Birth pains accompany creation of ethics commission

Lawmakers and open government proponents on Friday raised questions about transparency and possible conflicts with other investigative agencies as New Mexico legislators try to flesh out details of the long-discussed creation of a state ethics commission. House Bill 4 would create an independent state agency overseen by seven commissioners with power to investigate and enforce compliance with laws on governmental conduct, election campaigns, lobbyists, gifts and financial disclosures by state officers, employees and contractors, among others. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Saturday. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who introduced the bill, presented it to the committee Friday but asked the members to give him another day to work on changes before voting on it. Ely said the bill’s goal is to “make sure we go after the bad people in this system and shine a light on these people.”

Full House to vote on medical aid in dying

A bill to allow medical aid in dying is headed for a vote in the New Mexico House of Representatives after a committee of lawmakers on Wednesday tweaked the legislation, requiring a physician to be included among the two health care professionals needed to sign off on a terminally ill patient’s decision to end their life. House Bill 90 has prompted some of the most emotional discussions of the legislative session, raising issues of life, death and the government’s role in deeply personal medical decisions. The bill also has prompted several rounds of amendments by lawmakers weighing exactly how the process should work for patients seeking such a choice. Under what is known as the End of Life Options Act, a terminally ill patient who is mentally competent and has only six months to live could ask a prescribing health care provider for drugs that would allow him to end his own life. The patient would have to speak with a health care provider about alternatives, such as further treatment, and make the request in writing with witnesses.

House gets bill to withhold names of victims

A bill to conceal the names of victims of certain violent crimes from public-records disclosure is headed to the New Mexico House of Representatives for consideration. Senate Bill 118 would create an exception regarding law enforcement records before charges are filed against any suspect. It would redact the names of victims and non-law enforcement witnesses from public records of crimes involving assault, stalking, rape and criminal sexual contact. The House Judiciary Committee voted 14-0 to support the bill, discussing it only briefly. The Senate approved the bill 41-0 last week.

Panel adds time frame to aid-in-dying bill

A legislative committee decided Monday that medical professionals would have to determine a patient has no more than six months to live before prescribing drugs that would help the patient end his or her own life. By tweaking the bill to give it a time frame, lawmakers who support the measure hope to add New Mexico to a short list of states that permit medical assistance in dying. Critics had raised concerns about exactly which patients would qualify under House Bill 90. It was originally written to allow medical aid in dying for patients diagnosed with a terminal illness and expected to die in the foreseeable future. Other states with similar laws limit medical aid in dying to patients only expected to live for only a particular period.

Dems back bill prohibiting state funds for private school books

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee closed ranks Wednesday behind a bill that would prohibit public money from being spent on textbooks for private schools, perhaps putting the lawmakers at odds with a state Supreme Court decision. The committee voted 10-4 along party lines for House Bill 45, which would require timely state funding for textbooks for public schools. The measure also would exclude private schools from receiving public money for books or other instructional materials. Republican lawmakers say the bill defies a Supreme Court decision. The justices found in December that providing textbooks to private schools, a long-standing practice in New Mexico, is permissible under the state constitution.

Committee advances bill allowing spaceport to shield some records

A legislative committee gave its backing Wednesday to a bill that would allow Spaceport America to exempt many of its business dealings from New Mexico’s open records law as the state’s major open government advocacy group dropped its opposition to the measure. The publicly owned facility, which cost more than $200 million to construct, has been pushing for the legislation, arguing the bill would allow it to attract more aerospace companies to New Mexico from a highly competitive and secretive industry. And while critics had argued the measure would diminish the public’s oversight of the facility, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said it would not oppose a revised version of the bill put forward by a top Republican lawmaker Wednesday evening. “It’s a very difficult balance,” Rep. Nate Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican, told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday evening, summing up how lawmakers have been torn this session between arguments for transparency and arguments that the facility already has cost the state too much money to pass up any opportunity to attract business. As a public agency, Spaceport America’s own finances will still be audited.

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 advances bill banning ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

A House panel approved a bill, along party lines, that would ban the use of therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexuality or gender identity. The practice is often referred to as conversion therapy. Senate Bill 121 sponsor Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is openly gay, told the House Health and Human Services Committee a personal story about influence from those in power. He said as a child he was “blessed” to have leaders of faith in his life that engaged in conversations of personal identity. “But I also had priest when I was nine-years-old who told me that if I did not become straight, I was going to hell,” Candelaria said.

Payday loans bill in danger

Hopes of capping the amount that storefront lenders in New Mexico can charge in interest and fees waned Monday after a powerful lawmaker’s attempt to close a loophole in the bill met with cool resistance. House Bill 347 and a companion measure in the Senate represent the most significant movement in years by lawmakers to regulate an industry that consumer advocates say preys on poor people with annual rates that can climb as high as 9,000 percent on some loans. By capping most annual percentage rates at 175 percent, the bills have won backing from lobbyists for many storefront lenders and some consumer advocates who view it as a palatable compromise. But the proposal still prompted skepticism Monday in the House Judiciary Committee, which postponed a vote on the bill after House Speaker Brian Egolf asked the sponsors to eliminate an exception to the cap of 175 percent. This casts doubt on the proposal’s prospects as the legislative session enters its last 12 days.

House revisits crackdown on false water quality data

It was not necessarily a crime under New Mexico law for a utility in the Four Corners area to tell regulators its water was fine even as turbid, odorous liquid flowed to customers’ taps. But a measure to make lying to state regulators about water quality a fourth-degree felony is a step closer to becoming law. A committee in the state House of Representatives revived the issue under a new bill with a new sponsor and narrower scope, ending an impasse that had prompted finger pointing over the influence of special interest groups and had upended the usual tough-on-crime dynamics at the Capitol. On Saturday, the new House Bill 511 won bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee, which elected 10-2 to advance it to a vote by the full House. Republicans blocked a similar bill last month, even though it was sponsored by a GOP colleague and had the backing of the state Environment Department.