Solar tax credit flies through Senate committee

A day after the House version of the legislation narrowly passed a committee, an identical bill to extend the state’s solar tax credit had a much more comfortable reception in the Senate. The Senate Conservation Committee passed the bill on an 8-1 vote. The opposition to the legislation did not stem from the merits of the bill itself, but rather concerns about using tax credits at all. The legislation is the same as what passed last year, and Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, described it as a compromise with the House Ways and Means Committee. The compromise is from a “step-down” which would lower the tax credit as years go on, from the current ten percent down to 5 percent after eight years.

Weak deal? Dianna Duran and her pension

One of the biggest criticisms following the aftermath of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s plea deal and resignation was that it looks like she will keep her government pension. This week, Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Milan Simonich lamented that Duran “gets a pension for violating the voters’ trust” while the newspaper’s editorial board urged Santa Fe District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington to reject the plea deal for being “too soft.”

State law allows judges to fine public officials convicted of felonies “the value of the salary and fringe benefits paid to the offender … after the commission of the first act that was a basis for the felony conviction.”

No state official has had their pension removed using the law. The anti-corruption statute, which passed during the 2012 Legislative session and became law that year, was carried by state Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque. Payne didn’t return phone calls from NM Political Report for this story, but we did reach state Rep. W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who carried the corruption bill in the New Mexico House of Representatives that year. While similar anti-corruption bills that specified taking away the offender’s government pension failed to pass the Legislature multiple times, Martinez said that he and Payne intended “fringe benefits” to include pensions in their successful bill.

Senate passes driver’s license compromise (updated)

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.

Attempt to bypass committees on right-to-work fails

An effort to bypass the committee process for right-to-work legislation failed on a party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle asked to move the right-to-work legislation to a committee of the whole instead of going through the traditional committee process and the three committees to which it was assigned. The bill was ultimately assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans have complained that the right-to-work legislation has yet to be heard since passing the state House on a near-party-line vote. The chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that it would be heard on Sunday and invited all the Senators to attend.