Recreational marijuana would become legal for people 21 or older in New Mexico and the state could tax marijuana sold in licensed stores under a bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque. House Bill 356 would establish a licensing system that supporters say favors small businesses and institute a 9 percent tax on marijuana for buyers who are not patients in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The revenue would go for research and education as well as community grants for workforce training, substance misuse treatment, mental health treatment, and youth drug-education and prevention programs.
Cities and counties would be allowed to opt out of allowing retail marijuana sales. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Martínez told The New Mexican in an interview last week. He called the decades-long state and federal anti-marijuana policies a failure.
Former New Mexico Speaker of the House Don Tripp has withdrawn his name from consideration for a seat on The University of New Mexico Board of Regents, citing a state constitutional provision that prohibits legislators from being appointed to such a position during a term in office. Tripp, a Socorro Republican, ran for re-election in November and won another term. He stepped down earlier this year. “We don’t need to muddy the water,” he said by phone Tuesday. “We need to honor the constitution.”
After a year of high-profile changes in Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet, top officials from several of the most important departments in state government now await Senate confirmation hearings. But the secretaries of environment, finance and health are just of a few of the governor’s nearly 100 appointees on the agenda. With the long list, it is unclear how many appointees will even get a vote before the Senate adjourns March 18. New Mexico’s financial crisis will make confirmation hearings more difficult than usual. Staff members say the Senate Rules Committee only has enough money to conduct background checks on about half the appointees.
Democrats officially took back control of the state House of Representatives Tuesday when Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House by acclamation, without the need for a vote from members. Republicans put forward, in a symbolic gesture, Don Tripp, R-Socorro, as their choice for the post. Tripp declined the nomination. Egolf thanked the former speaker for his service. Tripp then received a standing ovation from those in the chamber in both parties.
The House spent the first hours of Thursday debating on whether or not they should debate a bill to bring back the death penalty in New Mexico. Shortly before 12:45 a.m., Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, sought to introduce a new calendar that had just one item: The death penalty bill. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, immediately objected and appealed the ruling of the chair. This led to a parade of Democrats criticizing Tripp’s ruling. The House finally voted to uphold Tripp’s ruling, on a party-line vote, at 2:45 a.m. on a party-line 35-32 vote.
Showing possible signs of movement from the Senate Monday, the chamber’s majority and minority leadership have been spotted around their respective offices in the Roundhouse even though the chamber voted to adjourn early Saturday morning. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told NM Political Report Monday that he, President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, are among the senators who returned to the state capitol building as the House hears, and amends, budget bills originally sent from the Senate. Sanchez wouldn’t go into detail about what they were doing or if they are going to hear any House bills, but confirmed there is some sort of conversations happening. “We’re visiting, trying to figure some things out,” Sanchez said. Sanchez didn’t say if they were speaking to the House.
A new proposal from House Republican leaders to fix the state budget deficit would cut the same amount of money—$89.6 million—as the Senate Democratic leaders’ plan. But House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, and state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, emphasized different priorities in the House Republicans’ plan, which they presented to reporters Monday morning in a press conference. Namely, Republicans said their plan swaps cuts proposed in the Senate bill to K-12 education, the state Children, Youth and Families Department, the Department of Public Safety and services for sexual assault victims in the state Department of Health budget for deeper cuts in higher education. House Republicans also emphasized that their proposal raises no taxes. “The last part is very important because New Mexicans cannot afford to pay more taxes,” Tripp told reporters while announcing the proposal.
New Mexico lawmakers haven’t been in session for nearly seven months, but that didn’t stop the Majority Leader of the state House of Representatives from awarding more than $100,000 in contracts to his top staffer. But Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, defended the contracts of his de-facto chief of staff Ryan Gleason as “well worth the expenditure.”
Gentry snagged Gleason—an attorney who previously was a legislative assistant Sen. Pete Domenici, the New Mexico state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a research director for the state Taxation and Revenue Department—from state Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro. Gleason worked as Tripp’s full-time chief of staff from January 2015 through the end of this year’s general legislative session in February. Gentry’s position of majority leader is directly under Tripp in state House Republican leadership. Gleason’s switch from working for Tripp to working for Gentry reflects how the bulk of policy decisions in the House Republican leadership start with Gentry.
There’s plenty of imperfection and discrepancy when it comes to trying to figure out campaign finance data in New Mexico. A year ago, New Mexico In Depth reported how lobbyist contributions helped Republicans win the state House for the first time in 60 years. But NMID also pointed out that candidates don’t always report those contributions consistently. KOB-TV did a series outlining such discrepancies in campaign contribution reports by legislative leaders last November. The Secretary of State’s office clarified reporting requirements for lobbyists, and the Legislature passed a law aimed at improving reporting.
Gov. Susana Martinez will call the Legislature into a special session, likely next month, to deal with the state’s massive budget problems.
The Associated Press reported the news Thursday, the first time the governor put any sort of time frame on the session. She told the wire service the special session would likely take place next month. Martinez and others say they prefer a short special session—likely one that takes just hours—to save on the costs. This means the discussions on how to deal with the budget deficit will largely take place behind the scenes, without public input or transparency. At issue is that New Mexico’s revenue plummeted along with the prices of oil and gas, which New Mexico depends on to balance the budget.