Bill to overhaul hunting, wildlife management hits roadblock in committee

Legislation to reform hunting regulations and wildlife management in New Mexico stalled in the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday. Senate Bill 312 appears doomed for this session after members tied 4-4 on a vote to reconsider debate and vote on the legislation in the absence of Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who serves on the committee. 

A vote earlier in the week also resulted in a tie. “Right now it just seems like there is a stalemate in the committee,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, a Cerrillos Democrat who chairs the committee. Currently, 84 percent of hunting tags go to residents, 10 percent are set aside for outfitters and 6 percent go to nonresidents. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, both Las Cruces Democrats, 90 percent would be reserved for residents and the rest for out-of-state hunters with none for outfitters.

New Mexico House speaker draws bipartisan ire over redistricting stance

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf is facing sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike over his opposition to having an independent commission oversee the state’s redistricting process. In particular, members of both parties were thrown by comments the Santa Fe Democrat made during a Zoom conference last week with Retake Our Democracy, an organization focused on social justice. Part of the discussion centered on bipartisan proposals in the Legislature to create a commission to take on the often controversial task of redrawing electoral district boundaries based on new census data. Egolf told panelists the plans could weaken Democrats’ advantage in the Legislature, “and the [Democratic] agenda goes out the window.” He said he did not understand why “Democrats want to unilaterally disarm and give advantage to the people who are trying to make the world a dirtier place, take rights away from people, make it harder to vote — all the things that we oppose.

House Speaker Egolf files motion to dismiss ethics complaint

Attorneys for House Speaker Brian Egolf submitted a motion Friday to dismiss an ethics complaint filed by a retired judge who claimed the Santa Fe Democrat stands to benefit if the New Mexico Civil Rights Act becomes law. Egolf’s 24-page motion argues the complaint — filed earlier this month with the state Ethics Commission by former Judge Sandra Price, who served 12 years on the bench in the 11th Judicial District — should be dismissed because it is frivolous and unsubstantiated, and also doesn’t state a “claim upon which relief can be granted.” In a brief statement, Egolf said he looks forward to the Ethics Commission’s decision. House Bill 4 would create the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. It has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate committee process.

House sends business relief bill to governor

A bill extending financial relief opportunities to those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic is on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature. The House of Representatives on Thursday voted 51-17 to approve Senate Bill 3, which offers long-term, low-interest loans up to $150,000 to eligible New Mexico businesses and nonprofits. The loans can be used for capital expenses, including making alterations to property to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, such as building an outdoor dining area at a restaurant. The money will go to businesses whose net revenue was $5 million a year or less based on 2019 figures. The first year of the loan is interest free.

House passes $7.39 billion budget in bipartisan vote

The state House of Representatives approved what one lawmaker called a logical $7.39 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year in a bipartisan 60-10 vote Wednesday. “This is a very important piece of work that the New Mexico Legislature is involved with,” Rep. Patty Lundstrom, who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said after a nearly two and a half-hour discussion and debate on the proposed budget. “Certainly, under our New Mexico Constitution, it’s our No. 1 responsibility.” The proposed budget, which will be considered next by the Senate Finance Committee, represents a 4.6 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year — a huge turnaround after initial revenue estimates had cast a dark cloud over state government last year amid the financial uncertainty stemming from the novel coronavirus pandemic. The spending plan calls for a 5.5 percent increase in public education, or a total appropriation of $3.39 billion.

Fence around the Roundhouse will stay — for now

The fence around the state Capitol is staying put — for now. But some Republicans are not happy with the decision, announced Wednesday by Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga. Burciaga, who is in charge of operations at the building, said he met Tuesday night with state police officials, plus Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, to discuss whether the fence remains necessary. 

“I recommended that the security fence remain in place through at least the end of session while options are being considered to ensure the safety and security of the Capitol occupants,” Burciaga said by phone. 

He said state police officials agreed with him. As a result, the fence “will stay up probably until the end of the session [March 20] but at least until we feel the building is safe.” House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, one of the Republican lawmakers calling for the removal of the fence, said he is “disappointed we have to keep the fence up.

Police reform bill clears Senate panel after changes

Some three weeks after its introduction, a bill encompassing sweeping police reforms cleared its first committee hearing — but only after the sponsor made considerable changes. 

Members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 Wednesday to move Senate Bill 227 to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Among other measures, the bill would restrict police officers’ use of physical force and require them to intercede and report when they witness excessive use of force by a colleague. 

Law enforcement agencies also would have to submit a report to the state within 30 days of an incident and post the report on their website for public access. But after consulting with officials of the New Mexico branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, removed certain provisions — including prohibiting the use of tear gas, rubber bullets or dogs in certain instances. 

Gone, too, is a provision requiring law enforcement officers to wait 45 seconds after knocking before entering a residence with a search warrant. But the use of chokeholds is still prohibited in the new substitute bill presented to committee members Wednesday. 

When she first announced the legislation in early February, Lopez cited the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May, as an example of the tragic consequences of allowing police officers to cross the line. On Wednesday, she said that is an issue “not just across the nation, but here in New Mexico.” However, several people who voiced opposition to the bill during Wednesday’s hearing said it does not take into account what police officers go through when dealing with threatening or dangerous situations.

Bill to revamp New Mexico wildlife management stalls in committee

Legislation that supporters say would modernize wildlife management in New Mexico but opponents counter would hurt outfitters who operate on public lands has stalled on a tie vote in a Senate committee. “My district is parts of six counties — it is all rural — and I, in this case, I’m going to have to support my constituents,” Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, told other members of the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday before joining with three Republicans to table the 241-page bill. Senate Bill 312 is now stuck in the committee with just over three weeks left in the session. Some lawmakers struggled over whether or not to support the measure, which included changes they supported wholeheartedly but others that gave them pause. “I hate bills like this,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.

Republican legislators want fences around Roundhouse taken down

In politics, good fences make unhappy neighbors. Republicans in the Legislature, contending “the threat has not materialized” against the Roundhouse in the seven weeks since protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol, asked the Legislative Council on Tuesday to remove the layers of protective barriers around the facility. The council, an interim committee made up of legislators from both parties in the House of Representatives and Senate, voted early this year to direct the Legislative Council Service to pursue safety precautions before the session began. Chain-link fencing as well as some concrete barriers were installed to deter potential threats. Republican lawmakers have argued such precautions are unnecessary and deter public participation and peaceful protests. 

In a letter addressed Tuesday to Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque and president pro tem of the Senate, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, six Republican leaders in the House and Senate wrote the fencing “creates the perception that our government leaders are afraid of the state’s citizens and there is a division between those who govern and the general public.”

State budget headed House floor after unanimous passage in House Appropriations and Finance Committee

New Mexicans should expect smoother roads and state government employees can look forward to a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the upcoming fiscal year under a $7.39 billion spending plan the House Appropriations and Finance Committee unanimously approved Monday. The proposed budget, which represents a 4.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year, includes $300 million for state and local roads. The proposal also calls for $64 million in spending for a cost-of-living adjustment for all state government, public school and higher education employees. “This is the cleanest bill I’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the committee. “There’s no love handles on this bill.”