Concho Resources really wants to get to know you. At least, if you’re on the Legislative Finance Committee. The oil and gas company’s lobbyist reported spending $4,173 at the upscale Santa Fe restaurant La Casa Sena last month on “relationship building” with the influential committee. Lobbyists had a deadline Tuesday night to report spending from the beginning of October to the end of December. This restaurant tab was the single biggest expense disclosed by any of the Capitol’s legion of professional wheelers and dealers.
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.
The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.
State legislators have proposed a bill that would streamline the installation of small cellular facilities in public rights of way, which they say will accelerate internet speeds and enhance the state’s broadband capacity. The proposal, intended to prepare New Mexico for the arrival of 5G networks, would boost a signal that the state — in a climate where connectivity is essential for economic development — is open for more business, said Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque. “We’re just at a place where we need to upgrade,” said Gould, a co-sponsor of the measure. The proposed Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act, with identical bills filed in both chambers of the Legislature, could spur some backlash in a capital city where a handful of residents are still simmering after Mayor Javier Gonzales last month issued an emergency proclamation that allowed Verizon to install temporary telecommunication facilities on city structures. The state legislation would appear aimed at heading off the need for such a proclamation, which was lambasted by a vocal cadre of Santa Fe residents who believe radio frequencies are dangerous.
Democratic state Rep. Debbie Rodella joined with three Republicans on Thursday to kill a bill that would have allowed people to register to vote within three days of primary or general elections. Eligible voters in New Mexico now must register at least 28 days before an election in order to vote in it. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill to widen the time for registration, saying voting is a right and lawmakers should make it easier for people to cast a ballot. His proposal, Senate Bill 224, would have allowed for the extended registration period at early voting sites, many of which have real-time access to New Mexico’s voter registration system. For those lacking that technology, voters would have been allowed to cast provisional ballots that wouldn’t be counted until a subsequent verification of whether the registrant was eligible to vote.
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 voted Friday night to raise the hourly minimum wage to $9.25 from $7.50 in 2018. The 37-30 vote, just days after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a slightly smaller increase to $9, signals that a raise in the statewide minimum wage is increasingly likely as the legislative session enters its final weeks. The issue has been a priority for Democrats, who promised a raise during last year’s election, but it also has won some support from Republicans. The House vote on HB 442 was not strictly along party lines. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, broke with her party to vote in favor of the bill, while Rep. Candy Sweetser, D-Deming, voted against it.
The House on Thursday rejected a two-and-a-half-year moratorium on licensing new charter schools in New Mexico. Thirty-four House members voted to pass House Bill 46, which would have prohibited a chartering authority — the state or a local school district — from accepting or approving any new applications until Jan. 1, 2020. But 34 representatives also voted against it. In a tie vote, a bill fails.
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.
An automatic voter registration bill lost a bit of what made it automatic, but moved on from the House committee that previously blocked it. State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, was one of two Democrats to previously vote against the legislation in the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grant Committee. He explained after that vote that he voted against the bill initially so he could bring it off the table, citing a parliamentary rule, and reconsider the matter. The bill was previously tabled in the same committee. Ely brought the bill back Tuesday.