Battle renewed over front-end license plate proposal

Arthur Medina would still be able to drive his cherried-out lowrider with Jesus on the front bumper. As the owner of a 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix with a customized “Jesus” plate on the front of his car, the Chimayó man and other classic car owners would be exempt from a bill that would require New Mexico motorists to have a front-end license plate. “Right on, bro,” Medina — also known as Low Low — said Wednesday while sitting outside the state Capitol in his lowrider, which was featured in March 1982 edition of National Geographic. But most other vehicle owners would have to affix a license plate to their front bumper under a bill that passed out of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee on a 5-3 vote Wednesday morning. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, a Democrat and former Albuquerque Police Department officer, said the proposal would make it easier for law enforcement to identify vehicles, especially if they’re involved in a crime.

Bipartisan vote spikes bill to raise oil and gas royalties

A handful of Democrats joined with Republicans at the Legislature on Friday to quash a bill that would have allowed the state to charge higher royalty rates on some oil and gas production. The first committee hearing for House Bill 398 turned into a showdown between New Mexico’s influential oil industry and a newly elected Democratic land commissioner who came to office pledging to collect a greater share of revenue from oil produced on the millions of acres her office controls. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard argued that raising royalty rates is strictly good business for a state rich in oil and gas but that has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. But the oil and gas industry countered that it already generates a large share of the funds for New Mexico’s government through taxes and royalties. Raising royalty rates, representatives from the industry argued, would drive away business and ultimately hurt the state.

Minimum wage hike advances despite restaurant industry’s fight

Democrats campaigned last year on a promise to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage, which has remained at $7.50 an hour for a decade. How high it will go, exactly, is a question that quickly has become wrapped in a battle waged by the restaurant industry and could get caught in a tug-of-war between the state House and Senate. The issue has raised a series of other questions as well. Should there continue to be a lower minimum wage for workers who traditionally earn tips from customers, such as restaurant servers? Should employers be allowed to offer a lower minimum wage to younger workers, like high school students?

House rejects charter school moratorium in tie vote

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.

Latest attempt to cap storefront loans clears committee

luInterest rates for many small storefront loans in New Mexico would be capped at 175 percent and required to have a term of at least four months under a bill that got a unanimous recommendation from a House committee Friday. The House Business and Industry Committee gave a positive recommendation to House Bill 347, sponsored by state Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup. Earlier this week the committee delayed action on the bill to allow members of the small-loan industry to negotiate a compromise with backers of a bill calling for capping interest rates at 36 percent. However, Dan Najjar, a lobbyist for Axcess Financial, a company specializing in small installment loans, said that while some changes were made to the original version of the bill, the two sides failed to reach a consensus. The committee action represents the latest round in a long-running legislative battle over an industry which is attacked for charging exorbitant interest rates on short-term loans that the lenders say many New Mexicans depend on.

First responders now included in Hate Crimes against cops bill

In addition to adding law enforcement officers as a protected class to the state Hate Crimes Act, a Republican-sponsored bill would now add first responders if it becomes law. The change came Tuesday afternoon in the House Judiciary Committee at the request of House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Egolf first suggested firefighters as being added because of the danger their job entails. The suggestion led to little debate, with House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, and cosponsor of the original bill agreeing fairly quickly. The bill passed its second committee unanimously, with Democratic Reps.

Committee says cops should be protected by Hate Crimes Act

Lawmakers favored adding a new group to rank alongside people of color, LGBT people, the physically and mentally impaired and others as protected under the state Human Rights Act—law enforcement officers. The bill, which the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee passed Tuesday afternoon on a 5-4 party-line vote, would make crimes committed against law enforcement officers specifically because they are law enforcement officers hate crimes. House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said penalties for people who commit crimes against an officer on the first offense would increase by one year and on the second offense by two years. “A couple of police officers were murdered in the line of duty last year,” Gentry said, referring to New Mexico officers Daniel Webster and Gregg “Nigel” Benner. Gentry cited an increasing number of officers killed by guns in the country, which he said grew by 56 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Interim committee endorses expansion of three strikes law

An interim committee endorsed two pieces of legislation that would expand the list of crimes that would qualify for New Mexico’s three strikes law. After three convictions for eligible crimes, the person convicted would face a life sentence in prison. The more contentious of the two was the one brought forward by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, perhaps because it was the first time the committee had heard that particular legislation. Pacheco called his legislation “narrowly crafted” a number of times and said it was his intention to only target “super predators.” The additions would add more than ten felonies on the list of crimes eligible for the three strikes law, including involuntary manslaughter and first degree abuse of a child.

Speaker names panel to examine impeachment of Duran

The leader of the House of Representatives named ten members to a panel that will look into the possible impeachment of Secretary of State Dianna Duran. Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, named five Democrats and five Republicans to the panel tasked with examining evidence against Duran and examine possible impeachment. Duran is facing possible impeachment, which in turn could lead to removal from office, for allegations that she moved campaign funds into personal accounts. The 64 charges from Attorney General Hector Balderas were filed in late August. The ten names on the committee are:

Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque
Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque
Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso
Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque
Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen
Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque
Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque
Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque
Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas
Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces

Chasey and Cook will be the co-chairs of the panel.