It isn’t often that a bill that it seems no one likes passes a legislative chamber, but that happened Wednesday afternoon in the Senate with two different bills. The chamber voted 36-3 to pass a bill that would essentially borrow money to balance the budget, something that no senator said they were happy about. Update: Added information on a third bill passed by the Senate
The Senate also passed a tax package on a 25-16 vote that included an increase in the gas tax and the motor vehicle excise tax as a way to shore up depleted state reserves. Borrowing money to balance budget
Senator John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, each mentioned the idea of using severance tax money to help balance the budget came from the governor’s office. “We do not think it is very responsible, it sets a poor precedent…But in an effort to try and find forward movement with the executive branch, we have swallowed that bill and are willing to do it,” Smith said.
A handful of bills passed by both the state Senate and House of Representatives continue to sit in limbo. Normally, those bills would be signed or vetoed by the governor. Instead, their fate likely lies with the judicial branch. The head of the Legislative Council Service (LCS), the nonpartisan administrative arm of the state Legislature, said he and his staff suggested to lawmakers and the secretary of state that some vetoed bills should actually be chaptered. Chaptering, or printing, the bills is typically the first step to writing them into state statute.
The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission, a proposal that has died in the New Mexico Legislature year after year. The measure now moves to the full Senate, where its advocates hope it receives a vote before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. Note: This story has been updated throughout with more information on the proposed ethics commission. Members of the Rules Committee voted 9-1 to advance House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. The House last week voted 66-0 for the measure.
Spaceport America, which has generated plenty of controversy because of the tax subsidies it receives, now says its success depends on less public scrutiny. The Senate Public Affairs Committee obliged Friday, backing a bill to exclude many spaceport business dealings from the state’s public records law. Its members voted 5-2 to allow the spaceport to withhold information about clients in the space business. Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, dissented.
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.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was in office 15 years ago, the only time the Legislature overrode a governor’s veto of the entire state budget. That showdown pitted Republican Gov. Gary Johnson against a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Ingle, R-Portales, said he is confident the impasse this year over spending and tax increases between majority Democrats in the Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will not be a repeat of what happened in 2002. He said all parties agree on the priorities. Namely, the state needs to boost revenue to pay for education and day-to-day services included in the proposed $6.1 billion operating budget and stash away more in savings to help its credit rating.
House and Senate lawmakers are pushing identical proposals that would abolish solitary confinement for pregnant women and children and steeply curtail its use on people living with mental illness in New Mexico’s jails and prisons. If passed into law, supporters say either bill would provide a statutory definition for “isolated confinement” in the state and much needed transparency on the scope of the controversial practice of leaving inmates alone in their cells for 22 hours a day or more with little to no contact with others and few opportunities to participate in educational or rehabilitative programs.
“Right now, we do not know on any given day if it’s 100 or 1,000 people in isolated confinement in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, the Democratic sponsor of HB175, said. “Once we have some data, we can have confidence that the Corrections Department and the counties are scaling back the use of solitary confinement.”
This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission
Numerous studies, including one by the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, have shown that isolation in a prison cell can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and create new ones where none existed before. The United Nations and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have argued that solitary confinement is particularly dangerous for children, whose brains are still developing, and condemned its use. New Mexico has a troubled history with solitary confinement.
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.
Passage of a “feed bill” to cover the costs of the New Mexico Legislature typically is a slam dunk, unanimously adopted as the first order of business at each annual lawmaking session in Santa Fe. But in an environment where partisanship can flare up in myriad ways, even that piece of legislation has become a battleground. Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday night vetoed funding for the Legislature, taking on Democratic lawmakers less than two weeks into a 60-day session so far dominated by debate over the state’s budget crisis. In a veto message, Martinez denounced Democrats for rejecting a proposal from Republicans in the state House of Representatives to reduce spending by the legislative branch at a time when other limbs of state government are being forced to get by with less. “Despite repeatedly declaring that we’re in a ‘constitutional budget crisis,’ the Senate and House Democrats continue to find ways to protect themselves and their budget — even as they have squeezed money out of other areas of government,” wrote Martinez, a Republican.
Santa Fe is about to become the most powerful city in the Legislature. Presumptive House Speaker Brian Egolf and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth both are Santa Fe Democrats, Anglo lawyers from the city’s east side. When Wirth was elected to the Senate in 2008, Egolf was elected to represent Wirth’s old district in the House of Representatives. Both have strong liberal voting records and both have chaired the committees that deal with the environment and energy in their respective chambers. Conservation Voters New Mexico, which for years has maintained scorecards for lawmakers, gives Egolf a 98 percent lifetime rating.