Both the House and Senate recessed Thursday afternoon—without officially ending the special session. Now, the governor has three days to take action on four bills aimed at tax changes and reinstating funding to the Legislative branch and institutes of higher education. By recessing until Tuesday instead of adjourning, the House and Senate could still introduce new legislation to replace anything Gov. Susana Martinez might veto. Martinez, in an atypical statement, praised the Legislature for some of their work. “In a bipartisan manner, lawmakers passed my plan to put more funding toward cancer research and student financial aid, while at the same time forfeiting their pork projects and a small portion of their personal legislative retirement accounts to fill the budget hole — something I’ve urged them to do for months,” she said.
The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed yet another bill that would legalize research on industrial hemp. The House voted 65-1 to pass House Bill 530, sponsored by Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, comes on the heels of Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing not one but two industrial hemp bills. She offered no explanation in either of her veto messages. Gentry told The New Mexican earlier this week that following the latest veto, he sat down with the governor’s staff — namely Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremiah Ritchie — to “work out some minor details that brought us more in compliance with federal law.”
A legislative committee on Monday effectively killed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases — an issue that drew large crowds to the Capitol as well as big campaign contributions and intense lobbying and advertising. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548 after a lengthy hearing. It marked the defeat of the most recent gun-control bill sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Democrat Eliseo Alcon of Milan joined the six Republicans on the panel to stop the measure, which would have required background checks on all sales of firearms at gun shows and from advertisements on the internet or print publications. Garcia Richard said other states that have approved similar bills have seen fewer violent crimes and suicides involving guns.
Two days after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill that would have established a research program for industrial hemp, the proposal is back — this time put forth by a high-ranking member of her own party. House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the revived hemp measure, House Bill 530. He took a blank bill that had been introduced earlier, then added the latest hemp initiative to it. Gentry’s bill for industrial hemp research on Monday cleared the House Labor and Economic Development Committee on a bipartisan 8-0 vote. Gentry said he sat down with the governor’s administration before introducing the bill to “work out some minor details that brought us more in compliance with federal law.”
The New Mexico House of Representatives on Thursday night agreed to give voters a chance to establish a state ethics commission through amending the constitution. The House voted 66-0 to pass House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But the measure faces a harder time in the Senate, which despite a string of state government scandals in the past decade, has been the traditional burial ground for ethics legislation. Under Dines’ proposal, a seven-member commission would be appointed by the governor and the Legislature to investigate possible ethical violations by legislators, state officers and executive branch officials. The proposed body also would investigate alleged violations of campaign finance laws, laws covering lobbyists and disclosure requirements for state contractors.
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.
An effort to eliminate hundreds of tax breaks for dozens of businesses and service providers while lowering the overall tax rate on sales is moving forward in the Legislature and may become part of a solution to fix New Mexico’s budget deficit for years to come. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, passed the House of Representatives late Wednesday with no dissenting votes. The initiative had been broadly scaled back from what Harper first proposed with the introduction of House Bill 412, which now has a prime focus on reforming the state’s cumbersome gross receipts tax law. Initial measures to extend that tax to food, as well as changes to income tax rates and how property is valued, were removed from the bill in what House Speaker Brian Egolf called “the largest substitution in the history of the House floor.” Harper accepted the amendments from Rep. Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe, as the only realistic way his reforms would move forward.
The state House of Representatives approved a bill to preserve contraception coverage put in place as part of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand some access on a mostly party-line vote Monday evening. Three Republicans—state Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences—joined ranks with Democrats to approve the bill. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would expand access to contraceptives by requiring health insurance plans to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of their birth control prescription at one time. The bill would expand the types of contraceptives available over the counter and include condoms and vasectomies in health insurance plans.
The state House of Representatives voted Friday night to raise the hourly minimum wage to $9.25 from $7.50 in 2018. The 37-30 vote, just days after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a slightly smaller increase to $9, signals that a raise in the statewide minimum wage is increasingly likely as the legislative session enters its final weeks. The issue has been a priority for Democrats, who promised a raise during last year’s election, but it also has won some support from Republicans. The House vote on HB 442 was not strictly along party lines. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, broke with her party to vote in favor of the bill, while Rep. Candy Sweetser, D-Deming, voted against it.
The House on Thursday rejected a two-and-a-half-year moratorium on licensing new charter schools in New Mexico. Thirty-four House members voted to pass House Bill 46, which would have prohibited a chartering authority — the state or a local school district — from accepting or approving any new applications until Jan. 1, 2020. But 34 representatives also voted against it. In a tie vote, a bill fails.