Committee advances ethics bill, but questions remain

The House Judiciary Committee on Saturday voted 8-0 to move forward a bill establishing procedures for the state Ethics Commission, even though some lawmakers believe the measure still needs work. House Bill 4 would install seven commissioners with power to investigate and enforce compliance with laws on governmental conduct, election campaigns, lobbying and financial disclosures. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who is sponsoring the bill, told committee members the bill needs tweaking. But, he said, “I really want to get this thing moving.” Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, agreed.

Nearing midway point of a fast-paced session, Dem dominance chafes GOP

Brian Egolf, speaker of the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives, says the body is moving legislation faster than ever, clearing the way for reform of every level of state government. The House minority leader, Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, says Egolf doesn’t ask for input or collaboration. He simply reveals what’s coming and how it’s going to play out, Townsend said. Welcome to the halfway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session. Proceedings in the House often are angry and combative, as outnumbered Republicans say their side is being ignored or steamrolled.

Proposed amendment to tap land grant endowment for early ed passes House

The state House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ask New Mexicans for an additional piece of the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. The House passed the proposed constitutional amendment by a vote of 36-33 that fell mostly along party lines after hours of debate that were both wonkish and visceral — dealing with a facet of the state’s finances that is arcane but deeply rooted in New Mexico’s history. In the Land Grant Permanent Fund, lawmakers argued alternately, there is an opportunity to break generational cycles of poverty or a risk of imperiling the state’s financial future. Progressives and advocates for children’s issues have pushed similar proposals for years, arguing additional money from the fund could provide a needed boost for families in the state with the highest rate of child poverty. But critics in both parties have countered that taking an additional 1 percent of the fund would strain the Land Grant Permanent Fund in the future.

Committee advances fatal child abuse penalty increase

State lawmakers did not know Jeremiah Valencia during his short, tormented life. But 13-year-old Jeremiah’s death dominated debate at a lengthy legislative hearing Thursday. At issue was a bill to make intentional child abuse resulting in death a first-degree felony that carries a life prison sentence, regardless of a child’s age. Under current state law on child abuse, life sentences can only be given to defendants who intentionally kill a child younger than 12. Someone who abuses and kills a child between 13 and 18 can receive a sentence of up to 18 years.

DCCC disavows fringe candidate after stalking arrest

Democrats are backing away from a candidate for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District after his arrest for stalking. David Alcon was arrested in Albuquerque Friday on a warrant  from Santa Fe police for allegedly stalking a woman. He was previously arrested for trespassing and aggravated stalking in 2007. He told the Albuquerque Journal that he had mental health issues which he had worked hard to manage. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect Democrats to Congress, distanced itself from Alcon.

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.

Legislature pass budget, tax bills, waits on governor’s actions

Both the House and Senate recessed Thursday afternoon—without officially ending the special session. Now, the governor has three days to take action on four bills aimed at tax changes and reinstating funding to the Legislative branch and institutes of higher education. By recessing until Tuesday instead of adjourning, the House and Senate could still introduce new legislation to replace anything Gov. Susana Martinez might veto. Martinez, in an atypical statement, praised the Legislature for some of their work. “In a bipartisan manner, lawmakers passed my plan to put more funding toward cancer research and student financial aid, while at the same time forfeiting their pork projects and a small portion of their personal legislative retirement accounts to fill the budget hole — something I’ve urged them to do for months,” she 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.

Panel rejects expanded background checks

A legislative committee on Monday effectively killed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases — an issue that drew large crowds to the Capitol as well as big campaign contributions and intense lobbying and advertising. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548 after a lengthy hearing. It marked the defeat of the most recent gun-control bill sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Democrat Eliseo Alcon of Milan joined the six Republicans on the panel to stop the measure, which would have required background checks on all sales of firearms at gun shows and from advertisements on the internet or print publications. Garcia Richard said other states that have approved similar bills have seen fewer violent crimes and suicides involving guns.

House committee stalls another round of abortion bills

A panel of state lawmakers spent five hours Sunday hearing and debating two bills that would have restricted abortion access in New Mexico before tabling them on party lines. At one point, state Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, bemoaned the predictability of the situation. “I was going to ask some questions, but it’s futile,” he said to the sponsors of a bill to ban abortions after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. “We all know how this committee is going to vote. This bill is going to die on a 3-2 vote.”

Some members of the public echoed this.