Capital outlay reform transformed by Senate into three-year interim study

The New Mexico Senate on Thursday approved a watered-down measure to investigate why nearly $1 billion in infrastructure money remains unspent. Senate Bill 262 next moves to the House with less than two days to go in the 2017 legislative session. The committee in the original bill would have vetted projects that are placed in most annual capital outlay bills by individual lawmakers. But a Senate Finance Committee amendment took away that authority. And a floor amendment restricted the committee to a three-year term.

Early Ed proposal fails in Senate committee

With just three days left in the session, the Senate Rules committee effectively killed an effort to tap New Mexico’s permanent land grant fund to provide additional resources for early childhood education. A motion to table the measure was made by Democratic Senator Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces. She was joined by Republicans on the committee and one other Democrat, Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. The resolution was first brought up for debate in the committee on Monday, when Papen and Sanchez weren’t present. As the discussion got underway that day, Republican committee members got up and left one by one, leaving the committee without the quorum necessary for a vote.

Infrastructure spending reform bill moves to Senate floor with little time to lose

A measure intended to reform infrastructure spending is headed to the Senate floor after Senate Finance Committee approval Tuesday. But there is limited time to get the measure through the full Legislature to the governor’s desk by the end of the 2017 session at noon on Saturday. An amendment to Senate Bill 262 removes references to a July 1 deadline for state agencies, lawmakers and others to submit projects for consideration. That would take away some of the teeth in what was originally aimed at ending a legislative pork-barrel process. It’s also unclear if the committee would actually rank projects by order of importance, although the amendment includes language prioritizing projects that “fill critical health and safety needs; create jobs” and more.

Ethics watchdog says bill before the Senate lacks teeth

State lawmakers would have too much power to decide who sits on an independent ethics commission under a proposal now being considered by the state Senate, a watchdog organization said Tuesday. New Mexico Ethics Watch, which leveled the criticism, disliked that the would-be commission in the proposal would not have sole authority to investigate and prosecute ethics complaints. “While it is important that the state have an Ethics Commission, it is more important that an Ethics Commission be properly constituted and protected from future meddling,” Ethics Watch Executive Director Douglas Carver said in a press release. “The version of the constitutional amendment creating an Ethics Commission that is before the Senate now is significantly flawed.”

New Mexico Ethics Watch, founded last year, is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life in New Mexico. Prior to Ethics Watch, Carver worked for five years as a staff attorney for the New Mexico Legislative Council Service, which included working with the Legislative Ethics Committee.

Legislature passes campaign finance reform years in the making

It’s now up to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez whether New Mexico’s campaign finance disclosure laws will be modernized. The Senate agreed to House amendments to Senate Bills 96 and 97 Tuesday. The House approved the two measures Monday night. SB 96 has the greater impact, aiming for more disclosure from independent spending groups during campaigns. But it also doubles the donation limits for legislators to $5,000 for each primary and general election cycle.

Fixes to NM Campaign Reporting Act near the finish line

The House approved two bills to bring New Mexico’s campaign finance laws up to date Monday night, clearing a years-long hurdle. While Senate Bill 96 clarifies state disclosure law when it comes to independent spending in campaigns, it also doubles contribution limits for lawmakers. It’s likely the Senate will concur with House amendments. The next question is whether Gov. Susana Martinez will sign the measures into law. “It’s a big night,” said Senate Majority Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

Senate committee throws late session ethics commission monkey wrench

Late last week a proposal to create an independent ethics commission seemed perched nearer than ever to success in the New Mexico Legislature. The New Mexico House of Representatives had voted unanimously to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque and several Democratic lawmakers. It had received one committee assignment in the state Senate — admittedly the Senate Rules Committee. Chaired by Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, that committee has gained a reputation as the place where ethics legislation goes to die. Still, with just one committee hearing standing in front of a full Senate vote, a few longtime observers began to wonder if 2017 might be the year of the independent ethics commission after more than a decade of failed proposals.

Golf gifts up lobbyist spending to nearly $250K, other spending not reported

Lawmakers can look forward to some golfing once the legislative session ends, thanks to $28,000 in gifts from the New Mexico Golf Tourism Alliance. That’s just a portion of the nearly $250,000 lobbyists have reported spending on lawmakers during the session through March 8. The number only includes spending of $500 or more at a time, which lobbyists or their employers are required to report to the Secretary of State within 48 hours. But some lobbying groups question what must be reported now or later when more comprehensive reports are due in May. For instance, neither ProgressNow New Mexico nor Everytown for Gun Safety has reported spending on canvassing to encourage support of House Bill 50, which would expand gun background checks in the state.

Throwing Away the Key: New Mexico’s ‘30-year lifers’ 
denied a fair shot at parole

Since 1985, O.C. Fero has lined his shelf with achievements. The former high school principal was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch. He has tutored young men on their way to GEDs and earned three master’s degrees himself, all in religious studies. And in 1992, Fero, who is now 75, married Carole Royal, with whom he shares an abiding love of scripture, reading and far-ranging spiritual thought. Attending the small ceremony in Los Lunas were the couple’s adult children from previous marriages.