House panel snubs out legal pot

Legal recreational marijuana won’t be coming to New Mexico anytime soon. The House Business and Industry Committee voted 9-1 on Monday to block a bill that would have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana for adults over 21. The hearing lasted for more than two hours, but it became apparent during the debate that the measure would fail. The bill sponsor, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, tried to persuade the committee by telling members that marijuana legalization in New Mexico is inevitable. “This is going to happen, whether it’s this year or 10 years from now,” McCamley said.

Latest attempt to cap storefront loans clears committee

luInterest rates for many small storefront loans in New Mexico would be capped at 175 percent and required to have a term of at least four months under a bill that got a unanimous recommendation from a House committee Friday. The House Business and Industry Committee gave a positive recommendation to House Bill 347, sponsored by state Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup. Earlier this week the committee delayed action on the bill to allow members of the small-loan industry to negotiate a compromise with backers of a bill calling for capping interest rates at 36 percent. However, Dan Najjar, a lobbyist for Axcess Financial, a company specializing in small installment loans, said that while some changes were made to the original version of the bill, the two sides failed to reach a consensus. The committee action represents the latest round in a long-running legislative battle over an industry which is attacked for charging exorbitant interest rates on short-term loans that the lenders say many New Mexicans depend on.

Automatic voter registration bill dies in committee

Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a bill that would have automatically registered all eligible adults as voters when they obtain a New Mexico driver’s license. Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, questioned whether the bill was necessary when the Motor Vehicle Division can already offer eligible adults the chance to register to vote. Republicans on Thursday evening moved to table the bill in the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. Rodella and a newly elected Democrat, Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, sided with Republicans to stop the proposal on a 5-2 vote. Update: Later in the week the the committee heard the bill again and, after amending it, passed it.

Compromise sought on payday loan rates

A former state senator who is helping lead the fight against high-interest payday and other small loans said Monday that a bill to cap rates at 36 percent is dead. “The governor would veto it anyway,” former Sen. Steve Fischmann, co-chairman of the New Mexico Fair Lending Coalition said, referring to House Bill 26, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. But Fischmann, a Mesilla Park Democrat, said supporters of the bill are in negotiations with certain parts of the industry that are backing another bill aimed at regulating businesses that offer small loans at high interest rates. “I think we are getting close to a deal,” Fischmann said. That bill, HB 347, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, would in effect set maximum interest rates of 175 percent.

Panel kills bill requiring release of presidential hopefuls’ tax returns

A legislative committee on Tuesday effectively killed a bill that would have required all presidential candidates to release their tax returns to be listed on New Mexico’s ballot, a measure jabbing at President Donald Trump. The bill failed when a Democrat, Rep. Debbie Rodella of Española, joined with Republicans to bottle up the measure. It stalled on a 3-3 vote in the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. Rodella told The New Mexican after the meeting that she was concerned about whether the measure was constitutional. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the proposal, House Bill 204.

Egolf, Dems make changes after taking control of House

Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.

House panel votes down capital outlay overhaul

Amid concerns about funding of small and rural projects, a House committee rejected a bid to overhaul the state’s controversial and unique capital reform process. The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted against advancing the bill to the next committee including with no recommendation on a 5-5 vote. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, broke from party ranks to vote against the proposal. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, voted with most of the Republicans. The think tank Think New Mexico pushed the proposal, which would have modeled the process after how school infrastructure is built.

“This can sometimes be a humbling process but we appreciate the thoughtful discussion that HB 307 received,” Think New Mexico executive director Fred Nathan said in a statement.

Bill to preempt local government on labor decisions advances

A House panel wants the state government to be in charge of most labor decisions. The House Business and Employment Committee advanced a controversial bill that would take power away from local governments when it comes to scheduling employees and on requiring certain levels of benefits. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, advanced on an 11-2 vote, with only two Democrats voting against the legislation. Harper introduced a relatively major change since the last committee hearing; the new version of the legislation no longer included the portion of the bill that would have barred counties and municipalities from raising the minimum wage. Instead, the bill focused on other employment issues, including not allowing local governments to require private employers to provide paid sick leave or a minimum notice for setting employees’ schedules.

House Dems call for more job bills

House Democrats fired more verbal shots across the aisle on Thursday. Members of the House Minority accused House Republicans and Gov. Susana Martinez of pushing tough on crime bills while holding job bills sponsored by Democrats in the Rules Committee. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said that House Republicans have been too focused on increasing criminal penalties while many New Mexicans are struggling with poverty and treatment for substance abuse. “Unfortunately, House Republicans have ignored those issues entirely,” Egolf said. Egolf said in the three Republican districts with the highest poverty rates, 24 to 26 percent of constituents are struggling to live on as little as $10,000 a year.

Proposal to take politics out of redistricting moves forward

A stripped down proposal that seeks to take partisanship and politics out of the redistricting process, as much as possible, passed its first test. The proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Carl Trujillo cleared the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote on Wednesday. The committee heard the bill for a second time, but in a very different form. Last week, members of the committee felt that the language was too detailed for the constitution. They instead preferred that specifics be left for “enabling legislation” that is in statute and not in the constitution.