In a press conference following the Senate adjourning sine die, the Senate Majority Leader said he believed that the chamber had a productive session, at least when it came to passing Senate legislation. He repeatedly said that he wasn’t sure what happened when bills went over to the House once the Senate passed the legislation, which he said the Senate did effectively. One highlight that Sanchez mentioned was the economic bills that passed the Senate. “I think the Senate Democrats had a good economic plan, a ready to work plan,” Sanchez told reporters in his office. He said they passed most of the plan, though the controversial increase in the gas tax did not pass.
Proposals for statewide capital outlay were left languishing Saturday as a bitterly divided battle over funding methods consumed the state House of Representatives’ last day of the 2015 session. A narrow 36 to 32 vote minutes before the House adjourned sine die meant approval of late-hour committee changes to a capital outlay plan favored by the Senate, but that chamber ran out of time to concur with the House adjustments. The Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee made the controversial amendments Friday, adjusting road improvement funding mechanisms to honor preferences of the governor’s office. The committee changes would fund road improvements through $45 million in severance tax bonds rather than drawing down reserves from the state’s general fund. Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, described the measure as state government “borrowing short to build long-term assets,” adding it constituted “a sound practice from a business perspective.” Democrats vehemently objected to the changes, which they said would result in the denial of tens of millions of dollars from high- and critical-priority projects identified over the last year by local governments.
A bill that would allow research into the growth of industrial hemp passed the House and is now headed to the governor’s desk. The House passed the bill on wide bipartisan vote, 54-12. There was very little debate on the bill that would allow New Mexico State University and the state Department of Agriculture to grow hemp for research purposes. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, carried the bill on the floor. He had carried a similar bill on the House side.
Two Senate Democrats spoke out against a decision by a House committee to remove $80 million from a capital outlay bill on Friday. Sens. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, told reporters that financial cuts made in the House Ways and Means Committee were fiscally irresponsible. Smith criticized the committees approval of cuts from senior centers and colleges across the state to instead fund roads. Smith said this process of funding roads is already a source of state debt.
“We need to produce a budget for the state of New Mexico. That’s one of our main jobs,” Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said shortly before the House voted to send the state budget to the governor’s desk. The House concurred with the changes made to House Bills 2 and 4, which make up the state budget, unanimously. The budget passed 67-0. There was very little debate, only Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, noting that a lot of the changes added by the Senate were part of the failed Democratic floor amendment.
The state Senate voted to institute a two-tier driver’s license system in the state that they hope would stop the sometimes heated debate on allowing those in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. The legislation passed easily after a relatively small amount of debate for an issue that has had such a large amount of attention from both the media and the public in the past five years. The legislation passed 35-5 with five Republican Senators voting against. The bill now heads to the state House with about 24 hours left in the session, raising questions on if the bill has enough time to pass and if the House Republican caucus will support something that still allows those in the country illegally to drive legally in the state. Update: The bill was assigned to the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee; with less than 24 hours left in the session, this is likely a death knell for the legislation.
A bill that would create a two-tiered driver’s license system was approved by a Senate committee on Thursday. The bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by an 8 to 1 vote. Senate Bill 653, often referred to as a compromise bill, was presented by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. Smith told the committee that the proposed legislation would create a license that meets the federal Real ID Act and another that would serve solely as a statewide license. Supporters of the bill have said it would be less discriminatory than other proposals.
A House bill to hold students back if they are not proficient in reading by the third-grade stalled in a Senate committee on Wednesday night. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 4 to 1 to table HB 41, sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. Youngblood told the committee in her opening statement that “Retention is a last and final safety net.”
Terri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce,spoke in favor of the measure and echoed Youngblood’s statement that student retention is a last resort. Only four others voiced opposition to the legislation. Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who has sponsored similar retention bills since 2013 told Youngblood she could relate to the tough questioning Youngblood received.
The House passed a bill on Tuesday that would change the state law on civil forfeiture and another that would only allow questions with the force of law to appear on election ballots. Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, said he sponsored the legislation related to civil forfeiture reform “so that people’s due process rights are given to them.” The bill would only allow police to seize property related to a crime for which the person was convicted. It comes as wider attention is paid to the issue of civil forfeiture nationally. Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, commented on how Las Cruces received national attention after a the New York Times posted video of the Las Cruces city attorney speaking about civil forfeiture.
A bill that would keep New Mexico on Mountain Daylight Savings Time from here on out passed the Senate by a 28 to 10 vote. The bill’s sponsor Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, told the Senate SB 377 would keep New Mexico “an hour ahead of Arizona, permanently.”
“No one likes changing clocks twice a year, so let’s stop doing it,” Pirtle said in a prepared statement. SB 377 now moves to the House, where it will receive committee assignments. With the clock ticking on the legislative session, it will be difficult to get the bill to the House floor before Saturday at noon. According to a statement from the Senate Republican press office, Gov. Susana Martinez would still need permission from the federal government to make the time change official.