It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night. The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.
The final pieces of a 2018 fiscal year budget were falling into place Thursday with just enough money to balance spending and send lawmakers home without the need for a special session. Those measures were advancing even as other bills — such as an effort to increase the tobacco tax or raise money by closing tax loopholes — died in committees and looked to jeopardize any final agreement. One of the developments came as hospital executives met with Gov. Susana Martinez to discuss a section of House Bill 202, which increases taxes and fees in several areas. One of its provisions would equalize the gross receipts tax on all nonprofit and for-profit hospitals, with the money earmarked for Medicaid. The New Mexico Hospital Association helped craft a compromise with lawmakers to support the tax if some of the $80 million raised could be used to bridge a shortfall in Medicaid, which costs the state $916 million a year.
The state Senate majority leader says three bills that Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed during the last week will become law after all, including legislation that would legalize research of industrial hemp. Setting up a constitutional showdown, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told the chamber Thursday night that Martinez had missed her deadline to veto the bills. The governor has three days during a legislative session to sign or veto bills. If she does neither, the bills become law. The constitution also says governors are to state their objections when vetoing a bill, giving lawmakers some sort of explanation.
The state minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour from $7.50 by April 2018 if Gov. Susana Martinez signs a bill that has been passed by both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 41-27 to pass Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. The bill would increase New Mexico’s hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018. It also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October. The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.
Republican state Sen. Sander Rue didn’t take kindly to a nasty tweet by one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s political committees, sent shortly after the Senate approved Rue’s bill to shine a light on how the governor spends her contingency fund. The tweet was sent Wednesday by Advance New Mexico Now, which is run by Jay McCleskey, political adviser to Republican Martinez. McCleskey’s group said Rue sponsored the transparency bill on the governor’s expenditures because Martinez vetoed a legislative pension bill. Rue, a veteran senator from Albuquerque, then sent a written statement to The New Mexican. Related: Guv’s office doesn’t keep financial records of contingency fund
“It is telling that a political action committee linked to Gov. Martinez has attacked my ongoing efforts to create more transparency about how New Mexican taxpayer dollars are spent,” Rue said.
The state Senate’s extraordinary effort to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez has landed with a thud in the House of Representatives. Two days after senators voted overwhelmingly to save a bill that would have allowed teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation, no one has stepped forward in the House to call for a similar override vote. Note: This piece has been updated throughout. Majority Democrats are looking to Republicans who co-sponsored the bill to push for the override in the House. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill
A two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House is needed to override a veto.
After a contentious, hours-long debate, the state House of Representatives voted by a wide margin for a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors — the widely discredited practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation. The measure cleared the House late Wednesday on a 44-23 vote. Nine Republicans joined 35 Democrats in backing it. Only one Democrat, Rep. Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque, sided with a bloc of mostly rural Republicans who opposed the initiative. That group of Republicans dragged debate on the measure deep into the night, raising concerns that it would trample freedom of religion and suggesting that homosexuality is a choice or even a mental illness.
Santa Fe Public Schools will have a half-day today, similar to a “snow day” for students. The projected high today is 70 degrees, so it isn’t for snow. Instead, it’s for a day of action for teachers, parents and students to show opposition to further school budget cuts. Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García announced the decision Wednesday afternoon. Related: Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers
The governor’s office wasn’t happy, and a spokesman called the plan “despicable,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
A bill that advocates say will keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers is headed to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk. The state House of Representatives voted 43-22 on Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 259, which would require people under domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms.
The Senate concurred with the House’s changes Thursday. Groups such as New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence argued that the bill is a common-sense measure that will protect victims of domestic violence. But several Republicans on the House floor countered that the bill was flawed and would clog up state courts. Related: Senate OKs ban on openly carrying firearms in Capitol
The bill would only apply once a judge has issued a final order following a hearing.
A wide-ranging tax bill that passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote ran into obstacles at a Senate hearing Wednesday and isn’t likely to advance in the 2017 Legislature. “Anything still has a chance of moving,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, after a four-hour hearing on House Bill 412, sponsored by Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper. But during the hearing, lawmakers were more skeptical as they heard concerns from lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, broadcasters, nonprofit organizations, schools, farmers, the dairy industry, hospice nurses and nursing homes about how the tax changes would affect their operations. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels
Harper was not surprised. “We’ve jokingly called this bill the lobbyist full-employment act.