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.

Wrangling continues on raising New Mexico minimum wage

A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday. Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed. But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates. And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.

Revised bill on aid in dying could get some GOP support

Several Republican members of the state House Judiciary Committee signaled late last week that they could support a bill allowing terminally ill patients to end their own lives. But they raised concerns about whether the measure would provide enough safeguards for patients. The sponsor, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, agreed during a committee hearing Friday to rewrite sections of House Bill 171 to address some of those concerns. She is expected to present a revised bill to the committee next week. HB 171 would change a 1963 law that makes it a fourth-degree felony for anyone to assist in a person’s suicide and would allow medical professionals to prescribe lethal drugs to patients who meet certain criteria.

Measure creating independent ethics commission advances

Several lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle had pointed questions Thursday about a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish an independent ethics commission in New Mexico. But at the end of the hearing, the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously to give a do-pass recommendation to House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, and send it to the House Judiciary Committee. “We all know there is an obvious gap in trust between us in office and the public,” Dines told the committee. “The more we do to restore trust, the better it will be, not only in New Mexico, but in the U.S.” Under Dines’ proposal, if the seven-member commission is approved by voters in 2018, members would be appointed by the governor and the Legislature to investigate possible ethical violations by legislators, state officers and officials in the executive branch.

Early childhood education bill faces uphill climb

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would take about $112 million a year from the state’s land grant endowment to pay for early childhood education say a new study shows that the need for such programs actually exceeds $400 million annually. “This is an alarm,” Allen Sánchez, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Children, said Tuesday of the report commissioned by his organization. Sánchez is among the most vocal supporters of House Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestes and Javier Martinez, both of Albuquerque.

Bill seeks oversight of private boarding homes

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — The Loving Care Shelter Home, one of several private homes in Las Vegas that has provided room and board for people with mental illness, is a ramshackle place between a mobile home and a burned-out house in an old neighborhood near downtown. Inside the home, according to a recent state inspection report, residents lived in filth, with paint chipping off walls, stained and threadbare rugs, torn window screens, electrical hazards, a rickety wooden front porch with an old couch with cigarette burns and piles of debris in the backyard. The medical care of the five residents at the Loving Care Shelter Home was shoddy, as well, according to the 96-page report by the state Department of Health on the home’s deficiencies. Among other problems, residents didn’t get required medical checks, and there were no plans to manage their illnesses, the report says. The home’s two staff workers weren’t trained in how to store drugs and assist residents with their medications.

Rep. has plan to revitalize downtowns

When Rebecca Dow decided to run for the state House of Representatives, she drove around her sprawling district and saw run-down vacant buildings in communities, often in or near downtowns. Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences, is now serving her first term in the House, and she has a plan to get businesses into those shuttered buildings instead of signing leases for newer properties on the outskirts of small towns. Under House Bill 250 — the first bill sponsored by Dow — communities with populations of less than 50,000 would be permitted to grant variances from state building codes for commercial buildings if there is no impact on health and safety. “Across our state, in our rural areas, there are vacant buildings in the downtown areas,” Dow told a House committee Thursday. “They’re vacant and they’re vandalized.