Screenshot of Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque, address the state Senate on SB 73 which would allow New Mexico to have open primaries.

Bill to let unaffiliated voters participate in primaries clears Senate

A bill that would take a major step to open primary elections in New Mexico passed the Senate Monday afternoon on a 27-10 vote. SB 73, if approved, opens New Mexico’s election primaries to allow voters who are not affiliated with a major party to vote in the primary of their choice. Many of the senators who debated asked why to not go further and have fully open primaries since New Mexico taxpayer dollars pay for elections. Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, agreed with several of his Republican fellow senators that unaffiliated voters pay for the election as do party-affiliated voters which may be considered to disenfranchise those voters during the primary. “Obviously, when you allow more people to vote, it’s simply more democratic.

A screenshot of the House Floor Session webcast Feb. 15, 2023 when Rep. Matthew McQueen presented HB 103 which updates the Campaign Reporting Act.

Campaign Reporting Act update passes House

The New Mexico House of Representatives approved a bill that updates the Campaign Reporting Act to make it more transparent. HB 103 was approved on a 48-21 vote and updates the campaign contribution and expenditure reports and adds an additional session supplemental report. “(HB 103) would provide the public with better and more timely information about campaign finance by making our reporting calendar more closely reflect our political calendar,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, said. “This bill passed the House unanimously two years ago and was not acted on by the Senate and it’s come back today… This is reporting to the public, how we financed our campaigns in a manner that’s meaningful and timely to the public.”

The supplemental report referenced in the bill is for large donations accepted between the fourth general campaign finance report and Election Day itself. “You have to file a supplemental report if you get a large donation, so it’s currently more than $1,000 for members of the legislature or people running for legislature in more than $3,000 for statewide office and $1,000 or more for any office,” McQueen said.

Proposal to increase royalty rates for oil and gas production on state lands advances

A bill that would increase royalty rates on future oil and gas leases on state lands in New Mexico passed the Senate Conservation Committee on a 6-2 party-line vote. SB 164, sponsored by Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, proposes charging a maximum net royalty rate of 25 percent on oil and gas extraction. The current maximum rate is 20 percent. 

The proposed future rates would also apply to gas that is vented or flared. Tallman said the bill would further discourage venting and flaring while increasing revenues for the state. While the 25 percent rate would apply to vented and flared gas, it would not apply to gas that is vented or flared out of necessity, such as to address safety concerns.

Bill to eliminate statute of limitations in civil cases for child sexual abuse clears first committee

A bill that will, if enacted, eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in child sexual abuse incidences passed a Senate committee unanimously. SB 126, Child Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations, is sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque. She said the current law gives the victim until their 24th birthday or three years after they disclose during treatment to file a civil case against the perpetrator. “This allows folks to get to the courthouse door. We know from extensive studies, trauma can last a long time.

Bill to increase teacher pay in New Mexico clears first hurdle

As a first-year teacher in New Mexico earning $32,000 annually before taxes and deductions, Whitney Holland lived in a tiny apartment with a roommate and worked a second job as a nanny on weekends to make ends meet. “It was really, really hard,” said Holland, now president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico. “As I look back on that, I know … I wasn’t the best teacher I could have been just because I was trying so hard to kind of keep my head above water,” she added. Holland said a bill the Senate Education Committee unanimously endorsed Wednesday would be “life changing” for teachers in New Mexico.

Effort to eliminate Social Security tax gains momentum

The push to eliminate New Mexico’s income tax on Social Security benefits is gaining traction at the Roundhouse. Two senators, Democrat Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Republican David Gallegos of Eunice, introduced separate bills Thursday that would eliminate the tax on Social Security income. Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, previously introduced a bill to repeal the tax, but it would still affect higher earners and increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to make up the loss in state revenue. Padilla said his proposal, Senate Bill 108, has been endorsed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called on lawmakers Tuesday during her State of the State address to end the tax and whose office issued a news release late Thursday reiterating the request. “We have never had a better opportunity to eliminate income taxes on Social Security like we do right now,” Padilla said.

New Mexico Senate passes bill to reduce cap on small-loan interest rates

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.

New Mexico Senate committee advances gas tax hike

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.

Bill to help trafficked minors clears Senate Judiciary Committee

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.

Senate panel pares back proposed tax increases

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.