Bipartisan vote spikes bill to raise oil and gas royalties

A handful of Democrats joined with Republicans at the Legislature on Friday to quash a bill that would have allowed the state to charge higher royalty rates on some oil and gas production. The first committee hearing for House Bill 398 turned into a showdown between New Mexico’s influential oil industry and a newly elected Democratic land commissioner who came to office pledging to collect a greater share of revenue from oil produced on the millions of acres her office controls. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard argued that raising royalty rates is strictly good business for a state rich in oil and gas but that has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. But the oil and gas industry countered that it already generates a large share of the funds for New Mexico’s government through taxes and royalties. Raising royalty rates, representatives from the industry argued, would drive away business and ultimately hurt the state.

Senator wants ethics panel’s work mostly secret

A state senator has proposed to keep much of the New Mexico ethics commission’s work secret and potentially impose thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time on anyone who breaks its confidentiality rules. Seventy-five percent of voters in last year’s election approved the creation of a state ethics commission, and legislators are now debating exactly how it should work, including how much the public should know about the cases it handles. Legislation filed this week by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, would set up the commission to ensure that ethics complaints remain secret unless it decides there has been a violation of law or the accused signs waives confidentiality. Under her Senate Bill 619, the form for filing an ethics complaint would include a confidentiality agreement. And anyone who discloses confidential complaints or investigations could face fines as high as $10,000 and up to a year in jail.

Legislator wants to let Metro Court convene grand juries

If former New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sol Watchler was right about grand juries and ham sandwiches, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court might see more cold cuts.  

House Bill 19, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, would allow the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court to convene grand juries, which are currently only held in state and federal district courts. The proposal, Hochman-Vigil said, is “an administrative clean-up measure.”

The Albuquerque lawyer added that some cases involving grand juries currently go back and forth between Metro and state District Courts and her bill would allow for more autonomy, particularly in Metro Court. “This allows for Metro Court to have better control over their own caseload and allows them flexibility to run these cases in the best, most efficient, manner they see possible,” Hochman-Vigil said. Felony cases in Bernalillo County sometimes start in Metro Court, but go to District Court if prosecutors decide to use a grand jury.

Senate approves bill requiring background checks on all gun sales

The state Senate narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require just about anyone buying a firearm to undergo a background check. This legislation has been a priority for gun control advocates, but all 16 Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate said it would not prevent the sort of mass shootings that have spurred calls for such laws. Scheduled for the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, the Senate’s vote was the biggest test yet for gun control during this legislative session. Majority Democrats won the day on a 22-20 vote. Senate Bill 8 now heads to the state House of Representatives, which already has passed a law on background checks this year and might approve this measure.

Marijuana

GOP senator’s bill calls for state-run pot shops

A Republican state senator on Thursday introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana but, unlike a Democratic House bill, would have the state operate retail marijuana stores. Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque said in a phone interview Thursday that, considering the number of western states that have adopted laws treating marijuana more like alcohol, legalization in New Mexico is inevitable. “It’s a just matter of how we want to do it,” he said. “We should do it in a smart way.” Moores said his proposal would take steps to reduce harmful effects of marijuana, “while allowing adults the liberty of using marijuana if they want to.”