Public records bills include secrecy on lottery winners

State Sen. Pat Woods says big lottery winners can turn into losers, so he wants to conceal their identity from the public. His push for secrecy initially failed Tuesday when the Senate Public Affairs Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the proposal, Senate Bill 397. But then committee members reconsidered and advanced Woods’ bill in a 5-2 decision. “I hate hearing stories of people who win lottery prizes and are broke shortly thereafter,” said Woods, R-Broadview, in arguing for the state-sanctioned gambling operation to keep winners’ names private. He said those who claim jackpots often don’t know how to manage their money and are easy prey for con men and unscrupulous family members.

Energy bill seeks to aid switch from coal to renewables

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and several environmentalist groups on Thursday praised legislation aimed at ensuring the shuttering of the coal-burning San Juan Generating Station near Farmington and establishing ambitious targets for pushing New Mexico toward more reliance on renewable energy sources. The bill is intended to soften the financial hit both to the community surrounding the aging power plant and to Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest utility and majority owner of the plant, which is a major source of employment in Northwestern New Mexico. State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, on Thursday introduced the 83-page Energy Transition Act, which proposes to allow PNM to recover investments through selling bonds that would be paid off with a new “energy transition” charge for customers. It also seeks to provide funds to assist and re-train workers who lose jobs from the shutdown and sets a 2030 deadline for investor-owned utilities and rural electric co-ops in the state to derive 50 percent of their power from renewable sources such as solar and wind energy. “The bill lays out the road map that will lead New Mexico from a fossil-fuel-based economy to a green economy,” Candelaria said in an interview.

After pushback, sponsor revamps state lottery bill

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria on Wednesday amended his controversial bill on the state lottery, adding a guarantee that at least $40 million a year from ticket sales would go for college scholarships. His initial proposal would have eliminated a section of state law requiring that 30 percent of gross lottery revenues be turned over each month for scholarships. That version of the bill came under fire. Funding for scholarships is the sole reason the New Mexico lottery exists. In response to complaints by students at the University of New Mexico and others, Candelaria revamped his Senate Bill 283 by designating guaranteed payments for the scholarship program.

Bill would reduce simple drug possession penalty

You’re a heroin addict and you’ve just been busted for having a small stash of heroin, which leads to a felony conviction. When you get out of jail, your probation and parole officer says you’ve got to find a job, stay out of trouble and pick yourself up by your bootstraps. But when you go looking for a job you find nobody will hire a convicted felon. Likewise, your felony conviction prevents you from getting public housing or other forms of public assistance. State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is co-sponsoring a bill to reduce the penalty for simple possession of an illegal drug, said Tuesday a felony conviction amounts to “civil death.”

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.

Tesla owners charged up for car sales legislation

Update: added statement from Tesla

New Mexico has a rich car club culture, ranging from lowrider and vintage cars to modern models too fast and too furious for many people. But on a cool Sunday in Santa Fe, about 30 minutes from the state capitol, another group of car enthusiasts gathered to discuss their automotive passion: Teslas. The Tesla Owners Club of New Mexico met in the parking lot of a rustic New Mexican restaurant, just a few days before a legislative committee was expected to vote on whether to allow the automotive upstart a chance to set up shop in New Mexico. The group of about two dozen sleek cars were a far, yet quiet, cry from the loud engines, custom, aftermarket paint jobs and flashy chrome one might expect from a traditional New Mexico car club. Another difference  that unites New Mexico Tesla owners is that none of these cars were purchased or can be serviced at a traditional auto dealer in the state.

House Dems aim to fast-track early childhood measure

Democrats in the state House of Representatives say they hope to move quickly to approve a measure that would draw more money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education, thereby pressuring powerful Sen. John Arthur Smith to give it a hearing. The proposed state constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, could get its first committee hearing within a week, far earlier than at any time in the eight years Democrats have pushed the measure. “I think it will be a priority,” said Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, who on Wednesday became chairman of the House Education Committee. He said that committee likely will hear new bills by Wednesday, though it’s unclear if the proposed constitutional amendment will land there first. The House on Wednesday assigned 155 bills for committee hearings.

No budget deal yet between House, Senate

The Legislature’s two chambers are at odds over a proposed $6.3 billion state budget. Unlike recent years when financial problems prompted rounds of cuts, partisan fights and depleted reserves, the disagreements that emerged Tuesday came down to comparatively minor questions about funding roads. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a spending plan on Tuesday that provides bigger pay raises for state police than a version of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version of the budget, approved 40-2 by members of that chamber, also provides millions of dollars in additional funding for the district attorney in Albuquerque and returns some of the money cut from school districts last year. But the Senate also scaled back the amount of money the House had approved for roads.

Senate panel blocks amendment on selecting regents

A state Senate committee on Monday blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that backers argued would have helped depoliticize the often partisan process of selecting regents for the boards of New Mexico’s public universities. Instead of leaving it for governors to pick just about whoever they like to lead the biggest institutions in the state’s sprawling higher education system, Senate Joint Resolution 1 would have created nominating committees to vet applicants for each vacant board seat and recommend appointees. The governor could then choose from the committee’s list. But Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised a range of sometimes contradictory concerns. The proposal was too vague, some argued.

Senate panel vote dims chances for PNM’ coal-plant measure

A Senate committee dealt a blow to Public Service Company of New Mexico on Saturday by voting to stall a bill allowing the utility to sell bonds to pay for the early closing of a coal-burning power plant in northwestern New Mexico. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table Senate Bill 47, known as the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act. The vote followed a more than three-hour hearing, which drew a packed crowd to the Senate chambers. Proponents argued the measure would boost renewable energy in the state while offering aid to residents of San Juan County who heavily rely on jobs at the power plant and a nearby coal mine that supplies it. Opponents, however, painted it as a bailout for PNM and said it would weaken state regulators’ oversight of the utility.