ByDaniel J. Chacón and Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican |
To hear House Speaker Brian Egolf tell it, public participation in this year’s largely virtual legislative session has been robust even if the doors of the state Capitol have been closed to everyday New Mexicans. In the second and third weeks of the 60-day session, more than 6,100 residents from 32 of the state’s 33 counties have voiced their opinions during committee hearings in the House of Representatives — up from the 2,400 who tuned in the first week. Egolf’s office touted the numbers Tuesday in a news release, declaring virtual participation “continues at a record-setting pace” in the House. But how many New Mexicans have been shut out? “It’s hard to quantify,” Egolf said.
Inside the New Mexico State Land Office, current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sits at a dark wood desk ringed with a painting of the Rio Grande Gorge, a saddle, and a pair of leather chaps pinned on the wall, homages to a lifetime spent on cattle ranches. But it’s the decor outside that tends to draw more attention: Dunn installed a model pump jack in front of the State Land Office building on Old Santa Fe Trail. Its bobbing head —powered by a solar panel — is a familiar sight in oil country. From that desk, he manages the state’s land trust: 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate. It’s his job to maximize revenue from those acres through leases for businesses, grazing and rights-of-way, royalties from mining potash, coal, salt and caliche, and above all, fossil fuels, which accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office.
Some vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez are raising eyebrows among legislators and others—and at least one partial veto may be challenged in court. Wednesday was the final day for Martinez to decide whether or not to sign bills from this year’s legislative session. She signed 80 bills into law, but vetoed 31 others. Some she rejected using her veto pen, while with others she just allowed time to run out in what is called a “pocket veto.”
One portion of a bill that may see a new life was part of the crime omnibus bill the Legislature passed in response to the spike in crime, particularly in Albuquerque. The bill combined a number of ideas aimed at reducing crimes.
A bill aimed at easing economic woes of New Mexico communities hit by the closing of large power plants might make it harder to shut down coal-burning operations, some environmentalists said Friday. House Bill 325, introduced this week by House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, would require the state Public Regulation Commission to consider the economic effects on communities when deciding cases involving the shuttering of large power sources such as the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. The bill — which is scheduled to be heard Saturday by the House Judiciary Committee — also would require a utility to build any replacement power source in the same community as the facility it plans to close. “My bill is about trying to help my community,” Montoya said Friday. He said that about 45 percent of local tax revenue used by the school district in Kirtland comes from the power plant, while another 8 percent comes from the nearby San Juan coal mine.
The Senate Education Committee has unanimously tabled a bill that would have established a new endowment for early childhood programs in the state using revenues from federal mineral rights leases on public lands — assuming Congress approved a proposal by State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to share the funding. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, asked the committee to table the measure Wednesday, saying, “It is clear to me now … that the bill suffers from problems in its construction.” In conversations with legislators, educators, Dunn and others, she said, she discovered “this entire approach has little support from the public.” Opponents of Senate Bill 182, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said one of its faults is that it assumes the federal government would agree to share proceeds with the state from leasing 6.6 million acres of mineral rights on private land.