Senate panel favors smaller minimum wage hike

A Senate committee on Tuesday snubbed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s call to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next several years, advancing instead a more modest bill backed by business groups. Dueling proposals for increasing the wages of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers collided in a packed hearing of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. After a flurry of changes, the committee ultimately advanced a measure that would raise the wage over time, topping out at all $11 an hour in 2021. While not far off from a minimum wage increase backed by the governor and approved by the state House of Representatives, the proposal omits a key provision to adjust the minimum wage annually in the future based on the rising cost of living. And the committee’s vote, in turn, reflected resistance in the Legislature’s upper chamber to some of the newly elected governor’s agenda.

Tipping point: Despite changes, restaurants, servers still nervous about advancing minimum wage bills

By 9-to-5 standards, Jay Hayden could retire by now. He’s devoted almost 32 years of his life striving to be the best in his trade. But he doesn’t work 9 to 5, and he’s not retiring. Hayden is a lead server at Geronimo, a fine dining restaurant housed in a centuries-old building in Santa Fe on Canyon Road. A modest dinner for two at Geronimo, with an equally modest tip, can easily cost $100.

Senate approves bill requiring background checks on all gun sales

The state Senate narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require just about anyone buying a firearm to undergo a background check. This legislation has been a priority for gun control advocates, but all 16 Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate said it would not prevent the sort of mass shootings that have spurred calls for such laws. Scheduled for the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, the Senate’s vote was the biggest test yet for gun control during this legislative session. Majority Democrats won the day on a 22-20 vote. Senate Bill 8 now heads to the state House of Representatives, which already has passed a law on background checks this year and might approve this measure.

Minimum wage hike advances despite restaurant industry’s fight

Democrats campaigned last year on a promise to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage, which has remained at $7.50 an hour for a decade. How high it will go, exactly, is a question that quickly has become wrapped in a battle waged by the restaurant industry and could get caught in a tug-of-war between the state House and Senate. The issue has raised a series of other questions as well. Should there continue to be a lower minimum wage for workers who traditionally earn tips from customers, such as restaurant servers? Should employers be allowed to offer a lower minimum wage to younger workers, like high school students?

Inside a private prison’s $150M deal to detain immigrants in New Mexico

Just shy of his third year in the United States, 24-year-old oil pipeline worker Diego Navarro said goodbye to his California friends. It was early April, and the Oklahoma resident was anxious to return home, having used a break in his work schedule to make the trip west. Navarro, who entered the U.S. without documentation in 2014, typically worked 10- to 14-hour days as part of the country’s petroleum processing machine. But at a stop for gas during the drive back with a friend, Navarro was swept up in the billion-dollar business of private immigrant detention instead. This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Senate passes tax package, bill to borrow money to balance budget

It isn’t often that a bill that it seems no one likes passes a legislative chamber, but that happened Wednesday afternoon in the Senate with two different bills. The chamber voted 36-3 to pass a bill that would essentially borrow money to balance the budget, something that no senator said they were happy about. Update: Added information on a third bill passed by the Senate

The Senate also passed a tax package on a 25-16 vote that included an increase in the gas tax and the motor vehicle excise tax as a way to shore up depleted state reserves. Borrowing money to balance budget

Senator John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, each mentioned the idea of using severance tax money to help balance the budget came from the governor’s office. “We do not think it is very responsible, it sets a poor precedent…But in an effort to try and find forward movement with the executive branch, we have swallowed that bill and are willing to do it,” Smith said.

Minimum-wage hike to $9 heads to governor

The state minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour from $7.50 by April 2018 if Gov. Susana Martinez signs a bill that has been passed by both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 41-27 to pass Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. The bill would increase New Mexico’s hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018. It also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October. The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.

House tax reform measure faces steep hurdles in Senate

A wide-ranging tax bill that passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote ran into obstacles at a Senate hearing Wednesday and isn’t likely to advance in the 2017 Legislature. “Anything still has a chance of moving,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, after a four-hour hearing on House Bill 412, sponsored by Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper. But during the hearing, lawmakers were more skeptical as they heard concerns from lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, broadcasters, nonprofit organizations, schools, farmers, the dairy industry, hospice nurses and nursing homes about how the tax changes would affect their operations. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels

Harper was not surprised. “We’ve jokingly called this bill the lobbyist full-employment act.

Early childhood education funding proposal fails again

Two Democrats joined with four Republican senators in a committee vote Wednesday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment that would tap into New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education

The vote in the Senate Rules Committee to table House Joint Resolution 1 likely puts an end to what has become a perennial effort take an extra 1 percent of interest earnings from the $15 billion endowment to spend on early childhood programs.

If approved by voters, the proposal would have generated about $153 million in the first year for early childhood education, increasing to $163 million by the third year it was in place. The Democrats voting against the resolution were Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants. Papen said she supports early childhood funding but won’t support taking more money out of the land grant fund, which already helps fund universities and public schools in the state. Related: House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

The House approved the measure last week by a near party-line vote. “I am profoundly disappointed in our inability as a state to fully embrace the science of early childhood education,” resolution sponsor Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release after the vote.

Handful of Senate Dems help Republicans defeat aid-in-dying bill

The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.