Several lawmakers groused about losing projects in their districts, but the House approved a bill Monday slashing 119 stalled infrastructure projects at a cost of $12.5 million. This piece originally appeared on New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Senate Bill 8 moves on to Gov. Susana Martinez for her signature. The legislation essentially moves nearly $90 million in unspent state dollars to New Mexico’s general fund as lawmakers try to backfill a deficit of nearly $600 million. SB8 also cuts earmarks for water, tribal and colonias by 1 percent. But the 119 projects, virtually all of them earmarked by individual lawmakers, drew the most debate as the bill moved through the House and Senate.
A bill aimed at bringing back the death penalty in New Mexico passed the House Appropriations and Finance committee along party lines after five hours of scrutiny from skeptical Democratic lawmakers. Missing on Monday evening, when compared to a previous committee hearing on the subject,was the emotional and tearful testimony from families of victims of criminals. The House Appropriations and Committee’s contentious tone started from the very beginning when Chairman Larry Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, encouraged panel members to only speak about the fiscal aspects of the bill. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, called the request “inappropriate.”
“I’m going to call this for what it is,” Steinborn said. “A farce.”
The committee amended the bill to change controversial language, including removing the word “retarded” from the bill.
Showing possible signs of movement from the Senate Monday, the chamber’s majority and minority leadership have been spotted around their respective offices in the Roundhouse even though the chamber voted to adjourn early Saturday morning. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told NM Political Report Monday that he, President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, are among the senators who returned to the state capitol building as the House hears, and amends, budget bills originally sent from the Senate. Sanchez wouldn’t go into detail about what they were doing or if they are going to hear any House bills, but confirmed there is some sort of conversations happening. “We’re visiting, trying to figure some things out,” Sanchez said. Sanchez didn’t say if they were speaking to the House.
A new proposal from House Republican leaders to fix the state budget deficit would cut the same amount of money—$89.6 million—as the Senate Democratic leaders’ plan. But House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, and state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, emphasized different priorities in the House Republicans’ plan, which they presented to reporters Monday morning in a press conference. Namely, Republicans said their plan swaps cuts proposed in the Senate bill to K-12 education, the state Children, Youth and Families Department, the Department of Public Safety and services for sexual assault victims in the state Department of Health budget for deeper cuts in higher education. House Republicans also emphasized that their proposal raises no taxes. “The last part is very important because New Mexicans cannot afford to pay more taxes,” Tripp told reporters while announcing the proposal.
While you were at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque or enjoying a nice weekend throughout the state, legislators were in Santa Fe, at the Roundhouse for a special session. Gov. Susana Martinez called the special session to deal with the gaping budget deficit that stretched over two budget years. But she also called for the special session to expand penalties on certain crimes. The weekend was very eventful. The Senate passed eight bills related to the budget in twelve hours, then adjourned, putting the ball in the House’s court.
A House committee held off on any changes to a bill providing big cuts across most state agencies to give lawmakers and the public more time to review the deal. This came even as the panel, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, approved a bill to shift capital outlay funds for infrastructure projects and another to sweep unused reserves to the general fund to shore up the state’s large budget deficit. While the amendment to deepen some cuts, and halt others, did not go forward it will likely be the structure for a version to be heard on the House floor, as early as Monday. The proposal on the bill to cut spending would have deepened cuts for many state agencies. The committee amended the Senate bill that provided spending cuts to cut most state agencies by 5.5 percent instead of the 5 percent in the original Senate version.
The House voted overwhelmingly to expand the state’s three strikes law to include more crimes to count towards the penalty that would result in life in prison after nearly three hours of debate. Three criminal convictions on certain crime would result in a life sentence if this bill becomes law. The bill, which passed the House 49-14, would need to pass the Senate in identical form to make it to the governor’s desk. The Senate did not pass a similar bill during the regular session. The House amended the bill to remove some crimes that were included in the bill as originally introduced.
By the second day of the special session, the Senate has gone home, the House is setting themselves up to start looking at budget fixes and everyone is pointing fingers and placing blame. It seems both Democrats and Republicans are using similar arguments to discredit the other side. House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, told reporters that he was disappointed to find out that the Senate adjourned before hearing any of the House Republican’s crime bills. “It shows an incredible disservice to the people of the state of New Mexico, as well as just a lack of basic dignity that the Senate would close up shop and go home,” Gentry said. Both Senate and House Democrats have continually criticized Gov. Susana MArtinez and Republican lawmakers for pushing criminal penalty increases and reinstating the death penalty during the special session, which is often used to fix state money problems.
Earlier in the day, the House debated a bill that would expand the law commonly known as Baby Brianna’s Law.
The Senate, saying their business was done for the legislative session, passed a number of bills to fix the budget deficit this year and the recently-completed fiscal year that ended on June 30, adjourned sine die. This means the Senators can go home. The state constitution provides that the House would need to stay in session for three days—not including Sundays—to force Senators to come back. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee passed a feed bill that would fund the Legislature during the special session for three days; the Senate passed their own version.
As for the actual budget, the Senate passed eleven bills, including the bill to fund the special session.
The Senate Finance Committee went to work Friday to bridge the gap on the large budget deficits in both the current fiscal year and the recently completed fiscal year. The proposals to close the deficits came from expanding medical marijuana, taxing some internet sales and accelerating the phasing out of the hold-harmless provision for local governments. “If it looks like chaos, that’s what it is,” Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, joked at the start of the productive meeting. Another meeting for the bills was scheduled for later Friday evening, with Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez saying the full Senate would hear the bills later that night. The committee passed seven bills in all, sending all seven to the Senate floor.