Senate approves ban on coyote-killing contests

In a clash between urban and rural lawmakers, the New Mexico Senate voted 22-17 on Wednesday to outlaw coyote-killing contests that are staged for prizes or entertainment. The proposal, Senate Bill 76, now advances to the House of Representatives. Similar bills have twice cleared the Senate in the last four years but died in the House. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said he had a simple reason for co-sponsoring the latest attempt to end the contests targeting coyotes. “I don’t want to live in a culture of wanton killing,” Moores said.

Navajo Code Talkers project draws bipartisan support

A 94-year-old state senator’s dream to open a Navajo Code Talkers Museum and Veterans Center on Navajo land in McKinley County may finally become a reality with the help of a few of his friends. Senators from both political parties have agreed to provide some of their own allotment of capital outlay money for the project, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Friday. “He’s the longest-serving member in the Senate, and this is a project he’s been working on for a long time,” Wirth said. Pinto has been a senator since 1977. “It’s such an amazing honor to serve with a World War II veteran and a Navajo Code Talker on top of that,” Wirth said.

Coyote-killing contest ban splits rural, urban senators

In a decision that pitted rural and urban lawmakers against one another, the state Senate voted Thursday to prohibit coyote-killing contests in New Mexico. Senate Bill 268 carried 26-15 and now moves to the House of Representatives with a little more than a week remaining in the session. The Senate approved a similar measure two years ago, but it died in the House. Coyotes in New Mexico are an unprotected animal, meaning they can be killed at any time and in any number without a hunting license. But Sens.

Senate OKs minimum wage hike

The state Senate voted Wednesday to raise the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour over the next 13 months. The legislation may represent the best chance in several years to raise the minimum wage. The Senate approved the bill in a 24-6 bipartisan vote. The measure also has the support of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which in the past has fought minimum wage hikes, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, would increase the hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018.

Gila spending bill clears committee

A bill to increase spending oversight on a proposed diversion on the Gila River passed the Senate Conservation Committee this morning—and will head next to the Senate floor. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would require the Interstate Stream Commission’s spending on the Gila River diversion to go through the normal legislative budget process. Before putting more money toward the project, officials would need to show the project is technically feasible, explain how much water is available from the river and who would use it, estimate the project’s price tag and determine how New Mexico will cover the difference between the federal subsidy and the project’s actual cost. The bill passed the committee, though four objected to the pass including Republican Sens.

Industry comes out in force, committee kills energy surtax for early childhood ed funding

On Tuesday a bill to fund early childhood education programs with two new taxes on energy and electricity producers failed to make it out of committee. During the Senate Conservation Committee meeting, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, sought support for a bill that would create an early childhood education fund paid for by a one-hundredth percent oil and gas energy surtax and a one cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity produced in New Mexico. The two revenue sources would generate more than $320 million annually, according to the fiscal impact report for Senate Bill 288. Once the meeting was opened for public comments, not one audience member spoke in support of the bill. But more than a dozen lobbyists and representatives of the oil and gas industry and utilities like PNM, El Paso Electric, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission opposed it.

NRA tops lobbyist spending with $44K online ad

No issue in the 2017 New Mexico Legislature has drawn citizens to the Roundhouse like the push to expand mandatory background checks on gun sales. People on both sides of the issue have shown up in droves to committee hearings in both the House and Senate to testify about two bills that would require more gun buyers to go through background checks. And lobbyists for out-of-state organizations on both sides of the issue have spent thousands of dollars to push their positions. In fact, according to lobbyist expense reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, the biggest expenditure since the session began in mid-January was $44,377 spent by Tara Reilly-Mica, the Texas-based lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Reilly-Mica’s report, filed Feb.

Senator hopes tax reform proposal prompts dialogue

If the state of New Mexico wants to get back on solid financial footing it has to take on some sacred cows, according to Sen. Ron Griggs. Griggs, a Republican who is the former mayor of Alamogordo, calls the omnibus tax bill he is sponsoring the start of that conversation. The bill not only brings back the gross receipts tax on food and medicine — albeit at a lower rate — but it raises the fee to transfer ownership of a motor vehicle and imposes a new fee to transfer or refinance real estate. Senate Bill 343 would also reduce the corporate income tax, eliminate taxes on interest income, which would benefit retirees over 55, and help cities and counties with their budget challenges. Large, complicated tax measures have not always fared well in the Legislature.

Senate passes lean budget, highlighted by cuts

The Senate passed a version of the budget that included budget cuts across the board on Monday. The Senate voted 39-1 on the budget that bears little resemblance to what many predicted months or even weeks earlier—or even from what passed the House just days ago. Originally drafted by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, HB 2 was changed dramatically by the Senate Finance Committee after Chairman John Arthur, D-Deming, Smith shed some light on what he called a “dire” circumstance with the state’s budget. Smith told the body that some of the changes included reductions of $125 million in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Smith said the committee came up with additional cuts and a provision that would allow Gov. Susana Martinez to add more cuts if need be.

Senate version of bail reform advances

After Senate passage last week, a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the bail process in New Mexico cleared its first House committee Monday afternoon. The bill would allow general election voters this fall to weigh in on allowing a judge to deny bail to defendants deemed dangerous to society. Under the amendment, defendants who don’t present a danger to society could not be held if the only thing keeping them in jail was a lack of money

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 7-2, with Reps. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, and David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, casting to only dissenting votes. The bill has support from criminal defense attorney organizations, public defender offices, civil liberty groups and city and county organizations.