Senate OKs new system of choosing Lt. Gov. candidates

The state Senate on Saturday took action to lessen the chance that voters could choose a political odd couple as nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. Senators voted 20-10 for a bill that would do away with primary election for lieutenant governor. Under Senate Bill 178, a major party’s gubernatorial nominees would get to choose their own running. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.

Spaceport secrecy bill headed to Senate floor

A state Senate committee voted Friday for a bill allowing New Mexico’s taxpayer-funded Spaceport to shield from public view the identity of its customers and other records. The Judiciary Committee voted 7-0 to advance the measure that Spaceport America says is crucial for it to attract private companies. Dan Hicks, executive director of the Spaceport, said companies interested in locating at the $209 million enterprise in Sierra County want to keep private the intellectual property they would bring with them. Republican Sen. Bill Burt of Alamogordo, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the measure is important to New Mexico taxpayers. Landing companies that can help make the Spaceport successful is crucial if the public is to recoup its investment in the project, Burt said.

Medical marijuana expansion bill clears Senate

Medical marijuana patients would be able to possess more cannabis and producers would eventually be able to grow more under a bill that cleared the state Senate on Monday by a wide margin. Senators voted 29-11 in favor of Senate Bill 177, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque. If approved by the House of Representatives and signed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, it would change the state’s medical marijuana program to allow patients to have 5 ounces of cannabis, and it would allow producers to increase the number of plants they can grow when the number of patients in the program increases. Cannabis producers can now grow up to 450 plants. The bill comes as the number of patients in the program is exploding.

Medical cannabis bill would let vets enroll without diagnosis

A Senate committee voted Wednesday in favor of a bill that would make changes to New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program, but some lawmakers were troubled by a section that would allow veterans to enroll without being diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition. One state senator who voted in favor of the measure said he might change his vote when the bill reaches the Senate floor. Senate Bill 8 — which would increase the amounts of marijuana patients could possess and producers could grow — would be the first legislative change to the medical marijuana program since it was approved 10 years ago, said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor. McSorley also carried the original medical marijuana bill that passed the Legislature in 2007. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 along party lines to send the bill to the full Senate.

Marijuana legalization headed to Senate floor

A proposal that would allow voters to weigh in on legalizing recreational marijuana passed its second test and will now advance to the Senate floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment on party lines, marking the first time marijuana legalization legislation has ever made it to the floor of either chamber in the New Mexico Legislature. Related Story: Marijuana legalization proposal dies on Senate floor

“The vote tonight made history because it’s never passed through two committees,” Emily Kaltenbach, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, said following the vote. “It’s a really important step and it shows just the momentum of the discussion and the will of the people have finally been listened to.”

The legislation passed the Senate Rules Committee earlier this week. When the legislation passed the Rules Committee in 2015, it was the first time such legislation had ever passed one committee.

Solar tax credit flies through Senate committee

A day after the House version of the legislation narrowly passed a committee, an identical bill to extend the state’s solar tax credit had a much more comfortable reception in the Senate. The Senate Conservation Committee passed the bill on an 8-1 vote. The opposition to the legislation did not stem from the merits of the bill itself, but rather concerns about using tax credits at all. The legislation is the same as what passed last year, and Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, described it as a compromise with the House Ways and Means Committee. The compromise is from a “step-down” which would lower the tax credit as years go on, from the current ten percent down to 5 percent after eight years.

Weak deal? Dianna Duran and her pension

One of the biggest criticisms following the aftermath of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s plea deal and resignation was that it looks like she will keep her government pension. This week, Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Milan Simonich lamented that Duran “gets a pension for violating the voters’ trust” while the newspaper’s editorial board urged Santa Fe District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington to reject the plea deal for being “too soft.”

State law allows judges to fine public officials convicted of felonies “the value of the salary and fringe benefits paid to the offender … after the commission of the first act that was a basis for the felony conviction.”

No state official has had their pension removed using the law. The anti-corruption statute, which passed during the 2012 Legislative session and became law that year, was carried by state Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque. Payne didn’t return phone calls from NM Political Report for this story, but we did reach state Rep. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who carried the corruption bill in the New Mexico House of Representatives that year. While similar anti-corruption bills that specified taking away the offender’s government pension failed to pass the Legislature multiple times, Martinez said that he and Payne intended “fringe benefits” to include pensions in their successful bill.

Senate passes driver’s license compromise (updated)

The state Senate voted to institute a two-tier driver’s license system in the state that they hope would stop the sometimes heated debate on allowing those in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. The legislation passed easily after a relatively small amount of debate for an issue that has had such a large amount of attention from both the media and the public in the past five years. The legislation passed 35-5 with five Republican Senators voting against. The bill now heads to the state House with about 24 hours left in the session, raising questions on if the bill has enough time to pass and if the House Republican caucus will support something that still allows those in the country illegally to drive legally in the state. Update: The bill was assigned to the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee; with less than 24 hours left in the session, this is likely a death knell for the legislation.

Attempt to bypass committees on right-to-work fails

An effort to bypass the committee process for right-to-work legislation failed on a party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle asked to move the right-to-work legislation to a committee of the whole instead of going through the traditional committee process and the three committees to which it was assigned. The bill was ultimately assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans have complained that the right-to-work legislation has yet to be heard since passing the state House on a near-party-line vote. The chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that it would be heard on Sunday and invited all the Senators to attend.