Status of some bills still in limbo while special session looms

A handful of bills passed by both the state Senate and House of Representatives continue to sit in limbo. Normally, those bills would be signed or vetoed by the governor. Instead, their fate likely lies with the judicial branch. The head of the Legislative Council Service (LCS), the nonpartisan administrative arm of the state Legislature, said he and his staff suggested to lawmakers and the secretary of state that some vetoed bills should actually be chaptered. Chaptering, or printing, the bills is typically the first step to writing them into state statute.

Court fight possible over validity of governor’s vetoes

Judges may have to decide whether five bills that Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed during the last week will actually become law. Democratic lawmakers say the Republican governor did not properly veto the legislation, which includes a bill to allow research on industrial hemp in New Mexico, and they maintain the measures will become law after all. On Friday, the deputy to Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said her office would not add the bills to the law books unless instructed by a court. “Whether the governor met her constitutional obligation by vetoing these five bills in the manner in which she did is a question that should be answered by our court system,” Deputy Secretary of State John Blair said in an email. “This office will swiftly chapter these bills if and when we receive guidance from the New Mexico courts to do so,” he added, referring to the secretary of state’s role of assigning code numbers to new laws.

Voter registration bill dies

Democratic state Rep. Debbie Rodella joined with three Republicans on Thursday to kill a bill that would have allowed people to register to vote within three days of primary or general elections. Eligible voters in New Mexico now must register at least 28 days before an election in order to vote in it. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill to widen the time for registration, saying voting is a right and lawmakers should make it easier for people to cast a ballot. His proposal, Senate Bill 224, would have allowed for the extended registration period at early voting sites, many of which have real-time access to New Mexico’s voter registration system. For those lacking that technology, voters would have been allowed to cast provisional ballots that wouldn’t be counted until a subsequent verification of whether the registrant was eligible to vote.

A less automatic voter registration bill clears committee

An automatic voter registration bill lost a bit of what made it automatic, but moved on from the House committee that previously blocked it. State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, was one of two Democrats to previously vote against the legislation in the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grant Committee. He explained after that vote that he voted against the bill initially so he could bring it off the table, citing a parliamentary rule, and reconsider the matter. The bill was previously tabled in the same committee. Ely brought the bill back Tuesday.

Senate passes bill to bring dark money out of shadows

The state Senate voted Wednesday to require more transparency about the political spending of so-called “dark money” groups while also doubling the amount of money that individuals can donate to candidates for public office. Senate Bill 96 has won backing from campaign finance reform advocates who have pushed for years to close loopholes that allow groups to spend large sums of money to influence elections without having to disclose their donors. But a section that would allow candidates to raise far more money from private individuals prompted one Democrat to split with his party and oppose the proposal altogether. “People want money out of politics,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. “Growing our individual contribution limits is the wrong direction.”

Measure to create new ethics commission clears first hurdle

With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.

Lobbyists spent $1.7 million in 2016 in NM

The biggest spender among lobbyists in New Mexico last year was not employed by an oil company or a tobacco company or a mining company. Instead, it was a New York-based advocacy group for gun safety that spent $219,500. The reports, filed this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, show that Pedro Morillas, regional director for Everytown for Gun Safety, spent more than any other lobbyist in the state. And he completely outgunned the National Rifle Association, which spent just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year. Overall, lobbyists spent more than $1.7 million in the state in 2016.

Democrats propose amendment calling for automatic voter registration

All eligible voters in New Mexico should be registered, and the government should do it for them automatically, three Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday in announcing a proposal to enshrine new election law in the state constitution. The legislators said their proposal for automatic voter registration would reduce costs and create a more accurate system. Another likely benefit would be more people voting and holding government accountable for policy decisions, said Rep. Liz Thomson, one of the measure’s sponsors. “The more voices we hear, the better we can represent them,” Thomson said. She is teaming on the proposed constitutional amendment with Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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An uphill battle at Secretary of State, but Toulouse Oliver says she’s up for it

After her first week in office, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is ready to get to work revamping the state election code. She said while there are a number of things she wants to focus on, her office might have to get creative financially. “We have a lot to do and we’re not fully funded to do it,” Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report. Since former secretary Dianna Duran left office last year, there hasn’t been a lot of movement in terms of rule changes or reforms from the secretary’s office. Toulouse Oliver has long said she would work towards improving the state’s campaign finance rules if she were elected.