Inside a private prison’s $150M deal to detain immigrants in New Mexico

Just shy of his third year in the United States, 24-year-old oil pipeline worker Diego Navarro said goodbye to his California friends. It was early April, and the Oklahoma resident was anxious to return home, having used a break in his work schedule to make the trip west. Navarro, who entered the U.S. without documentation in 2014, typically worked 10- to 14-hour days as part of the country’s petroleum processing machine. But at a stop for gas during the drive back with a friend, Navarro was swept up in the billion-dollar business of private immigrant detention instead. This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Senate passes tax package, bill to borrow money to balance budget

It isn’t often that a bill that it seems no one likes passes a legislative chamber, but that happened Wednesday afternoon in the Senate with two different bills. The chamber voted 36-3 to pass a bill that would essentially borrow money to balance the budget, something that no senator said they were happy about. Update: Added information on a third bill passed by the Senate

The Senate also passed a tax package on a 25-16 vote that included an increase in the gas tax and the motor vehicle excise tax as a way to shore up depleted state reserves. Borrowing money to balance budget

Senator John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, each mentioned the idea of using severance tax money to help balance the budget came from the governor’s office. “We do not think it is very responsible, it sets a poor precedent…But in an effort to try and find forward movement with the executive branch, we have swallowed that bill and are willing to do it,” Smith said.

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.

House tax reform measure faces steep hurdles in Senate

A wide-ranging tax bill that passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote ran into obstacles at a Senate hearing Wednesday and isn’t likely to advance in the 2017 Legislature. “Anything still has a chance of moving,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, after a four-hour hearing on House Bill 412, sponsored by Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper. But during the hearing, lawmakers were more skeptical as they heard concerns from lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, broadcasters, nonprofit organizations, schools, farmers, the dairy industry, hospice nurses and nursing homes about how the tax changes would affect their operations. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels

Harper was not surprised. “We’ve jokingly called this bill the lobbyist full-employment act.

Early childhood education funding proposal fails again

Two Democrats joined with four Republican senators in a committee vote Wednesday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education

The vote in the Senate Rules Committee to table House Joint Resolution 1 likely puts an end to what has become a perennial effort take an extra 1 percent of interest earnings from the $15 billion endowment to spend on early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the proposal would have generated about $153 million in the first year for early childhood education, increasing to $163 million by the third year it was in place. The Democrats voting against the resolution were Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Papen said she supports early childhood funding but won’t support taking more money out of the land grant fund, which already helps fund universities and public schools in the state. Related: House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

The House approved the measure last week by a near party-line vote. “I am profoundly disappointed in our inability as a state to fully embrace the science of early childhood education,” resolution sponsor Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release after the vote.

Handful of Senate Dems help Republicans defeat aid-in-dying bill

The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.

Panel delays vote on early childhood ed initiative

Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education. The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee’s 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close.

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.

Senate OKs minimum wage hike

The state Senate voted Wednesday to raise the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour over the next 13 months. The legislation may represent the best chance in several years to raise the minimum wage. The Senate approved the bill in a 24-6 bipartisan vote. The measure also has the support of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which in the past has fought minimum wage hikes, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, would increase the hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018.

House OKs bill calling for more disclosure in solar sales

Solar energy companies would have to provide more information about the cost and energy savings on residential solar systems under a bill that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday night by a large bipartisan margin. The House voted 56-6 to pass House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española. The bill now goes to the Senate, which last week approved a similar measure, Senate Bill 210, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. Rodella told fellow House members that most solar companies have not been a problem. “But a few bad actors ruin it for everyone,” she said.