With business and union lobbyists backing it, a bill aimed at reforming the Legislature’s allocation of infrastructure money passed the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. After a 4-2 vote, Senate Bill 262 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Two Republicans, Sens. Cliff Pirtle, of Roswell, and Mark Moores, of Albuquerque, opposed the measure. The bill creates a public works interim committee comprised of 18 lawmakers to recommend projects to be funded in the follow legislative session.
Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.
“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations. Photos show sagging floors, torn carpet, broken appliances and other issues.
At the midpoint of New Mexico’s legislative session, bills that would legalize hemp research are moving at a clip through both chambers. But the governor’s not saying whether she’ll sign bills that would establish rules for cultivating the plant and a research fund at a state university, and remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Senate bill 6 has one more hearing in a House committee before it heads to the House floor for a final vote. The bill 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. The bill’s sponsor, Cisco McSorley, D Albuquerque, touts the economic benefits of researching hemp in the state.
While legislators debate how to fund early childhood education programs, some think more efficiency and better services can be achieved by consolidating early childhood programs. Senate Bill 106 would create a cabinet-level Early Childhood Services Department with oversight of existing programs like home visiting and pre-kindergarten that are currently scattered through various state agencies. “We have a public education department, we have a higher education department, but we don’t have that focus on that early childhood educational component,” said Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. In addition to better coordination of services, Morales said consolidation of programs would maximize taxpayer dollers. “I think that we have dollars that go unspent. We have, unfortunately, programs that aren’t run as efficiently as I would like to see,” Senator Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said about his bill to establish
According to a Legislative Finance Committee Early Childhood report, both state and federal funding for early childhood services totals more than $230 million.
Mining, developers and film interests reported wining and dining New Mexico lawmakers last week. Lobbyists and their employers have reported spending nearly $203,000 through Monday. They must report any spending of $500 to the Secretary of State within 48 hours. Last week’s biggest event was a $15,845 dinner at the Hilton sponsored by the New Mexico Mining Association. The IATSE Local 480, a union for film employees, spent $6,378 on a reception at the Pink Adobe.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.