Bill to end life sentences without parole for youth pulled amid pushback

The so-called Second Chance bill will have no chance during this year’s legislative session. Sponsors of Senate Bill 43, which would’ve banned life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, have pulled the proposed piece of legislation from consideration. “In the final week of the session, it has been frustrating to watch a chorus of voices drowned out by a handful of District Attorneys and other parties who have misrepresented this issue to victims of tragedy across our state,” the sponsors wrote in a joint statement. “We negotiated in good faith but the goalposts kept moving, and we cannot accept changes that undermine the intent of the bill.” The sponsors plan to bring the bring the bill back next year.

Controversial ‘hydrogen hub’ bill is dead

One of the most contentious bills in this year’s legislative session is dead. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Monday announced he was moving House Bill 228 — aimed to help New Mexico become a hub of clean hydrogen energy — to the “Speaker’s Table,” where it will remain on hold until the session ends. Camile Ward, spokeswoman for House Democrats, wrote in an email “the bill will not be considered further this session.” The bill’s chances of making it through the session at this point were slim, as the session concludes at noon Thursday. Even if the House had approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate, it had to pass through at least one committee hearing before getting a vote in the full chamber. 

Egolf permanently tabled a previous incarnation of the legislation, House Bill 227, last week.

Albuquerque Democratic lawmaker booked into jail on charge of aggravated DWI

State Rep. Georgene Louis, a prominent Democrat from Albuquerque, is the latest lawmaker to face drunken-driving allegations in recent years. She was booked into the Santa Fe County jail early Monday morning on suspicion of aggravated DWI and other charges. Louis, who has been a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives since 2013, chairs the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, which canceled its meeting at 8:30 a.m.

She issued a remorseful statement late Monday through her attorney, Kitren Fischer. “I am sorry and I deeply regret my lapse in judgment,” Louis’ statement said. “I know I let so many people down.

Key legislative committee endorses revised $8.4 billion spending plan

The Senate Finance Committee put its stamp of approval Sunday on an amended $8.4 billion spending plan for the state of New Mexico that includes additional funding for criminal justice initiatives, road projects and a school of public health. The overall budget proposal, which the committee advanced to the full Senate in a unanimous vote, increases spending by nearly 14 percent, or roughly $1 billion, over the current fiscal year ending in June. The proposed level of spending represents an all-time high for the state. 

“Everybody in New Mexico seems to have gotten something,” Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who chairs the committee, said Saturday after a series of amendments were presented to the committee. “We put a lot of money in economic development, and it had better be fruitful as we move forward or New Mexico is going to be looking at cuts again,” he said. “We ride the rollercoaster of oil and gas, and as long you want to continue that, we better plan carefully.”

Proposal to increase pay of governor and other elected officials clears legislative committee

A proposal to give the governor and other statewide elected officials hefty raises while state employees are poised to receive average 7 percent pay increases under New Mexico’s proposed budget touched off a spirited debate Sunday at the Capitol. The Senate Finance Committee advanced Senate Bill 202 on a 7-4 party-line vote with Republicans expressing concerns about the optics and the need to boost the pay of elective offices that typically have no shortage of candidates. Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said she’d be open to supporting the proposed pay increases if “contingencies” were part of the deal. “So, we’re trying to bring the governor’s salary from 44th up to 19th” in national rankings, she said. “Can we make that contingent upon her bringing New Mexico’s CYFD (Children, Youth and Families Department) child welfare from 50th to 19th?

Republicans block debate on Voting Rights Act

Senate Republicans pulled a legislative maneuver Saturday to successfully block debate on a governor-backed bill advocates say will expand voting rights in New Mexico but opponents contend Democrats are using for political gain. The procedure, a stall tactic known as a “call of the Senate,” requires every member of the chamber to be physically present in the Capitol for a bill to be considered. Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, unleashed the maneuver on Senate Bill 8, known as the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, at the start of the floor session before the bill was even brought up for debate. “Sergeant at arms, round up the members and lock the doors,” Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who was presiding over the floor session, said after Brandt made the motion for a call of the Senate. Around 3:30 p.m., Stewart said Sens.

Lujan Grisham gets a victory for tough-on-crime agenda

In many ways, it felt like high noon on the House floor for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lawmakers on Friday debated one of the governor’s favored pieces of legislation — a crime reform bill that would do away with the six-year statute of limitations on second-degree murder charges. Moving the bill forward from the House of Representatives to the Senate with less than a week left to this year’s 30-day legislative session would provide a breakthrough — or at least movement — in what had been a succession of stalled measures. Fortunately for the governor, the drama was dispensed with quickly: It took the House less than 20 minutes to discuss and vote to approve House Bill 79, which now heads to the Senate for consideration. For Lujan Grisham, who has been pushing for tougher penalties for violent offenders and tighter pretrial release standards to keep those defendants behind bars, Friday’s action was a small victory.

Controversial hydrogen hub bill heads to House floor

A controversial bill that would help make New Mexico a center of hydrogen production as an energy source is on its way to the House floor for consideration. Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to approve House Bill 228, which would create a framework for a hydrogen industry and allow businesses and organizations to apply for public and private money to develop hydrogen production projects. “We’re trying to take advantage of a new industry, try to grow economics-based jobs,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who co-sponsored the bill. “We’ve got a perfect location.” She cited the recently abandoned Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, which would likely become the first hydrogen facility in the state if the bill becomes law.

Senate committee backs tax cuts supported by governor

In a bipartisan vote, a Senate committee late Thursday endorsed an omnibus tax bill that would free most seniors from New Mexico’s income tax on Social Security benefits and would reduce the gross receipts tax rate by a quarter percent. While the bill still faces other hurdles in the final days of the legislative session, the 9-1 vote by the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee marked a big win for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose legislative priorities include exempting Social Security benefits from the state’s personal income tax and cutting the gross receipts tax rate. “The governor is committed to putting more money back in New Mexicans’ pockets, and we’re glad to see her priorities moving forward,” Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, wrote in an email after the vote. The bill also would extend the sunset on the state’s new solar market development income tax credit by eight years and increase the cap to $12 million from $8 million. “This is a significant package of tax changes and incentives, and combined, they will help the economy, help the environment and help reduce the tax burden on our residents and businesses,” said Jon Clark, deputy secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

Senate approves bill easing access to rainy day funds

A bill that would make it easier for the Legislature to tap into rainy day funds cleared the Senate on Thursday over the objections of Republicans who accused Democrats of being fiscally irresponsible. Senate Bill 135, which passed 24-15 after an hourlong debate, changes transfers between the more restrictive Tax Stabilization Reserve and the less restrictive operating reserve. Under current law, when operating reserves exceed 8 percent of the prior year’s appropriations, the excess is transferred to the Tax Stabilization Reserve, said Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, who sponsored the measure. The bill would “keep that provision in place but it provides for the transfer to occur only if the balance of the Tax Stabilization Reserve is less than 20 percent of appropriations,” she said. “When the balance … exceeds 20 percent, no transfer will occur and the funds will stay in the less restrictive operating reserve.”

Correa Hemphill said the existing relationship between the two rainy day funds limits the Legislature’s ability to have the “flexibility” to deal with important needs when they arise.