Panel delays vote on early childhood ed initiative

Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education. The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee’s 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close.

Senate passes gas tax for road fund, but governor vows veto

The New Mexico Senate, hoping to improve state roads and rebuild cash reserves, approved a bill Thursday that would increase the state gasoline tax for the first time in more than 20 years. But the bill has little chance of becoming law. “If it reaches the governor’s desk, she will veto it,” said Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. An override of Martinez’s veto is unlikely because the tax bill received support from only three of the Senate’s 16 Republicans. The measure, Senate Bill 95, would raise about $180 million annually through a range of taxes and fees.

Senate OKs minimum wage hike

The state Senate voted Wednesday to raise the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour over the next 13 months. The legislation may represent the best chance in several years to raise the minimum wage. The Senate approved the bill in a 24-6 bipartisan vote. The measure also has the support of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which in the past has fought minimum wage hikes, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, would increase the hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018.

House OKs bill calling for more disclosure in solar sales

Solar energy companies would have to provide more information about the cost and energy savings on residential solar systems under a bill that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday night by a large bipartisan margin. The House voted 56-6 to pass House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española. The bill now goes to the Senate, which last week approved a similar measure, Senate Bill 210, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. Rodella told fellow House members that most solar companies have not been a problem. “But a few bad actors ruin it for everyone,” she said.

Some reformers scoff as interest rate cap bill advances

Storefront lenders would be limited to charging interest rates of 175 percent under a bill that cleared a Senate committee Monday, but consumer groups called the measure inadequate. The bill sponsor, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said his plan would stop interest rates of 300, 500 or even 700 percent that have led to dozens of futile attempts by legislators to regulate an industry that critics say preys on the downtrodden. “It will eliminate the high interest rate loans we have heard about for years,” Sanchez told the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, which unanimously advanced his proposal, Senate Bill 388. The committee, which Sanchez chairs, rejected reforms backed by a coalition of consumer advocates. Then it embraced Sanchez’s proposal, supported by many in the storefront lending industry, to cap interest rates for short term-loans and effectively ban payday loans.

Dems offer jobs plan, few details

Democrats in the state Legislature on Thursday outlined a six-point jobs plan, including a raise in the minimum wage and spending on public works projects, that they said would be their focus for the remaining 50 days of the legislative session. But Democrats were unable to project how many jobs would be created by the plan or provide details on how some parts of the plan would work. Still, they promised to deliver for a state still trying to find its economic footing more than seven years after the end of the Great Recession. “Today, families and young people in our state are confronted with poor prospects for getting a job,” Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said at a news conference on the Senate floor. “Far too many residents are living in real economic distress, and anxious about the future for themselves and their children.

Senate passes budget bills, adjourns

The Senate, saying their business was done for the legislative session, passed a number of bills to fix the budget deficit this year and the recently-completed fiscal year that ended on June 30, adjourned sine die. This means the Senators can go home. The state constitution provides that the House would need to stay in session for three days—not including Sundays—to force Senators to come back. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee passed a feed bill that would fund the Legislature during the special session for three days; the Senate passed their own version.  

Budget fix

As for the actual budget, the Senate passed eleven bills, including the bill to fund the special session.

Here are the key legislative races to watch

Today is the day that candidates for state House and Senate file to say that they are, indeed, running. As candidates file their intention to run for public office, we decided to take a look forward a few months to what districts the two parties will be focusing on come November and the general elections. The top of the ticket matters. Two years ago, Republicans took the state House of Representatives for the first time in a half-century. That same election saw Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, trounce Democratic opponent Gary King by more than 14 points statewide.

House actions on Senate bills draw condemnation

The State Senate slammed the House majority, accusing the House on Wednesday of “playing games” for taking an “unprecedented” move on legislation that passed the Senate. The friction comes over a disagreement between both bodies of what types of legislation are considered “germane,” or allowed to be discussed this year. The 2016 legislative session is a budget-only session, meaning in order to be considered germane, bills must be related to the state budget or must receive a message from the governor. The governor can call bills unrelated to the budget to the calendar if she so decides by issuing messages, which makes them germane. House Rules and Order of Business Committee is disputing bills deemed germane by the Senate, saying that they are not germane according to the state constitution.

Odds and Ends: Law enforcement honored in House

—It was a big day for law enforcement in the House on Friday. Two pieces of legislation regarding law enforcement officers and sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, passed on bipartisan votes. A memorial honoring officers brought out supportive comments from representatives on both sides of the aisle as well as a unanimous vote in favor of the memorial. A bill from Gentry that would add law enforcement officers and emergency first responders to the state’s hate crime statute also passed on Friday evening. Originally a somewhat controversial bill, HB 95 was amended in the House Judiciary Committee to include first responders along with law enforcement officers and passed the committee unanimously.