A legislative session that began 60 days ago with calls for bipartisanship to balance the state’s quavering budget ended Saturday with bitterness, acrimony and a promise by Gov. Susana Martinez to bring lawmakers back for a special session to craft a new budget without any tax increases. It would be the third year in a row that Martinez has called lawmakers into a special session to address budget shortfalls and other financial issues, illustrating the continuing discord between the Republican governor and Democrats in the Legislature. This session’s disharmony was particularly notable because it included skirmishes between the governor and some lawmakers of her own party. “Many in the Legislature failed to do their jobs this session,” Martinez told reporters shortly after lawmakers adjourned. “They actually squandered 60 days and cowed to special interest groups.
New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session doesn’t end until noon Saturday, but Gov. Susana Martinez already is preparing to call a special session because of ongoing budget problems, her staff said Friday night. “A special session could be called as soon as Monday or Tuesday,” said the governor’s spokesman, Chris Sanchez. Note: This post has been updated throughout to reflect news on likely special session. Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief of staff, said a special session is almost a certainty. “If something doesn’t change dramatically from tonight, yes,” Gardner said at the Capitol on Friday night.
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.
Spurred by a Four Corners-area water company that for months provided phony information to state regulators, the state House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill making it a crime for owners or operators of public water systems to knowingly give false reports to the Environment Department. House Bill 511, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, passed on a 66-0 vote Monday night and now goes to the Senate. There was virtually no discussion about the reason for the bill during a brief floor hearing. Complaints last year from customers of the Animas Valley Water Co. eventually prompted the state to order thousands of households to boil their water.
A Democratic-majority House committee voted along party lines Thursday afternoon to remove pre-Roe v. Wade language in state statute that criminalizes abortion practices. The original state law, passed in New Mexico in 1968, makes “criminal abortion” subject to a fourth-degree felony. It defines “criminal abortion” as any action or attempt at an “untimely termination” of a pregnancy that is not “medically justified.” A medically justified abortion, according to state law, is limited to abortions in cases of pregnancy from rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. The landmark 1972 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in most cases across the country, made state laws like this obsolete. Related story: House committee stalls another round of abortion bills
But proponents of the bill to strike the old state statute argue that the state language would go right back into law should the U.S. Supreme Court change Roe v. Wade in the future.
The New Mexico House of Representatives on Thursday night agreed to give voters a chance to establish a state ethics commission through amending the constitution. The House voted 66-0 to pass House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But the measure faces a harder time in the Senate, which despite a string of state government scandals in the past decade, has been the traditional burial ground for ethics legislation. Under Dines’ proposal, a seven-member commission would be appointed by the governor and the Legislature to investigate possible ethical violations by legislators, state officers and executive branch officials. The proposed body also would investigate alleged violations of campaign finance laws, laws covering lobbyists and disclosure requirements for state contractors.
An effort to eliminate hundreds of tax breaks for dozens of businesses and service providers while lowering the overall tax rate on sales is moving forward in the Legislature and may become part of a solution to fix New Mexico’s budget deficit for years to come. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, passed the House of Representatives late Wednesday with no dissenting votes. The initiative had been broadly scaled back from what Harper first proposed with the introduction of House Bill 412, which now has a prime focus on reforming the state’s cumbersome gross receipts tax law. Initial measures to extend that tax to food, as well as changes to income tax rates and how property is valued, were removed from the bill in what House Speaker Brian Egolf called “the largest substitution in the history of the House floor.” Harper accepted the amendments from Rep. Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe, as the only realistic way his reforms would move forward.
In a late-night surprise Wednesday in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who has missed most of the legislative session because of a heart operation, showed up to help pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would take an extra one percent of interest earnings from New Mexico’s $20 billion land grant permanent fund to help pay for early childhood education. The House voted 37-32, mostly along party lines, to pass House Joint Resolution 1, a vote which had been delayed for more than a week, partly because of the Santa Fe legislator’s absence. Trujillo, a long-time advocate of the proposal, received a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber immediately before the House ended a three-hour debate. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing
The measure now goes to the Senate, where the road is expected to be much rougher. The proposal is certain to meet resistance from the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a longtime opponent of taking extra money out of the land grant fund.
Hopes of capping the amount that storefront lenders in New Mexico can charge in interest and fees waned Monday after a powerful lawmaker’s attempt to close a loophole in the bill met with cool resistance. House Bill 347 and a companion measure in the Senate represent the most significant movement in years by lawmakers to regulate an industry that consumer advocates say preys on poor people with annual rates that can climb as high as 9,000 percent on some loans. By capping most annual percentage rates at 175 percent, the bills have won backing from lobbyists for many storefront lenders and some consumer advocates who view it as a palatable compromise. But the proposal still prompted skepticism Monday in the House Judiciary Committee, which postponed a vote on the bill after House Speaker Brian Egolf asked the sponsors to eliminate an exception to the cap of 175 percent. This casts doubt on the proposal’s prospects as the legislative session enters its last 12 days.
Some New Mexico Democrats gathered Monday to express support for regulations to limit methane emissions from natural gas flaring and leaks, even as congressional Republicans are planning to repeal the rule on a federal level. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called such a proposal a “triple win,” saying it would help businesses waste less methane that they could instead sell, cut pollution and benefit the state budget. The Santa Fe Democrat said that other states, like Colorado and Wyoming were already seeing benefits from methane capture rules. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, noted that under questioning by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, “the American Petroleum Institute was unable to provide senators with a single shred of data that found smart methane regulations had any negative impacts on oil and gas jobs.”
State Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, echoed the two Representatives and brought up health impacts of natural gas leaks. “When I go visit my constituents at the various chapters of the Navajo communities, what they have to live with, not only the flaring, but the smell and the things you can’t see that impact their lives and that’s important for us to realize and understand the environment,” Shendo said.