Ethics commission amendment hits roadblock

It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night. The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.

Early childhood education funding proposal fails again

Two Democrats joined with four Republican senators in a committee vote Wednesday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education

The vote in the Senate Rules Committee to table House Joint Resolution 1 likely puts an end to what has become a perennial effort take an extra 1 percent of interest earnings from the $15 billion endowment to spend on early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the proposal would have generated about $153 million in the first year for early childhood education, increasing to $163 million by the third year it was in place. The Democrats voting against the resolution were Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Papen said she supports early childhood funding but won’t support taking more money out of the land grant fund, which already helps fund universities and public schools in the state. Related: House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

The House approved the measure last week by a near party-line vote. “I am profoundly disappointed in our inability as a state to fully embrace the science of early childhood education,” resolution sponsor Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release after the vote.

Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday vetoed six bills that cleared the Legislature with overwhelming support, rankling lawmakers who complained that she never explained any of her decisions. Martinez’s own tone was equally sharp when she called a Senate override of one of her vetoes a stunt, even though that challenge to her was initiated by a fellow Republican. But when it came to issuing veto messages, Martinez didn’t give legislators any idea of why she rejected bills ranging from an uncontroversial proposal that would have given local governments a new option to pay for expanding broadband networks to arcane changes in horse-racing regulations. Spokesmen for the governor did not respond Wednesday to repeated requests for comment. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill

The day before Martinez spiked the six bills, the Senate voted 34-7 across party lines to override her veto of a bill to let teachers use more sick days without being downgraded on their performance evaluation.

Panel delays vote on early childhood ed initiative

Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education. The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee’s 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close.

Senate panel backs bill to keep some spaceport business dealings secret

Spaceport America, which has generated plenty of controversy because of the tax subsidies it receives, now says its success depends on less public scrutiny. The Senate Public Affairs Committee obliged Friday, backing a bill to exclude many spaceport business dealings from the state’s public records law. Its members voted 5-2 to allow the spaceport to withhold information about clients in the space business. Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, dissented.

Senate OKs reduced pot penalties

The state Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to decrease penalties for marijuana possession, with supporters saying the bill would reduce burdens on the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 258 now moves to the House of Representatives. But even if it passes there, it’s almost certain to be vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. “As a career prosecutor, Governor Martinez saw firsthand the damage drugs do to our families and communities,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in an email. “She’s opposed to legalizing drugs — and that includes decriminalizing weed.”

Gov. Susana Martinez

Miffed by pace of confirmations, Gov. withdraws appointees

Setting up a constitutional showdown with the Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn most of her appointees awaiting confirmation in the state Senate but will keep the officials in their posts across New Mexico government. Aides to the governor accused lawmakers on Wednesday of moving too slowly in confirming her nominations, leaving more than 70 unconfirmed as the session enters its final weeks. But some senators suggested Martinez was attempting an end run around the confirmation process that would undercut the Legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch of government. “The governor cannot circumvent the Senate’s authority,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen told the chamber Wednesday afternoon after a clerk read aloud a letter from Martinez announcing the move. The unusual maneuver has turned a typically mundane administrative process into an unlikely flash point between the governor and Democratic legislators as debate over bigger issues, such as the budget and taxes, come to a head.

Some reformers scoff as interest rate cap bill advances

Storefront lenders would be limited to charging interest rates of 175 percent under a bill that cleared a Senate committee Monday, but consumer groups called the measure inadequate. The bill sponsor, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said his plan would stop interest rates of 300, 500 or even 700 percent that have led to dozens of futile attempts by legislators to regulate an industry that critics say preys on the downtrodden. “It will eliminate the high interest rate loans we have heard about for years,” Sanchez told the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, which unanimously advanced his proposal, Senate Bill 388. The committee, which Sanchez chairs, rejected reforms backed by a coalition of consumer advocates. Then it embraced Sanchez’s proposal, supported by many in the storefront lending industry, to cap interest rates for short term-loans and effectively ban payday loans.

Papen asks committee to table bill creating early ed endowment

The Senate Education Committee has unanimously tabled a bill that would have established a new endowment for early childhood programs in the state using revenues from federal mineral rights leases on public lands — assuming Congress approved a proposal by State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to share the funding. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, asked the committee to table the measure Wednesday, saying, “It is clear to me now … that the bill suffers from problems in its construction.” In conversations with legislators, educators, Dunn and others, she said, she discovered “this entire approach has little support from the public.” Opponents of Senate Bill 182, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said one of its faults is that it assumes the federal government would agree to share proceeds with the state from leasing 6.6 million acres of mineral rights on private land.

Budget woes and beyond: Legislators have work to do this session

The biggest issue for legislators this session is New Mexico’s perilous financial situation—and how they plan to fill a projected $67 million budget deficit. Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed moving  $268.5 million from state agencies into the general fund budget. Of that $120 million would come from local public education reserve funds. Martinez’s plan also would require state employees to pay roughly 3.5 percent more into their retirement plans. This piece also appeared in this week’s edition of the Weekly Alibi.