Election season might seem like the perfect time for a government ethics watchdog to be on high alert. But in setting up a new statewide ethics commission, lawmakers are proposing to curtail its work during the height of election years — or even for the entirety of the campaign season. Some legislators contend the commission needs a sort of blackout period to avoid political adversaries from filing complaints solely for the purpose of derailing a candidate’s campaign. Advocates have been hesitant to give too much ground on the issue, though, for fear of defanging the proposed panel. Three out of four New Mexico voters in the last election backed a constitutional amendment creating a statewide ethics commission.
Three incumbent Democratic state House members lost in their primaries Tuesday according to unofficial numbers. In a Santa Fe area district, Carl Trujillo was perhaps the most embattled incumbent. A lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment last month, though Trujillo denied the allegations. He now faces an investigation by the state Legislature in accordance with the state’s new sexual harassment rules. Trujillo was beat out by former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romero.
Members of the state House announced a panel will investigate sexual harassment claims against State Rep. Carl Trujillo. Three of his colleagues have already called on him to resign. The investigative subcommittee, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans from the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, will work with outside counsel and staff to investigate the allegations by Laura Bonar against the Santa Fe Democrat. Last week, Bonar said that Trujillo sexually harassed her. Trujillo responded by saying the “charges are lies” and withstood calls for him to resign.
An advocate for an animal rights organization says a state representative should step down because he sexually harassed her. The advocate, Laura Bonar, is the Chief program and policy officer for Animal Protection Voters and Animal Protection of New Mexico according to the organization’s website. She said in a post on BravaNM, a platform for Democratic women, that while she lobbied for animal protection legislation at the New Mexico Legislature, Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, propositioned her and touched her inappropriately. She added, in the letter addressed to Trujillo “held your power as a state legislator over my head, making it clear that passion for my cause would get me nowhere unless I demonstrated ‘passion’ for you.”
Rep. Carl Trujillo responded Wednesday afternoon saying “these charges are lies” and he vowed to not resign and stay in the race for reelection. She said the events occurred during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, and when she objected he “stalled work on animal protection legislation.”
Her attorney, Levi Minagle, told NM Political Report that “the letter speaks for itself” and Bonar will not be speaking further at this time.
The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.
Both the House and Senate recessed Thursday afternoon—without officially ending the special session. Now, the governor has three days to take action on four bills aimed at tax changes and reinstating funding to the Legislative branch and institutes of higher education. By recessing until Tuesday instead of adjourning, the House and Senate could still introduce new legislation to replace anything Gov. Susana Martinez might veto. Martinez, in an atypical statement, praised the Legislature for some of their work. “In a bipartisan manner, lawmakers passed my plan to put more funding toward cancer research and student financial aid, while at the same time forfeiting their pork projects and a small portion of their personal legislative retirement accounts to fill the budget hole — something I’ve urged them to do for months,” she said.
A House panel passed a bill to restore funding vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez for next year for higher education, courts and the state Legislature Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, tax packages that would increase taxes on things like internet sales and gasoline also moved forward. The budget vote came mostly on party lines save for state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, who joined Democrats in supporting it. Maestas Barnes was also the lone Republican to vote for a failed override attempt of Martinez’s budget vetoes earlier in the day. In total, the bill appropriates roughly $765 million—$745 million for higher education and $19 million for legislative offices—for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee say they have reached an agreement on a package of taxes and fees that would help New Mexico resolve its projected budget deficit and shore up cash reserves to about 3 percent next year. The proposal amends several provisions of House Bill 202, including a tax that was opposed by doctors and hospitals. The Senate measure also would incorporate a gasoline and diesel tax increase that has already passed the Senate as a separate bill. By bringing all the elements together, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the finance chairman, hopes to stabilize the $6.1 billion general fund and guard against further credit downgrades. It also would buffer the state against expected federal cuts in education and health care.
An effort to eliminate hundreds of tax breaks for dozens of businesses and service providers while lowering the overall tax rate on sales is moving forward in the Legislature and may become part of a solution to fix New Mexico’s budget deficit for years to come. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, passed the House of Representatives late Wednesday with no dissenting votes. The initiative had been broadly scaled back from what Harper first proposed with the introduction of House Bill 412, which now has a prime focus on reforming the state’s cumbersome gross receipts tax law. Initial measures to extend that tax to food, as well as changes to income tax rates and how property is valued, were removed from the bill in what House Speaker Brian Egolf called “the largest substitution in the history of the House floor.” Harper accepted the amendments from Rep. Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe, as the only realistic way his reforms would move forward.
New Mexico lawmakers are delivering on a promise to improve one of the state’s last-in-the-country rankings — the speed of broadband internet. Several bills are moving through the Legislature, and two have cleared the Senate and House of Representatives and are heading to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Each would make it easier to expand broadband internet to underserved rural areas where the sparse population makes it difficult for companies to recoup their costs. House Bill 60 would allow private companies installing fiber optics to share a trench unearthed by the state or a local government. The change reclassifies broadband as an economic development project and exempts it from a constitutional provision that prohibits taxpayer support to private companies.