ByJens Gould and Michael Gerstein, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Over the objections of Republicans who wanted to cut more, House Democrats pushed through a scaled back state budget to shore up a $2 billion budget shortfall caused by the pandemic and oil price crash that devastated state coffers. The House approved the roughly $7 billion budget in a 46-24 vote along party lines, with Republicans opposing the budget plan. In extended budget talks over the past several days, lawmakers continuously described the spending reductions as difficult decisions in the face of massive hits to state revenue. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has referred to the cuts as “austerity” for the state, but supported them at slightly different levels. The bill now only needs to be approved by the full Senate to get to the governor’s desk, as the Senate Finance Committee approved the House’s version Friday.
The Legislature has sent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would outlaw coyote killing contests in New Mexico. A 37-30 vote late Tuesday by the House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 76 came after the Senate approved the measure last week on a vote of 22-17. As to whether the governor plans to sign it into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki on Wednesday said only that, “At this point, we’re reviewing the legislation.” The House vote came after a two-hour plus debate that was often punctuated with imagery of bloodshed, ambushes and shootings and which highlighted the divide between rural and urban communities when it comes to dealing with coyotes. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Bill 76, saying they see such contests as inhumane.
The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.
Some House and Senate Republicans say that if the New Mexico Supreme Court overturns line-item vetoes by the governor the court would disenfranchise members of the minority caucuses in each chamber. Last month, the New Mexico Legislature filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez, accusing her of violating the state constitution when she vetoed the entirety of the budgets for the state Legislature and all higher education in New Mexico. In a court filing, attorneys for the Republican members of the Legislature say they wish to file the amicus brief because they disagree with the lawsuit filed after approval by the Legislative Council. That lawsuit says Martinez’s vetoes should be overturned. The Republicans—eight members of the Senate and 23 members of the House—say the legislative lawsuit seeks “to disenfranchise the minority caucus” and that the question raised by the lawsuit is a political issue, not a legal one.
The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed yet another bill that would legalize research on industrial hemp. The House voted 65-1 to pass House Bill 530, sponsored by Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, comes on the heels of Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing not one but two industrial hemp bills. She offered no explanation in either of her veto messages. Gentry told The New Mexican earlier this week that following the latest veto, he sat down with the governor’s staff — namely Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremiah Ritchie — to “work out some minor details that brought us more in compliance with federal law.”
In a late-night surprise Wednesday in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who has missed most of the legislative session because of a heart operation, showed up to help pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would take an extra one percent of interest earnings from New Mexico’s $20 billion land grant permanent fund to help pay for early childhood education. The House voted 37-32, mostly along party lines, to pass House Joint Resolution 1, a vote which had been delayed for more than a week, partly because of the Santa Fe legislator’s absence. Trujillo, a long-time advocate of the proposal, received a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber immediately before the House ended a three-hour debate. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing
The measure now goes to the Senate, where the road is expected to be much rougher. The proposal is certain to meet resistance from the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a longtime opponent of taking extra money out of the land grant fund.
The state House of Representatives approved a bill to preserve contraception coverage put in place as part of the federal Affordable Care Act and expand some access on a mostly party-line vote Monday evening. Three Republicans—state Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences—joined ranks with Democrats to approve the bill. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would expand access to contraceptives by requiring health insurance plans to allow women to obtain up to 12 months of their birth control prescription at one time. The bill would expand the types of contraceptives available over the counter and include condoms and vasectomies in health insurance plans.
No issue in the 2017 New Mexico Legislature has drawn citizens to the Roundhouse like the push to expand mandatory background checks on gun sales. People on both sides of the issue have shown up in droves to committee hearings in both the House and Senate to testify about two bills that would require more gun buyers to go through background checks. And lobbyists for out-of-state organizations on both sides of the issue have spent thousands of dollars to push their positions. In fact, according to lobbyist expense reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, the biggest expenditure since the session began in mid-January was $44,377 spent by Tara Reilly-Mica, the Texas-based lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Reilly-Mica’s report, filed Feb.
Democrats have made their decision on who will take over as Senate Majority Leader next year after Michael Sanchez lost his reelection bid. The Belen Democrat will be replaced by Peter Wirth, a Democrat from Santa Fe. The Senate Democrats announced the news in a press release Saturday, saying he was elected by acclamation by the caucus. “I am humbled to be elected Majority Leader by my colleagues. Democrats in the Senate are united,” Wirth said in a statement.
A bill that would change the rate of pay for some state funded public works projects passed the House on a 35-32 vote on Tuesday night after a three hour debate. The bill’s sponsor Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, said her bill would save the state money by allowing the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions to determine wages for publicly funded school and highway construction projects . House Democrats took most of the allotted debate time to speak out against the bill, citing lower wages if the bill becomes law. Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said the cost saving would come at the cost of lower wages for workers. “One thing is going to happen if this bill is passed,” McCamley said.