Legislature pass budget, tax bills, waits on governor’s actions

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.

Government should tighten belt, not raise taxes

When I was elected, I promised that I would go to Santa Fe to work for New Mexicans—not big government. It’s disturbing that some in the Legislature think that we need to grow state government even more and tax New Mexicans in the middle of a budget crisis. This last session, Democrat legislators decided to take the easy way out of the budget crisis and raise taxes on working New Mexicans instead of tightening state governments belt. While they wasted time debating bills on winter holiday songs, state dances and, yes, even Bigfoot our state’s financial situation got even worse. Now, we’re staring down a potential government shutdown meaning that Motor Vehicle Division offices and state parks might have to close. Rick Little is a Republican state representative from Chaparral, representing the 53rd district.

Martinez continues criticism of Legislature

Gov. Susana Martinez continued her criticism of the state Legislature in a brief press conference Monday in Las Cruces. Martinez appeared with Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, and praised his work during the legislative session while at the same time criticizing the Legislature as a whole and the Senate specifically. Martinez echoed her previous criticisms of legislation that would have raised some taxes. “Raising taxes to bail out big government while punishing the families of New Mexico is not the right answer. Or raising taxes on small businesses is not the right answer,” Martinez said.

After governor’s veto, GOP leader revives hemp bill

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.”

New Mexico Senate once again endorses hemp research

The New Mexico Senate, by a lopsided bipartisan majority, passed a bill Tuesday that would make it legal to cultivate hemp so researchers can study possible industrial uses. The legislation goes now to the House of Representatives, where other industrial hemp bills also are being considered. Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, which cleared the Senate 37-2, is identical to a McSorley hemp bill that passed the Legislature two years ago with strong bipartisan support but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. The governor, in her veto message, claimed it could be confusing for law enforcement because the fibrous plant is basically the same plant as marijuana but with a much lower level of the intoxicant THC. McSorley on Tuesday repeated his insistence that “Industrial hemp research begins the process of bringing needed manufacturing and agricultural jobs to our state.”

Here are the key legislative races to watch

Today is the day that candidates for state House and Senate file to say that they are, indeed, running. As candidates file their intention to run for public office, we decided to take a look forward a few months to what districts the two parties will be focusing on come November and the general elections. The top of the ticket matters. Two years ago, Republicans took the state House of Representatives for the first time in a half-century. That same election saw Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, trounce Democratic opponent Gary King by more than 14 points statewide.

Little suggests sexual orientation, gender identity are choices

Rick Little found himself at the center of attention following his committee’s passage of a law that would add police officers to the list of protected classes in the state’s Hate Crimes Act. Instead of discussing the high profile bill in an election year, focus was on the Chaparral Republican’s comments at the end questioning whether some of the protected classes under the Hate Crimes Act, such as gender identity or sexual orientation, are lifestyle choices. KRQE-TV tried to pin down Little on whether or not he thinks sexual orientation is a choice. Little would not immediately answer and his handlers tried to pull him way, but reporter Alex Goldsmith pressed on, saying it was a yes or no answer. Little appeared flustered.

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.

Another attempt at bill to allow hemp research

Last year, State Sen. Cisco McSorley worked to get a hemp bill through the committee process in each chamber. The legislation passed in a very different form from the beginning of the session after advice from legislators, Department of Agriculture staff and stakeholders. Then Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it, saying there were inconsistencies between it and federal law. The Albuquerque Democrat is coming back with the legislation for a second year, with a quick stop in front of the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice committee on Wednesday as the beginning of the effort. The committee endorsed the legislation, though it’s unclear if Martinez will put the legislation on the call and allow discussion in the short session.

Lawmakers hear about alternative to incarceration for opiate addicts

Supporters of a pilot program in Santa Fe that takes a different approach to dealing with those addicted to opiates, including heroin, than incarceration spoke to legislators on Tuesday. The supporters are looking for $200,000 in funding for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, program which is modeled after a program in Seattle that has shown success in dealing with those addicted to opioids. A previous $200,000 funding request was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. The Courts, Corrections & Justice Interim Committee hearing took place on Tuesday. Emily Kaltenbach, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, explained that the program “redirects people who have probable cause for arrest for low-level drug offenses” to a more treatment-based program.