Lawmakers tackle payday lending

For the past several years efforts have been made at the State Legislature to cap interest rates imposed by New Mexico’s small-loan industry, alternately called storefront lenders or payday lenders. The lenders make loans of $2,500 or less, with often extremely high interest rates and short pay-back periods. And typically their customers are low-income New Mexicans who need quick cash to help pay bills. The issue is back in 2017, and two proposals to cap such interest rates are expected to be heard today in a House committee. The big difference between the two bills is the amount of interest lenders could charge.

Payday lending industry donated $118K in 2016 campaign cycle

Payday lenders and their professional associations donated more than $118,000 to candidates and PACs in 2015 and 2016. Most of that money – $92,150 – went to Republican interests, with $41,700 to Republican House candidates. That follows the trend of House Republicans outraising and outspending their Democratic counterparts in the 2016 election cycle, particularly when it came to business interests. Despite such campaign cash dominance, Republicans lost control of the House. But the total is less than the $140,000 the industry spent in the 2014 election cycle, when statewide offices such as governor and attorney general were at stake.

The clock starts on ethics reform

With four weeks to go in this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers have time to pass an independent ethics commission proposal, Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said Thursday. Egolf made his prediction an hour or so after a House Committee cleared a proposal that would ask New Mexicans to amend the state constitution to create an independent ethics commission. The bill has only one more stop – the House Judiciary Committee – before it would head to the floor of the House of Representatives. But the question mark regarding ethics reform has never been the New Mexico House of Representatives. That chamber has passed several versions over the years.

Video: Rep. Jim Dines says subpoena power important for ethics commission

New Mexico is one of the few states that doesn’t have a state ethics commission, and Rep. Jim Dines, R-Bernalillo, hopes to change that. House Joint Resolution 8 proposes an independent ethics commission that oversees complaints concerning state officers and employees, lobbyists, campaigns, and state contractors. Rep. Dines says the subpoena powers contained in the resolution are important. “It gives the commission the ability to obtain records that are out there that would be able to help end the investigation of a potential ethics complaint,” said Rep. Jim Dines. Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Jeff Seinborn (D- Doña Ana), Rep Nathan P. Small (D- Doña Ana), and Rep. Bill McCamley (D- Doña Ana).

Tax loopholes are in the eye of the beholder

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez continues to say we need to tighten our belts rather than raise taxes in order to solve our current fiscal crisis. “She will not raise taxes,” Chris Sanchez, the governor’s spokesperson, told New Mexico In Depth this week. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, however, told the Santa Fe New Mexican this weekend the state can’t endure any more cuts and he is joined by lawmakers who favor raising new tax revenue to balance the budget and replenish the state’s reserve fund. On its face the two positions set up a battle over whether to cut expenses or to raise revenue. But it’s not so simple.

Gentry spurns campaign donor with gun background check vote

A gun control advocacy group that poured $216,500 into New Mexico’s 2016 legislative elections is finding at least one of its beneficiaries is a tough sell on expanding background checks for gun sales. Everytown for Gun Safety donated $5,000 to then House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, last June. The group also sent a mailer supporting Gentry, who is now the minority leader after Democrats regained control of the House. But late Friday, Gentry joined other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee in voting against House Bill 50, which would require background checks at gun shows or online, including gun sales by private individuals. After extensive debate in two committees, the measure next goes to the House floor.

NRA boosts lobbyist spending

Reported lobbying efforts to influence New Mexico legislators neared $178,000 this week. A new big spender took over, as the National Rifle Association spent more than $44,000 on an internet campaign aimed at stopping two gun background check bills. That effort created by Starboard Strategic is aimed at generating public opposition to House Bill 50 and Senate Bill 48. Lobbyists and their employers are required to report any spending of $500 or more within 48 hours during the legislative session. That typically encompasses dinners, breakfasts, receptions and gifts doled out to lawmakers, as well as interest group spending such as the NRA’s.

Lobbying fix faces new opposition

The sponsor of legislation that would require lobbyists to disclose more about what they spend each year on state lawmakers and other public officials said he was considering changing the bill after a fifth state lawmaker publicly stated his opposition Friday morning. “Clearly there is heartburn with some of the progressive ideas that I’ve proposed” in SB 168, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said. Steinborn’s reconsideration came after Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, became the fifth lawmaker on the Senate Rules Committee to openly block the legislation. On Wednesday Candelaria had voted against a motion to not pass SB 168 out of the Senate Rules Committee, joining three other Democrats against four Republican Senators who wanted to table the legislation. The bill’s main goal is to fix a transparency loophole the Legislature created last year that allows lobbyists to disclose much less about how they spend money on public officials.

Legislators seek economic boost through hemp

A prime opportunity for developing New Mexico’s struggling economy may be the cultivation of hemp, the plant and leaf matter of one type of cannabis plant, a bipartisan set of legislators say. Several efforts underway at the state Legislature would license growers and establish a research and development fund for studying industrial uses of hemp. Senate Bill 6 would require the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to issue licenses to grow hemp for commercial or research and development purposes, subject to rules established by the department. It establishes a research and development fund at New Mexico State University and removes cannabis plants cultivated for industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana” in the Controlled Substances Act. Sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, SB 6 passed the Senate earlier this week and will now be considered by the House.

Gov. Susana Martinez refuses to answer media’s questions

New Mexico In Depth attempted to ask Gov. Susana Martinez about her reaction to the uncertainty in Washington surrounding the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have made it a priority to repeal major provisions. Any action from Washington would ripple through New Mexico. Early in her term Martinez was one of the few Republican governors across the nation to agree to expand the Medicaid program, which was a major provision of the ACA. Her decision resulted in around 250,000 additional New Mexicans getting health insurance.