Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

3-9 NM Think Tank Optimistic

MON, 3-09-09

SANTA FE - With only two weeks left in the 2009 Legislature, a results-oriented think tank that has proved its effectiveness yearly since its creation a decade ago, feels good about two major pieces of legislation it is promoting this year.
Santa Fe-based Think-New Mexico reports that its two big initiatives for the year are now on track to make it through the Legislature by its March 21 adjournment.
Last week, House Bill 488, sponsored by House Speaker Ben Lujan, cleared the House Business and Industry Committee unanimously. Lujan's measure is designed to reform troublesome features of New Mexico's title insurance industry.
Currently New Mexico is one of only three states that allow the state insurance commissioner to set title insurance rates. Lujan's bill would allow for price competition.
In addition, New Mexico is the only state with a statute that protects the industry from being sued for negligence. When title companies overlook undisclosed easements or liens, property owners are left unprotected.
Think New Mexico and the state Public Regulation Commission tried to push through similar legislation last year but ran out of time in the short, 30-day session. Part of the reason was stiff competition from the title insurance business.
This year, there was more time to negotiate. Lengthy negotiations with title insurance representatives resulted in an agreement that lowers title insurance costs for consumers without harming local agents.
The state insurance superintendent will still set rates but he can allow less expensive rates and will report the exceptions to the Public Regulation Commission and the Legislature.
The insurance superintendent also must publish rates and closing fees on the PRC Website, thereby allowing consumers to shop for better rates.
The agreement also will prohibit something called reverse competition, a process in which title companies market their services, not to consumers, but to homebuilders or realtors.
The other piece of Think New Mexico legislation now on the move is its Smaller Schools Bill, designed to tackle the state's dropout crisis while also saving taxpayer dollars.
The idea sounds somewhat counterintuitive but recent research uncovered by the think tank reveals that economies of size do not apply to learning, especially when considering successful learning.
New Mexico's graduation rate ranks next to last among the 50 states and District of Columbia. Nevada is last, by the way. Only 54 percent of New Mexico's children graduate from high school compared to 71 percent nationally.
Think New Mexico cites studies showing that smaller schools have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, lower levels of student alienation and violence and higher levels of satisfaction among students, parents, principals and teachers.
Several factors combine to make large schools more expensive than moderate-sized schools. We'll cover those in a later column. Research now shows that the most efficient schools are those serving 600-900 students. And the efficiency factor goes even higher when considering the cost per graduate rather than cost per student.
The small schools bill is SB 255. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Nava, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. That is high-powered bipartisan support. It passed the Senate Education Committee last week on a unanimous vote.
As is usually the case, Think New Mexico is advocating legislation that is not easy to pass. But it has a strong track record. Its board is composed of a bipartisan group of New Mexico's business and political leaders.
Both the bills that comprise its effort this year have created some strong feelings. In this column, we've looked at the proponent's side. Future columns will look in more depth at both sides of these two issues.

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