Next year could be the last time New Mexicans find any candidates for the long-troubled Public Regulation Commission listed on election ballots if voters approve a proposed constitutional amendment that sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. On Thursday the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would turn the Public Regulation Commission — which currently consists of five elected members representing different geographical districts — into a three member body whose members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The measure, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, passed the House by a vote of 59-8. It previously cleared the Senate by a 36-5 vote. Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1 does not need the governor’s signature.
A 94-year-old state senator’s dream to open a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans Center on Navajo land in McKinley County may finally become a reality with the help of a few of his friends. Senators from both political parties have agreed to provide some of their own allotment of capital outlay money for the project, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Friday. “He’s the longest-serving member in the Senate, and this is a project he’s been working on for a long time,” Wirth said. Pinto has been a senator since 1977. “It’s such an amazing honor to serve with a World War II veteran and a Navajo Code Talker on top of that,” Wirth said.
If the moon turns blue or a million-to-one shot comes in, New Mexico legislators might be able to agree that time marches on. But, chances are, the Senate and the House of Representatives would still have opposite views of what the clock should say. Senators on Thursday voted 25-17 for a bill to permanently keep New Mexico on daylight saving time. Members of the House earlier this week took a stand that’s 180 degrees different. They voted 35-32 to exempt New Mexico from daylight saving time.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.