Legislature sends governor bill imposing tax on nonprofit lab contractor

Gov. Susana Martinez will have to decide whether to sign a bill designed to prevent the state government, as well as local governments in Northern New Mexico, from losing tax revenue if a nonprofit university takes over management of Los Alamos National Laboratory later this year. That possibility is real, as two Texas universities have submitted bids for the contract. “We stand to lose about $30 million in gross receipts revenue to the state should a nonprofit contractor receive the [operations contract] at the national laboratory in Los Alamos,” Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, told the House of Representatives late Tuesday night before it voted 48-19 in favor of the measure, Senate Bill 17. Garcia Richard’s number is consistent with a fiscal impact report by the Legislative Finance Committee, which estimates the state’s gross receipts tax losses at $25 million to $30 million if a nonprofit is chosen to run the lab. Both the University of Texas System Board of Regents and Texas A&M submitted formal bids on the lab management contract in December.

Los Alamos Republican to seek open House seat

Dr. Lisa Shin, a Los Alamos optometrist and daughter of Korean immigrants, is running as a Republican for the seat in the state House of Representatives currently held by Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard. “As a successful small business owner and health care provider, I bring a pragmatic, common sense approach to the issues facing us. I believe that free market principles based on individual choice and personal responsibility can strengthen our schools, our health care system and our economy,” Shin, 49, said in a statement. Two Democrats, lawyer Christine Chandler and retired scientist Pete Sheehey, also are running for the seat. Both are members of the Los Alamos County Council.

House overhauls lottery bill to ensure more funds for students

The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.

Committee halts gov’s final attempt to pass third-grade reading bill

For eight years now, the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed legislation to hold back more students who score below par on standardized reading tests. And just like every other year since Martinez took office, that legislation faltered at the Roundhouse on Friday, with Democrats questioning how the state could implement a sweeping overhaul of reading education without additional funds and whether schools should base decisions about holding back students on one set of test scores. Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque and the sponsor of House Bill 210, told the House Education Committee this year’s reading bill was not like previous iterations. It would have given parents the option to let their child proceed to the next grade level even if the school recommended holding the child back. And it would have called for more intensive after-hour classes to bring students up to par.

Second Democratic Los Alamos councilor enters race for House seat

Another Democratic contender has entered the race for the open seat in the state House of Representatives currently held by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Los Alamos County Councilor Christine Chandler, who used to work as an in-house lawyer for Los Alamos National Laboratory, announced Thursday she would run for the House District 43 seat, which Garcia Richard is vacating to make a run for state land commissioner. Chandler joins a fellow Los Alamos County councilor, Pete Sheehey, a retired lab scientist who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last month. Republican Lisa Shin also is running for the seat, which until recent years was considered a safe GOP district. Chandler is involved in several Los Alamos community organizations.

Ceremonial measures: Building camaraderie but squandering time

At the end of every legislative session, there are dozens of bills that die on the House or Senate floor. When asked what happened, legislative leaders invariably shrug their shoulders and say, “We just ran out of time …” Which is true. But in the days and weeks that lead to the last moments of a session, lawmakers eat up untold hours — joking around, talking sports, engaging in ceremonial activities and spending time on legislation that doesn’t have the force of law. Call these activities “time bandits.”

Reading bill dies quietly

For seven consecutive years, Gov. Susana Martinez has unsuccessfully pushed a bill to hold back thousands of third-graders who score below par on standardized reading tests. A pair of similar bills this year haven’t even received a hearing before a legislative committee. And with just five days left in the 60-day legislative session, it is unlikely that they will. Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said she didn’t know whether the panel would have time to hear House Bill 114, introduced by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. But even if Garcia Richard’s committee takes up the measure, it almost certainly would table it.

Panel rejects expanded background checks

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.

Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

At Capitol, Giffords urges N.M. lawmakers to ‘come together’ on gun control

Partially paralyzed and speaking in just a few simple sentences, a former U.S. congresswoman shot in the head six years ago during a rampage that left a half-dozen people dead delivered the most high-profile endorsement yet of two gun-control bills being considered in the New Mexico Legislature. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line,” Gabrielle Giffords told a crowd of reporters and gun-control advocates at the Capitol on Wednesday. “Now is the time to come together — to be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone.” Giffords’ appearance at the Legislature demonstrated the campaign for gun control is not letting up during the final weeks of the session.