substitute legislation to link the salary increases to teacher performance, so that only the highest-rated teachers would get them.
Democrats said they were entitled to another three hours of discussion because the substitute bill was so different. Republicans said the rules didn’t allow for that, and cut off debate.
The amendment mentioned above to raise salaries for all teachers, while not a full-fledged bill, was a wonderful piece of progressive policy.
Sadly, after originally supporting the amendment, Republicans played politics with teacher salaries.
The Fair Pay for Teachers Amendment, introduced by Rep. Stephanie Maez:
…successfully increased each pay bracket for teachers by $10,000. The amendment was accepted as a friendly amendment and was passed unanimously by the full House of Representatives. The bipartisan support of the Fair Pay for Teachers amendment demonstrates that our House of Representatives can work across party lines to recognize the professionalism and hard work our teachers give in the class rooms.
Unfortunately, the bi-partisan optimism expressed in the House Democrats’ early-in-the-evening press release excerpted above was short-lived.
After House Republicans introduced a substitute merit-pay bill that tied teacher salary increases to performance and then disallowed any further debate on the issue, the entire Democratic caucus walked out of the House Chamber in protest.
Here’s what Minority Leader Rep. Brian Egolf had to say about the Republicans’ move to stifle debate on a substitute bill that clearly had major fiscal impacts and thus needed to be properly debated (and most likely referred to the House Appropriations Committee):
“Tonight we witnessed the Republican Party at its lowest point in New Mexico’s House of Representatives…This was an orchestrated suppression of debate from House Republicans. After three hours of debate House Republicans proposed a substitute that would have drastic financial implications on our public school system, then motioned to cut off the debate. It is shocking that Speaker Don Tripp refused to allow a fair debate. The promise from Republican leadership to work across the aisle has been broken; I am very concerned about the second half of our legislative session. Tonight they made it very clear that talk about bipartisanship is out the window and they are only here to play politics on the taxpayer dime.”