A legislative committee on Monday effectively killed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases — an issue that drew large crowds to the Capitol as well as big campaign contributions and intense lobbying and advertising. The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to table House Bill 548 after a lengthy hearing. It marked the defeat of the most recent gun-control bill sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. Democrat Eliseo Alcon of Milan joined the six Republicans on the panel to stop the measure, which would have required background checks on all sales of firearms at gun shows and from advertisements on the internet or print publications. Garcia Richard said other states that have approved similar bills have seen fewer violent crimes and suicides involving guns.
A panel of state lawmakers spent five hours Sunday hearing and debating two bills that would have restricted abortion access in New Mexico before tabling them on party lines. At one point, state Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, bemoaned the predictability of the situation. “I was going to ask some questions, but it’s futile,” he said to the sponsors of a bill to ban abortions after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. “We all know how this committee is going to vote. This bill is going to die on a 3-2 vote.”
On controversial abortion bills, Democratic legislators have had a tendency this year to hear prolonged, passionate testimonies and debates—then quickly vote to table the bills. That happened again Thursday afternoon, when the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee devoted two hours to a controversial bill on what anti-abortion advocates call “born alive” infants. Several people testified in both support and opposition to the bill. Soon, Reps. Bob Wooley and Monica Youngblood, Republicans from Roswell and Albuquerque, respectively, asked lengthy questions of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.
Adults over 21 would be able to legally buy, possess and smoke marijuana under a bill that survived its first hearing Saturday in the state House of Representatives. The Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-1 to advance the bill without a recommendation. Sponsored by Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, House Bill 89 moves ahead to the House Judiciary Committee. His proposal would tax and regulate recreational marijuana, as is done in eight other states, including neighboring Colorado. It would earmark 40 percent of taxes from cannabis sales for education and designate other proceeds to government programs.
What Republicans called pork, Democrats called crucial funding for communities and public safety. What Democrats called an effort to modernize accounting practices, Republicans called a gimmick. Less than a week after Gov. Susana Martinez encouraged lawmakers to work together to solve the state’s projected $69 million budget deficit, the House of Representatives on Saturday waged a partisan fight on two bills to make New Mexico solvent. Democrats, who control the House 38-32, saw their bills approved in votes that went mostly along party lines. Similar legislation easily cleared the state Senate with bipartisan support.
Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.
The House sent the one bill truly necessary during this year’s special session back to the Senate with some changes. The bill would find unused money in reserves and “sweep” them to the general fund, to pay the rest of the deficit in an already-concluded budget year and to cut much of the current year’s deficit. In all, it would add $316 million, the bulk of which comes from the tobacco settlement permanent fund, to fix the budget deficit. In the bill, $131 million will go to the budget year that ended on June 30. Another $88 million from that would go toward the current fiscal year for this year’s budget gap.
The House voted overwhelmingly to expand the state’s three strikes law to include more crimes to count towards the penalty that would result in life in prison after nearly three hours of debate. Three criminal convictions on certain crime would result in a life sentence if this bill becomes law. The bill, which passed the House 49-14, would need to pass the Senate in identical form to make it to the governor’s desk. The Senate did not pass a similar bill during the regular session. The House amended the bill to remove some crimes that were included in the bill as originally introduced.
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.
Amid concerns about funding of small and rural projects, a House committee rejected a bid to overhaul the state’s controversial and unique capital reform process. The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted against advancing the bill to the next committee including with no recommendation on a 5-5 vote. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, broke from party ranks to vote against the proposal. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, voted with most of the Republicans. The think tank Think New Mexico pushed the proposal, which would have modeled the process after how school infrastructure is built.
“This can sometimes be a humbling process but we appreciate the thoughtful discussion that HB 307 received,” Think New Mexico executive director Fred Nathan said in a statement.