Legislation aimed to rein in what critics call predatory lending passed the state Senate after a tense two-hour debate Monday that sparked accusations of untruths and assertions the bill’s sponsors are oblivious to the tough realities confronted by people who live paycheck to paycheck. Opponents contended Senate Bill 66, which would cut the maximum interest rate on small loans to 36 percent from 175 percent, would do more harm than good for struggling New Mexicans by causing high-risk lenders to shut down. The measure passed on a 25-14 vote and will be considered next by the state House of Representatives. Expect plenty of dissension and disagreement if Tuesday’s Senate floor session is any indication of what lies ahead. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said about a third of the people who called him about the legislation were angry it would cap the interest at so high a rate.
The Senate Taxation, Business and Transportation Committee on Saturday endorsed a bill that would create new funding for New Mexico’s damaged highways and roads. Senate Bill 168 would increase the gasoline excise tax from 17 cents to 22 cents per gallon, and the extra contributions would raise over $63 million annually once fully phased in by 2025, mostly for the state road fund, according to a legislative analysis. The bill passed on a 7-4 vote with support from the committee’s Democrats and objection from four Republicans. “We don’t have a single legislator that doesn’t say there are needs in their area. We even go to the extreme of school buses that can’t cross bridges because of delays in maintenance,” state Sen. Bobby J. Gonzales, a Ranchos de Taos Democrat who is co-sponsoring the legislation, said during the committee meeting.
A bill that advocates say could aid children in getting away from human traffickers passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously on Wednesday. SB 66 would appropriate $250,000 from the general fund to the Crime Victims Reparation Commission. The commission would then make money available to social service agencies which advocates say are often on the front lines of trying to help youth who have been trafficked. According to the bill’s fiscal impact report, there are 5,000 kids who are homeless in Bernalillo County alone. A large number of that 5,000 are believed to be trafficked victims.
Lynn Sanchez, a victims’ advocate who spoke as the expert for the bill, told NM Political Report that the money can help stabilize the kids.
A Senate committee rolled back proposed tax increases in a sprawling bill that would change rates on internet sales, car purchases, e-cigarettes and more. House Bill 6 represented a push by top Democrats in the House of Representatives to shore up the state’s finances, which now rest largely on revenue from oil and gas. But it prompted plenty of skepticism for threatening to raise taxes for many New Mexicans at a time when the state enjoys a hefty budget surplus from an energy boom. The big question now is when the bill will get a hearing in its next and last committee as the Legislature hurtles toward a noon Saturday adjournment. If the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t act on the measure until Friday, House Democrats may be left with little time to negotiate and have to choose between either accepting the Senate’s changes or nothing.
ByAndrew Oxford and Milan Simonich, Santa Fe New Mexican |
New Mexico is not what is known as a “right-to-work” state, and the Legislature drove home that point Sunday night. The Senate voted 23-19 to approve House Bill 85, which permits employers and labor organizations in New Mexico to enter into agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment. Now the measure goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s well aware that 10 of the state’s 33 counties have adopted so-called right-to-work laws that say employees cannot be compelled to pay fees to a labor union that represents them on the job. The Senate struck back by approving the bill that strikes down these local measures. In some ways, the bill is as symbolic as the the city and county ordinances it seeks to void, merely reaffirming New Mexico’s labor laws.
Everybody around the state Capitol seems to have a favorite example. There’s the state House district in Northern New Mexico that is split in two by a mountain range and wilderness. You couldn’t drive across it if you tried. Then there’s the state Senate district that stretches some 180 miles from Santa Fe to Ruidoso. When it comes to political districts that have been precisely if nonsensically contorted, the New Mexico Legislature has got some real doozies.
A bill that would allow some car manufacturers to bypass local auto dealers and sell directly to consumers in New Mexico, passed its first committee Thursday afternoon. The Senate Public Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 243 along party lines, with only Democratic members voting to advance the proposal. The bill would allow companies like electric car manufacturer Tesla to open service centers and sales showrooms in the state. Current law mandates that vehicle manufacturers must sell through local, franchised dealers. The bill narrowly changes the state franchise law, and would only allow companies that do not have a franchise business model to sell in the state.
With Democrats back in full control of the New Mexico legislature, marijuana policy reform will likely continue gaining traction in 2017. Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, has sponsored his version of a legalization bill since 2015, only to see it die before a committee ever hears it. McCamley has vowed to continue introducing the legislation as to keep the discussion going, even with a governor who opposes marijuana legalization. “It’s not an academic exercise anymore,” McCamley said of legalization bills in the upcoming 2017 session. Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor, has long been a critic of marijuana legalization and said she would veto any measures to do so.
A Republican State Senator and criminal defense attorney withdrew from a criminal case last month, citing media attention. She says the attention was solicited by the state Attorney General’s office. In her motion to withdraw, Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, wrote that Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office “made false statements to the media” that interfered with her clients right to a fair trial. “The Office of the Attorney General has successfully made Ms. Torraco’s representation of the defendant a media centerpiece and it is impairing the defendant’s opportunity for a fair trial,” Torraco wrote. About a week after Torraco withdrew from the case, the AG’s office itself stepped aside and appointed special prosecutor Mark Drebing, former deputy for Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg (a Democrat).