House GOP budget calls for rebates, fewer raises

Republicans in the House of Representatives want to use some of the state’s budget surplus to give every New Mexican $200. These rebates are part of a $6.6 billion budget that GOP lawmakers are putting forward as an alternative to a spending plan sponsored by Democrats and headed for a vote in the House as soon as Thursday night. The House Republican plan would still increase the state budget, but by 5 percent instead of the 11 percent boost in spending included in House Bill 2 and related legislation. New Mexico is in the midst of a windfall from an oil and gas boom, but GOP lawmakers caution that using too much of that money will only lead to tax increases or cuts in future years when the boom goes bust. The Republican proposal is a long shot in the House, where the party holds only 24 of 70 seats.

Guv picks D’Antonio to return as state water chief

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tapped John D’Antonio on Tuesday to serve as state engineer, appointing a water policy veteran to manage what is one of the most valuable and fought-over resources in New Mexico. D’Antonio was state engineer from 2003-11 and most recently worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He takes over his old post amid a high-stakes court case over the Rio Grande and as New Mexico faces the effects of climate change. “Our most precious resource has to be protected and managed in altogether new ways,” Lujan Grisham told reporters in announcing her pick. It is a big job, particularly for a governor who has already sought to make climate change a priority during her first months in office.

NM to sue Trump administration over emergency declaration, calling president ‘desperate’

The state of New Mexico will join a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the president’s  declaration of a national emergency to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. California announced last week that it would sue the federal government. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on the ABC Sunday morning talk show “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that New Mexico and five other states would join California in the lawsuit against the Trump administration. Update: In all, 16 states, including New Mexico, filed suit. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office did not  say exactly which states were involved, but confirmed the lawsuit would be filed.

Tax officials asks lawmakers to push back bill’s date for legal pot sales

When it comes to legalizing cannabis for recreational use, those responsible for running state government have a warning for lawmakers: Not so fast. The proposed legislation calls for the state to begin licensing retailers as soon as January 2020. But the state Taxation and Revenue Department has told lawmakers the deadline is unfeasible and asked that they push it back to 2021. The change would shove further into the future the day when New Mexicans who are 21 and older could freely buy cannabis from retailers. And that’s if House Bill 356 even passes this year, which may be a long shot, as the 60-day legislative session is in its final month and some Democratic senators remain opposed.

Senator wants ethics panel’s work mostly secret

A state senator has proposed to keep much of the New Mexico ethics commission’s work secret and potentially impose thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time on anyone who breaks its confidentiality rules. Seventy-five percent of voters in last year’s election approved the creation of a state ethics commission, and legislators are now debating exactly how it should work, including how much the public should know about the cases it handles. Legislation filed this week by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, would set up the commission to ensure that ethics complaints remain secret unless it decides there has been a violation of law or the accused signs waives confidentiality. Under her Senate Bill 619, the form for filing an ethics complaint would include a confidentiality agreement. And anyone who discloses confidential complaints or investigations could face fines as high as $10,000 and up to a year in jail.

Senate approves bill requiring background checks on all gun sales

The state Senate narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require just about anyone buying a firearm to undergo a background check. This legislation has been a priority for gun control advocates, but all 16 Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate said it would not prevent the sort of mass shootings that have spurred calls for such laws. Scheduled for the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, the Senate’s vote was the biggest test yet for gun control during this legislative session. Majority Democrats won the day on a 22-20 vote. Senate Bill 8 now heads to the state House of Representatives, which already has passed a law on background checks this year and might approve this measure.

Minimum wage hike passes House with phased-in raise for tipped workers

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour in July and increase it annually starting next year. But amid heavy opposition from the restaurant industry, lawmakers backed off immediately abolishing the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and instead elected to phase it out over the next few years. Democrats made boosting the minimum wage a central promise of last year’s campaign and argue House Bill 31 will amount to a raise for about 150,000 workers across the state. With a bigger Democratic majority in the House this year, legislation proposing an increase of several dollars per hour was bound to pass the chamber. But HB 31 is still likely to meet opposition in the state Senate, even from some Democrats, spurring what will likely be a round of negotiations over just how high legislators on both sides of the Capitol can agree to raise the minimum wage.

State aims to halt Medicaid copays and premiums

The New Mexico Human Services Department is taking steps to reverse a number of Medicaid policies enacted by former Gov. Susana Martinez that state officials say would create unnecessary financial strain on hundreds of thousands of low-income patients and limit access to medical services and prescription drugs. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday she has directed the agency to seek approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to eliminate $8 copayments for patients receiving nonemergency services at hospital emergency departments or purchasing brand-name drugs, and $10 monthly premiums for about 50,000 adults covered by Medicaid under expanded eligibility rules. Both cost-share policies for patients in the state’s Medicaid program, called Centennial Care, were set to go into effect March 1. The copays would have effected about 650,000 people, according to a news release issued by Human Services spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter. The agency sent a letter Tuesday to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking to halt those policies as well as a policy limiting eligibility for retroactive Medicaid benefits, which took effect Jan.

Nearing midway point of a fast-paced session, Dem dominance chafes GOP

Brian Egolf, speaker of the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives, says the body is moving legislation faster than ever, clearing the way for reform of every level of state government. The House minority leader, Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, says Egolf doesn’t ask for input or collaboration. He simply reveals what’s coming and how it’s going to play out, Townsend said. Welcome to the halfway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session. Proceedings in the House often are angry and combative, as outnumbered Republicans say their side is being ignored or steamrolled.

Legislative roundup, Feb. 12, 2019

Days remaining in session: 33

Prison profits: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee says it will give a donation from the private prison company Geo Group to charity. The Florida-based firm runs several prisons in New Mexico and has contributed to politicians on both sides of the aisle. According to financial disclosures Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee published last week, Geo Group donated $2,500 to the Democratic governor’s inaugural festivities. Democratic politicians have faced awkward questions about financial contributions from the private prison industry amid outrage over the federal government’s zero-tolerance policy toward undocumented migrants. Companies like Geo Group have stood to gain from the federal policy.