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.

New Mexico legal cannabis customers would number 250,000, economist says

New Mexico would have about 250,000 potential customers of cannabis should the state legalize adult recreational use of cannabis, an economist told the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee yesterday. And those consumers would purchase roughly $412 million worth of the drug in the first year. The data was produced by Dr. Kelly O’Donnell, an economist who served as Director of State Tax Policy, Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development, and Superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration. She now works as a consultant. Her report was commissioned by Ultra Health, a New Mexico provider of medical marijuana.

Capital outlay reform bill gives power to lawmaker committee

Forty years of pork-barrel infrastructure funding would end under a bill introduced Monday. Instead of individual legislators handing out small sums of bond money for everything from musical instruments and zoo animals to public buildings and water projects, Senate Bill 262 would create an 18-member legislative committee to vet, rank and recommend projects for funding. Critics say that, currently, projects often aren’t fully funded or even requested by local officials. New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows individual lawmakers to earmark infrastructure projects for funding. If SB 262 prevails, local governments would be required to request funding by July 1 each year, and the interim public works committee would then work through the requests.

Capital outlay funding transparency passes first test

A bill requiring disclosure of legislative earmarks for infrastructure projects took its first step Monday. The Senate Rules Committee approved Senate Bill 25 in a 7-1 vote. It would require individual lawmakers’ allocations for capital outlay projects to be posted on the internet 30 days after the session ends. The Legislature typically divvies up a portion of the available infrastructure bond money among individual lawmakers. The House and Senate get equal amounts of money, with those amounts divided equally among members of each chamber.

House Republicans benefit most from lobbyist campaign cash

Registered lobbyists and their employer campaign donations made up about 25 percent of what legislative candidates spent during the 2016 election. And most of that money went to House Republicans. Despite that lobbyist largesse, the GOP lost control of the House to Democrats, while Senate Democrats increased their margin. Lobbyists and their employers reported donating more than $2.8 million to candidates and political action committees in 2016. That brings their total for the 2015-16 elections cycle to nearly $4 million, with more than 90 percent of that money going to legislative candidates or partisan PACs.

‘Constitutional crisis’ could dominate criminal justice debate

Republicans and Democrats will debate what criminal justice reform means during the 60-day legislative session. But a much more serious problem needs their attention, New Mexico Chief Justice Charles Daniels told the Legislature on Thursday.
“I wish I could tell you that New Mexico is providing the functioning justice system promised in the constitution that created the ground rules of our government, but I can’t,” Daniels said.
A justice system requires enough money to make it function.

Problems persist with capital outlay system

Hundreds of millions of infrastructure dollars sit unspent across New Mexico as state lawmakers search for cash to cover a budget deficit. And with only $60 million available, it’s unlikely the Legislature will fund the usual number of projects in their districts this legislative session. Capital outlay bills are typically a top priority every year for the Legislature, funding everything from new and renovated state buildings to small local projects and, in some years, highway improvements. Some hope that lack of money this year will spark talk of reforming a system where individual lawmakers allocate money for specific projects but rarely reveal exactly how they spent the money. That pork barrel process, unique to New Mexico, has contributed to the vast amounts of money sitting unspent on projects that either aren’t wanted, don’t qualify, aren’t ready to start or aren’t fully funded.