Peter Wirth

Wirth: Governor’s late message on vetoes means bills will become law

The state Senate majority leader says three bills that Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed during the last week will become law after all, including legislation that would legalize research of industrial hemp. Setting up a constitutional showdown, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, told the chamber Thursday night that Martinez had missed her deadline to veto the bills. The governor has three days during a legislative session to sign or veto bills. If she does neither, the bills become law. The constitution also says governors are to state their objections when vetoing a bill, giving lawmakers some sort of explanation.

Sen.: Guv lobbied on lease bill

Gov. Susana Martinez personally lobbied the Senate’s top Democrat to support a controversial bill that would have created an exception in government rules and allowed state agencies to extend their leases at a building owned by donors to her campaign. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Monday that Martinez asked him to support the measure after he had voted against it in a committee hearing. “I was concerned about having a state law that overrides an agency’s rule,” Wirth said. But during a later conversation, Martinez asked him to reconsider, Wirth said. As majority leader, Wirth held off bringing the measure to a vote by the full Senate, and he asked another senator to vet its legality.

After governor’s veto, GOP leader revives hemp bill

Two days after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill that would have established a research program for industrial hemp, the proposal is back — this time put forth by a high-ranking member of her own party. House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the revived hemp measure, House Bill 530. He took a blank bill that had been introduced earlier, then added the latest hemp initiative to it. Gentry’s bill for industrial hemp research on Monday cleared the House Labor and Economic Development Committee on a bipartisan 8-0 vote. Gentry said he sat down with the governor’s administration before introducing the bill to “work out some minor details that brought us more in compliance with federal law.”

Budget, tax bill closer to reaching governor’s desk

The New Mexico Legislature came closer Saturday to sending Gov. Susana Martinez a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as a $300 million tax package. The Senate passed House Bill 2, as well as HB 202, which could raise more than $300 million — depending on which new taxes and fees are signed and which are vetoed by Martinez, a Republican who repeatedly has vowed never to raise taxes. Both pieces of legislation will have to return to the House of Representatives for final passage because of amendments made in the session. “This budget and revenue package reflects the desire of the legislature to produce a plan that supports New Mexico families and makes practical long-term spending decisions necessary for the success of our state,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said in a news release. “By raising new recurring revenue,” Smith said, “we were able to prevent dramatic cuts and strengthen our support for critical state services like public education all while leaving an appropriate level of reserves necessary to reassure bond companies that we have financial stability needed to protect our credit rating.”

House votes to hike statewide minimum wage

The state House of Representatives voted Friday night to raise the hourly minimum wage to $9.25 from $7.50 in 2018. The 37-30 vote, just days after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a slightly smaller increase to $9, signals that a raise in the statewide minimum wage is increasingly likely as the legislative session enters its final weeks. The issue has been a priority for Democrats, who promised a raise during last year’s election, but it also has won some support from Republicans. The House vote on HB 442 was not strictly along party lines. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, broke with her party to vote in favor of the bill, while Rep. Candy Sweetser, D-Deming, voted against it.

Senate passes gas tax for road fund, but governor vows veto

The New Mexico Senate, hoping to improve state roads and rebuild cash reserves, approved a bill Thursday that would increase the state gasoline tax for the first time in more than 20 years. But the bill has little chance of becoming law. “If it reaches the governor’s desk, she will veto it,” said Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. An override of Martinez’s veto is unlikely because the tax bill received support from only three of the Senate’s 16 Republicans. The measure, Senate Bill 95, would raise about $180 million annually through a range of taxes and fees.

Gov. Martinez’s appointees in line to be confirmed may overwhelm process

After a year of high-profile changes in Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet, top officials from several of the most important departments in state government now await Senate confirmation hearings. But the secretaries of environment, finance and health are just of a few of the governor’s nearly 100 appointees on the agenda. With the long list, it is unclear how many appointees will even get a vote before the Senate adjourns March 18. New Mexico’s financial crisis will make confirmation hearings more difficult than usual. Staff members say the Senate Rules Committee only has enough money to conduct background checks on about half the appointees.

Immigrants, advocates keep heat on

Hundreds of people packed into the rotunda of the Capitol on Monday in an intensifying show of alarm over President Donald Trump’s clamp down on illegal immigration and his vow to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. The demonstration reflected growing concern nationally among immigration and civil rights advocates as Trump’s flurry of executive orders in his first weeks in office have escalated to include banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, an effort temporarily halted last week by a federal court. The demonstrators included immigrants here legally and illegally and scores of supporters who gathered to listen to politicians and faith leaders rail against the president’s policies. Children stood near the speaker’s lectern holding a broad banner that read, “No ban. No wall.

Special session this week for budget shortfall, crime bills

The New Mexico Legislature will convene for a special session this Friday according to multiple reports. It’s still unclear how long lawmakers will meet. A special session is necessary to deal with a nearly $600 million budget deficit from this year and a recently-completed budget year. The state is required to balance its budget each year. Martinez will also add some high profile bills on crime to the call, according to multiple media reports.

Guv’s office doesn’t keep financial records of contingency fund

The governor’s office contends a taxpayer-funded account used to host dignitaries and throw parties isn’t subject to open records laws to the same extent other public funds are. Sometimes the subject of controversy, the account catapulted into public view last winter when one of the parties its money was used for ended with police responding to noise complaints from a possibly intoxicated Martinez. Each year, the state Legislature grants $70,000 in taxpayer money to the governor for a contingency fund, which per state law she can use for “purposes connected with obligations of the office.”

The fund is unusual in that, unlike most state government accounts filled with public money, the state Legislature exempts it from required annual audits. But after NM Political Report filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request with the governor’s office this spring for six years worth of expense documents associated with the contingency fund, the office only provided broad summaries of the expenses. Missing were documentation like the checks, purchase orders, reimbursements and purchase requests associated with the fund that we asked for.