Senate committee moves national popular vote bill

As the 2020 presidential election kicks into gear, New Mexico is a step closer to joining a group of states in upending how the country selects its leader. The Senate Rules Committee backed a bill Sunday that would allow New Mexico to join a compact of several other states committed to putting its electoral college votes behind whichever candidate wins the most votes nationwide. Known as the national popular vote, the idea is part of a movement to remove what backers argue is an outdated vestige of American democracy but which critics of the bill argue would undercut the political power of smaller states like New Mexico. Under the U.S. Constitution, each state gets an electoral college vote commensurate to the number of representatives it has in Congress. Under the formula, smaller states are over-represented.

Election Day voter registration clears first committee

A bill to allow voters to register on the same day they vote cleared its first House committee Wednesday. The House, State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee advanced the proposal on a party-line vote. The bill aims to let voters register or update their voter registration during early voting or on Election Day, and vote on the same day. Currently, voters must register four weeks before the election to be eligible to vote. One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, said the legislation “is the ultimate access bill to allow voters to access the electoral process as openly as possible.”

The bill would allow new voters to register on Election Day and those already registered to change their address.

House GOP leader retirement shock on legislative filing day

The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.

Minimum-wage hike to $9 heads to governor

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.

Panel rejects expanded background checks

A legislative committee on Monday effectively killed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases — an issue that drew large crowds to the Capitol as well as big campaign contributions and intense lobbying and advertising. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548 after a lengthy hearing. It marked the defeat of the most recent gun-control bill sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Democrat Eliseo Alcon of Milan joined the six Republicans on the panel to stop the measure, which would have required background checks on all sales of firearms at gun shows and from advertisements on the internet or print publications. Garcia Richard said other states that have approved similar bills have seen fewer violent crimes and suicides involving guns.

House panel passes bill to block use of state land for border wall

A State House committee voted to pass a bill that would halt the state from aiding in the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico by stopping the sale or use of state land for such a wall. The bill passed the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee on a party-line vote, with all five Democrats voting in favor and all four Republicans voting against. Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, was one of the bill’s sponsors and said the wall would not prevent undocumented immigration. “If the purpose of this wall is to eliminate illegal immigration from Mexico, keep in mind that over 40 percent of those in this country illegally actually entered with a valid visa,” Martinez said. “So they arrived at an airport or arrived at a checkpoint with proper documentation and simply overstayed that documentation.”

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said that the legislation would also send a signal to Mexico, a key trade partner.

Bill to ease rule in wild animal attacks stalls

A House committee Tuesday declined to approve legislation to relax a state requirement that any wild animal that attacks a human be killed so it can be tested for rabies, citing testimony from health and wildlife officials who argued the change would pose a significant risk to public health and safety. The state requirement drew a harsh national spotlight last summer after a marathon runner was attacked by a black bear in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. State officials tracked the bear, which wore a collar as part of a study, and euthanized it, sending its brain to a lab for rabies testing, as required by a Health Department regulation. The tests were negative. The marathoner, Karen Williams, a nurse, was clawed and bitten.

Bills to stop contract buyouts die in House committee

A state House committee on Friday tabled two pieces of legislation aimed at stopping public school superintendents, college presidents and university coaches from getting what some lawmakers referred to as a “golden parachute” when their contracts are terminated early. The House Education Committee action effectively killed both bills, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque. The decisions came on bipartisan votes, with some lawmakers and members of the education community arguing that the measures would hinder the ability of school districts and colleges to recruit high-quality candidates for top jobs. Much of the discussion Friday centered on recent controversy involving Robert Frank, the former president of The University of New Mexico who agreed to step down in December under a deal with the board of regents that allows him to continue collecting his annual salary of $350,000 through May. Under the agreement, Frank can continue working at UNM in a $190,000-a-year tenured position.

Measure to create new ethics commission clears first hurdle

With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.

Minimum wage increase, harsher criminal penalties among pre-filed legislation

State lawmakers have been able to prefile legislation for the upcoming legislative session since last Thursday. Already, they have introduced some high profile bills such as increasing the minimum wage, automatic voter registration and increasing penalties for certain crimes. Two efforts to amend the state constitution to tap the land grant permanent fund to provide money for early childhood education as bills will likely also make headlines when the session starts in mid-January. As in the past two legislative sessions, proposals to increase the penalties for crimes largely come from members of the House. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque will again try to expand the state’s three strikes law.