December 20, 2016

Minimum wage increase, harsher criminal penalties among pre-filed legislation

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

State lawmakers have been able to prefile legislation for the upcoming legislative session since last Thursday. Already, they have introduced some high profile bills such as increasing the minimum wage, automatic voter registration and increasing penalties for certain crimes.

Two efforts to amend the state constitution to tap the land grant permanent fund to provide money for early childhood education as bills will likely also make headlines when the session starts in mid-January.

As in the past two legislative sessions, proposals to increase the penalties for crimes largely come from members of the House. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque will again try to expand the state’s three strikes law. Rehm’s version of the legislation in 2016 became part of another bill that passed the House but failed to pass the Senate.

Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, is introducing legislation to increase the penalty for homicide by vehicle to a 2nd degree felony from a 3rd degree felony. That would increase jail time for those convicted.

Meanwhile, Democrats, who took over the chamber after November’s elections, will focus on  priorities like increasing the minimum wage.

In the House proposal, by Rep. Patricia Roybal-Caballero, D-Albuquerque, the minimum wage would be increased to $15 per hour by 2018, with a cost of living adjustment each year. It would also eliminate the separate minimum wage for tipped employees.

The Senate proposal—by Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces—would increase the minimum wage to $8.45 per hour as of Jan. 1, 2017, with cost of living adjustments each year. The minimum wage for companies with ten or fewer employees would be $7.50 per hour. It would also allow for a $7.50 minimum wage for trainee employees.

The perennial issue of tapping into the state’s land grant permanent fund to increase funding for early childhood education also will be discussed.

Since the land grant permanent fund is part of the state constitution, any effort to amend it would need to be done through amending the constitution. Past  attempts typically failed in the Senate Finance Committee. In 2016, it did pass the committee and then the full Senate but failed to pass the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Since it is a constitutional amendment, the legislation would not go to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk. Instead, if it passes both chambers, it would be put on the ballot for voters to  decide whether or not to use the fund.