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.

Uneasy Sanctuary: Santa Fe policies strong but don’t always stop calls to ICE

This story first appeared in the Santa Fe Reporter, a partner of New Mexico In DepthThe Santa Fe Police Department generally prefers to make its own law enforcement decisions. On paper, that means leaving federal immigration authorities in the dark on cases involving people who may be in the country illegally, even as President Donald Trump threatens cities’ funding if they don’t cooperate in fulfilling his campaign promise to cleanse the nation of “criminal illegal aliens.”

But during the past two-plus years, SFPD has tipped off Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at least three times about suspected undocumented immigrants. Details about the cases highlight difficulties in balancing public safety against remaining true to “sanctuary” policies that, in Santa Fe, were born of cooperation and core values but are now bound to experience some turbulence. For Ronald Ayala-Santos, according to police, a heads-up for the feds took some doing on his part. Since mid-2015, the 20-year-old has admitted to making a false report about “heavily armed men” swarming a Santa Fe neighborhood and phoning in bogus bomb threats that led to the chaotic clearing of the Violet Crown Cinema and the Plaza, police say.

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.

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.

Lobbyist loophole fix stalls in Senate committee

A state Senate committee failed to muster enough votes Wednesday morning to pass a bill that would fix a transparency loophole the Legislature created last year. But the bill sponsor said he’ll try again to get the measure through the Rules Committee. The loophole allows lobbyists to disclose much less about how they spend money on public officials than they used to. It removed a requirement for lobbyists to report expenses spent on individual lawmakers below $100. Previously, lobbyists had to report all spending, itemizing expenses spent above $75 per lawmaker and reporting the cumulative amount of expenses below $75 per lawmaker.

Competing ethics proposals raise questions of secrecy and oversight

Last week marked the start of the 12th installment of a long-running debate among New Mexico state lawmakers. In previous years the discussion could be summed up in two questions: Should the Legislature create an independent ethics commission; and, if so, what form should it take? The perennial answer to the first question was “no ethics commission this year,” rendering moot the second as to the shape and form it would take. This year, unlike in previous sessions, however, state lawmakers will be able to debate both questions at once. With positive votes from the House State Government, Indian & Veterans’ Affairs committee on Jan.

Cannabis industry campaign contributions grow

The nascent cannabis industry donated more than $52,000 to New Mexico candidates and political action committees in 2015 and 2016. The largest donor, Ultra Health, hopes to see lawmakers increase plant limits for medical marijuana providers this session. The Legislature is also considering bills that seek to legalize marijuana. The first, House Bill 89, is scheduled for a committee hearing Saturday. Eight states and the District of Columbia allow adult use of cannabis, while 25 allow medical use of the drug, which is still illegal under federal law.