Proposal to create nominating commission for regents advances

A proposed constitutional amendment to create a nominating commission for university regents cleared the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. The vote was 7-3. The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, said an independent body of nominators, and not the governor alone, should establish a field of candidates to serve as regents. Senate Joint Resolution 6 would require the nominating commission to submit three names for each regent seat to the governor, who then would make her selections from the field. “This is the heart of reform,” Steinborn said.

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.

Auto franchise bill passes first committee

A bill that would allow some car manufacturers to bypass local auto dealers and sell directly to consumers in New Mexico, passed its first committee Thursday afternoon. The Senate Public Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 243 along party lines, with only Democratic members voting to advance the proposal. The bill would allow companies like electric car manufacturer Tesla to open service centers and sales showrooms in the state. Current law mandates that vehicle manufacturers must sell through local, franchised dealers. The bill narrowly changes the state franchise law, and would only allow companies that do not have a franchise business model to sell in the state.

Sanctuary bill advances on party-line vote

A panel of Democrats in the New Mexico Senate used their superior numbers Friday to advance a bill that would prohibit state and local police agencies from using any resources to enforce federal immigration law. The Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 for the measure, Senate Bill 196. All the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, but didn’t bother debating it. Immigrants and their advocacy groups packed a hearing room to support the bill. New Mexico’s chief law enforcement officer, state Attorney General Hector Balderas, sent a surrogate to announce that he favors it.

Register and vote on the same day? Dems want to make it a reality

Right now, if New Mexicans want to participate in elections, they have to register four weeks before Election Day. But legislative efforts look to change that. Right now, if New Mexicans want to participate in elections, they have to register four weeks before Election Day. But legislative efforts look to change that. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, is the Senate sponsor of a same-day registration bill, which he says will help the state reach its “obligation to citizens to enfranchise their voting rights.”

“Year after year, we meet people who really are not plugged in or tuned into an election until really close to it, at which point it’s too late for people to register to vote,” he said.

Can cannabis treat opioid addiction? Lawmakers say state should allow it

New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction. “It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.” Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.

It’s time for New Mexico to negotiate lower Rx drug prices

Last April, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed legislation that could have saved New Mexico millions of dollars a year in prescription drug costs for state agencies and its employees and retirees.  Senate Bill 354, which passed the Legislature with strong bi-partisan support, would have required all New Mexico state agencies who purchase pharmaceutical drugs, to work together to aggressively seek a better deal on drug prices. Citizens pay a huge cost for high drug prices.  In fiscal year 2016 New Mexico state government spent over $670 million on prescription drugs, a staggering 54% increase in just two years.  Senate Bill 354 would have leveraged the purchasing power of all of our state agencies who purchase prescription drug benefits including the Departments of Health, Human Services, Corrections, Medicaid, General Services Department, UNM, and other agencies, to aggressively pursue lower drug prices. Even though the legislation passed the Senate unanimously and the House with broad bi-partisan support, it was vetoed by Governor Martinez without explanation. Several weeks ago the National Academy for State Health Policy (www.nashp.org) invited me to speak at their annual conference about my prescription drug purchasing reform legislation.  The Academy, a non-profit and non-partisan organization of state health professionals, had identified this bill as a key strategy that states could implement to better control the rising health care and prescription drug costs. Aggressively negotiating lower prescription drug prices could save New Mexico’s state government millions every year.  It can be done.  The U.S. Department of Veterans of Affairs negotiates at least a 24 percent discount on the drugs it buys.  Many other industrialized countries pay a fraction of what U.S. citizens and governments pay for the same drugs.  Members of Congress have sought for decades to leverage the federal government’s purchasing power for Medicare, but have been fought tooth and nail by the pharmaceutical industry.

Martinez vetoes bill to close lobbyist loophole

Gov. Susana Martinez, who has touted herself as a champion of transparency, on Thursday vetoed legislation that would have required lobbyists to return to disclosing more information publicly about money they spend on public officials. The Legislature passed a law that weakened those rules last year but sought to correct what some lawmakers called an inadvertent mistake during this year’s 60-day session, which ended last month. This post originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Martinez’s veto means lobbyists won’t need to report expenses on lawmakers and other public officials under $100, as they did prior to the current law taking effect. Martinez explained her reasoning in a one-page veto message.

A look back at what happened during the session

After the 2017 general legislative session adjourned, Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any tax increases and to call legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session soon to redo the budget. Democrats said their package would avoid any further cuts to education, which has seen several slashes in recent years because of declining revenue to the state. The governor’s office says a state government shutdown could happen as early as next month. This story also appears in this week’s edition of the Alibi. In a post-session press conference, Martinez blamed lawmakers, saying some “failed to do their jobs this session.” Her tone capped a tense few days between her office and the Legislature.

Winners and losers of the 2017 session

One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.