Judge finds state senator guilty of DWI, reckless driving

A district judge found state Sen. Richard Martinez guilty of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving on Tuesday. 

This past summer, Martinez, D-Española, was driving when he hit the car of a couple waiting at a stoplight in Española. After the state senator was taken to a hospital, police arrested him for DWI and reckless driving. 

The ruling on Tuesday came at the end of a two-day bench trial where Martinez’s lawyer, David Foster, argued that the arresting officer didn’t follow protocols for field sobriety tests and that signs of impairment by Martinez could have been from a head injury sustained in the crash. 

During their closing arguments, prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office argued that police lapel camera footage showed Martinez struggling with the sobriety tests and admitting that he had at least two alcoholic drinks that night. 

In that footage Martinez was inconsistent on how much he had to drink and about the type of drinks he had. Martinez refused any sort of breath test, and replied, “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,” when the officer asked for his consent. Prosecutors argued that comment was a “consciousness of guilt.” 

“No one is above the law, not even a senator, not even this defendant,” one prosecutor told the judge. 

In his closing arguments, Foster criticized police for not following protocol and for inconsistencies in their reports. 

“How can you believe anything [the arresting officer] is saying?” Foster asked. 

He also criticized prosecutors for pointing out a dark spot on Martinez’s shorts that can barely be seen in the police footage. During the first day of trial, prosecutors argued that the dark spot was urine and a sign that Martinez was too intoxicated to drive a car.

Senate rejects repealing currently unenforceable anti-abortion law

Eight Senate Democrats joined with Republicans Thursday evening to defeat a measure that would have removed a currently non-enforceable ban on abortion. State Representatives Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, sponsored House Bill 51. which would repeal a 1969 state law which made both performing and receiving an abortion fourth-degree felonies, except with special permissions. The law is currently unenforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which federally recognized the right to have an abortion. “We’re terribly disappointed,” Ferrary said.

Senate panel favors smaller minimum wage hike

A Senate committee on Tuesday snubbed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s call to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next several years, advancing instead a more modest bill backed by business groups. Dueling proposals for increasing the wages of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers collided in a packed hearing of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. After a flurry of changes, the committee ultimately advanced a measure that would raise the wage over time, topping out at all $11 an hour in 2021. While not far off from a minimum wage increase backed by the governor and approved by the state House of Representatives, the proposal omits a key provision to adjust the minimum wage annually in the future based on the rising cost of living. And the committee’s vote, in turn, reflected resistance in the Legislature’s upper chamber to some of the newly elected governor’s agenda.

Legislative committee recommends $7 billion budget for N.M.

Top lawmakers on Monday rolled out a proposed $7 billion state budget that would include a whopping $600 million for public works projects around New Mexico as the government’s coffers swell with a windfall of revenue from an oil and gas boom. The Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget would mark almost an 11 percent increase in spending by the state. That is less than what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed in her own version of the state budget, which would raise spending by about 13 percent. But as lawmakers prepared to convene Tuesday for a 60-day legislative session, leaders indicated they are not far off from an agreement with the new governor when it comes to some spending on the issue that is sure to dominate the agenda: education. Faced not only with a judge’s order to come up with ways of improving education for many of the state’s most vulnerable students but also with a bright financial outlook in the short-term, legislators echoed Lujan Grisham’s own call to greatly increase funding for New Mexico schools.

Senator calls on NMSU regents to resign over Carruthers move

The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.

Oil and gas lobbyists shell out big money in campaign donations

Oil and gas industry revenues pay a huge share of the money that goes into the state budget. And lobbyists for big oil companies pay a huge amount of campaign contributions to New Mexico politicians. An analysis of lobbyist expense reports filed in recent days with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office shows oil companies dominate the list of the largest donors to campaigns and political committees since last October. By far the biggest contributor among lobbyists in the new batch of reports was the Austin, Texas-based Stephen Perry, Chevron USA’s state government affairs manager for Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Perry listed $183,250 in contributions.

Senate Dems remove Padilla from leadership

Responding to renewed attention on sexual harassment, New Mexico Democrats removed Sen. Michael Padilla from his position as Majority Whip in the chamber on Saturday. The move comes two weeks after Padilla dropped out of the race for Lieutenant Governor. Democrats in Senate leadership released laudatory statements when announcing the caucus voted to vacate the whip position. “Senator Padilla is a valued member of the New Mexico state Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said. “We look forward to supporting his ongoing legislative efforts to create jobs and help New Mexico families.”

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen also praised Padilla.

NMSU regents should keep Garrey Carruthers at the helm in troubled times

We and other legislators had hoped that the regents of New Mexico State University, in accepting the recently announced retirement of Chancellor Garrey Carruthers’ at the end of his contract next year, nonetheless would ask him to stay on for two more years. Chancellor Carruthers’ record of vision and leading the institution is outstanding, and big challenges lie ahead. The university needs him. Senator John Arthur Smith (D-35-Doña Ana, Hidalgo, Luna, Sierra) is the Chair of the New Mexico Senate Finance Committee. Senator Steven P. Neville (R-2-San Juan) serves on the New Mexico Senate Finance Committee.

Judge rules ten Martinez vetoes invalid, says they will become law

A judge ruled that ten of Gov. Susana Martinez vetoes from this year’s legislative session were invalid–and ordered that the bills become law. Earlier this year, the Legislature sued the governor, arguing she failed to follow the state constitution by not providing an explanation of her vetoes. Judge Sarah Singleton in the 1st Judicial District Court made the decision Friday. “We’re disappointed in this decision because there is no question the governor vetoed these bills,” spokesman Joseph Cueto said in an email Friday afternoon. “It’s telling how some in the legislature love running to the courts when they know they don’t have the support to override a veto.”

Sen. Mimi Stewart is indeed New Mexico’s most effective legislator

Senator Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque recently was named New Mexico’s single most effective legislator – indeed, one of the most effective lawmakers in any state – by FiscalNote. The national, non-partisan organization knows what it is talking about, representing many of the most successful Fortune 500 corporations. Most recipients of the award were Republicans. It was given on how successful a legislator is at sponsoring and steering legislation through each crucial step of the legislative process, all the way through enactment. This complex process requires strong bipartisan skills, and often goes completely unnoticed by the general public.