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.
The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed yet another bill that would legalize research on industrial hemp. The House voted 65-1 to pass House Bill 530, sponsored by Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, comes on the heels of Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing not one but two industrial hemp bills. She offered no explanation in either of her veto messages. Gentry told The New Mexican earlier this week that following the latest veto, he sat down with the governor’s staff — namely Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremiah Ritchie — to “work out some minor details that brought us more in compliance with federal law.”
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.”
Gov. Susana Martinez on Saturday vetoed another bill that would have established a research program for industrial hemp, a measure that legislators of both parties said could create enormous business opportunities for New Mexico’s farmers. Martinez offered no explanation for her decision, which she announced in a brief statement. Her veto of Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, came only three days after she vetoed a more sweeping bill on hemp research authored by members of the House of Representatives. McSorley’s bill had cleared the Senate 37-2 and the House by a vote of 58-8. He had harsh words for Martinez after the veto.
After his confirmation hearing turned to discussion of climate change and the Four Corners methane hotspot on Wednesday, environmental groups lambasted Mew Mexico’s top oil and gas regulator as echoing politically conservative talking points while one legislator described the conversation as “very troubling.” But despite opposition from conservationists and a small group of Democratic lawmakers, the state Senate voted 32-4 to confirm former oil and gas industry executive Kenley McQueen as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. While McQueen won praise from some lawmakers as having an expert grasp on the sector he is now in charge of policing, environmental groups have likened his appointment to picking a fox to guard a hen house, prompting some of the harshest opposition that any of Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointees have met so far in the current legislative session. Related: Climate change part of debate over energy head’s confirmation
The secretary’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday only seemed to enflame criticism from liberal senators. “What I heard today was very troubling,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said later on the Senate floor.
Without a word of explanation, Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed a proposed research program intended to clear the way for an industrial hemp industry in New Mexico, a key plank in the economic plan announced by Democrats in the Legislature at the outset of the 2017 session. Republican Martinez’s action could mean the end of the push to start a research program administered by the state Department of Agriculture. “With the stroke of her pen, the governor just killed countless jobs and new economic opportunities in New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in written statement. “The hemp industry has been a booming success in at least thirty other states. This common sense job-creating legislation would have been a giant step forward for New Mexico’s farmers and entrepreneurs.”
The state Senate voted 30-10 on Tuesday to restrict the use of e-cigarettes in public places much like other cigarettes, backing a proposal to curb what some public health advocates argue are the dangers of nicotine vapor from products that have gained popularity rapidly in just the last few years. But some senators argued it is premature to treat e-cigarettes like traditional tobacco products, maintaining that too little is known about the health effects of “vaping” to warrant strong restrictions. And language in the bill that could change where patrons of restaurants and bars are already allowed to smoke also raised concerns among some Republicans. Related: Senate panel: Hike cigarette tax to help schools
Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said the measure would help New Mexico keep up with changing consumer preferences. “When we did the Clean Indoor Air Act, there was no such thing as vaping,” McSorley said, arguing it is time to update the state’s main anti-smoking law.
In New Mexico, lawmakers have debated acceptable uses of medical marijuana and some have questioned if cannabis producers are allowed to have enough medical cannabis to qualify as an “adequate supply” for patients. While politicians and medical cannabis advocates in Santa Fe argue over appropriate plant numbers, getting actual numbers from the agency that governs the program is difficult—despite the fact that producers are required to use specific software to track all transactions. Despite the plethora of debates and discussion, cannabis transaction data from the state is either unavailable or state employees do not know how to access it. In almost every legislative discussion about New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program, producers and patients sell their respective claims on how much medical cannabis should be available in the state. Depending on what day and who is speaking, the state could be in a shortage that amounts to a crisis or have such a glut of cannabis that producers have to unload product to each other.
On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.
When Mikki Anaya worked as the executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for farmers and ranchers, she became acutely aware of what she characterized as a troubling trend in New Mexico. “A lot of families no longer farmed or ranched land that had been in our families for many generations,” Anaya said. “It deeply saddened me to see that transition happening.” Anaya started to study the dynamics of the change and concluded that economics were a root factor. “A lot of it is that people are just leaving our rural communities because there’s no economic opportunity there,” she said.