Driver’s license bill moves forward after large amendment

After a marathon hearing, the Senate Public Affairs Committee advanced a driver’s license bill that supporters hope will finally end the problem the state has been facing for years. It didn’t come without controversy, in the form of an extensive amendment to the bill that passed the House, HB 99, to make it essentially a Senate bill, SB 256. It was not a committee substitute, which would require it to go back through committees in the House. But with an amendment, if it were to pass the Senate, then the House and Senate could have a conference committee to work out the differences between the two versions. The SPAC amendment passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans against.

Bill to raise teacher salaries on hold

The Senate Education Committee agreed to hold off on taking any action on a bill that would increase wages for New Mexico teachers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would increase minimum salaries for teachers by $2,000 each year for about four years. After inconsistencies in the analysis of the bill, Stewart agreed to make some changes and report back later this week. Stewart told the panel that while she would discuss the nature of the bill, she was uncomfortable with some analysis done by the Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC). She said she submitted her bill to the LESC last month and was only recently informed of a large discrepancy in how much the state would be on the hook for teacher and principal raises.

Low oil prices prompt bills to reduce some industry taxes

As energy prices remain low, a handful of New Mexico lawmakers will attempt to lower taxes on some oil and gas production this upcoming legislative session. Two bills, one in each chamber, target tax relief for specific types of oil and gas extraction. In the state House of Representatives, James Strickler, R-Farmington, pre-filed a bill to increase the threshold of oil prices to qualify for an existing state tax incentive. In the Senate, Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, has a bill to reduce the severance tax rate on oil extraction. Both lawmakers say they filed their bills in response to stubbornly low oil prices that they say have hurt the state’s oil and gas industry.

House third-grade retention bill stalls in Senate committee

A House bill to hold students back if they are not proficient in reading by the third-grade stalled in a Senate committee on Wednesday night. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 4 to 1 to table HB 41, sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. Youngblood told the committee in her opening statement that “Retention is a last and final safety net.”

Terri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce,spoke in favor of the measure and echoed Youngblood’s statement that student retention is a last resort. Only four others voiced opposition to the legislation. Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who has sponsored similar retention bills since 2013 told Youngblood she could relate to the tough questioning Youngblood received.

Abortion restriction proposals stall in Senate committee

Two bills drafted to impede access to certain abortion procedures were set aside on Sunday by Democrats in the state Senate Public Affairs Committee, a move that likely signals the end of both measures during this session. Party-line votes tabled both HB 390, sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, and HB 391, which was carried by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas. While the drafters worked in close collaboration, the bills would impact the provision of abortion services in markedly different ways. HB 390 proposed a ban on abortions of pregnancies at 20 or more weeks gestation and included language Herrell said made exceptions for “physical harm if the woman’s health is in jeopardy” or if a woman asserts the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest or sexual abuse. Described by some supporters as a “parents’ rights” measure, HB 391 would require the formal notification of a parent or legal guardian of any minor female seeking an abortion.

Two-tiered driver’s license bill passes Senate committee

Legislation some are calling a compromise driver’s license bill passed a Senate committee on a party line vote. The Senate Public Affairs Committee approved SB 653 sponsored by Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, which would create a two-tier driver’s license system for New Mexico. According to the bill, drivers who are in the country with a “lawful presence” could obtain a license that complies with the federal Real ID mandate. Others who cannot provide a social security number or proof of “lawful presence”, would be able to obtain a license to allow them to drive but would not be valid for some federal purposes. The House rejected a two-tier license plan when the chamber passed a bill repealing the controversial law that allows those in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

Reduced marijuana possession penalties clears Senate committee

A bill that would decrease certain penalties related to possession of a small amount of marijuana passed in a Senate committee on Friday. During a very brief hearing, the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted along party lines to pass SB 383, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. The dissenting votes came from two of the three Republican committee members. A third Republican member was not present. Most of the debate from the committee came from the two Republican members and centered on whether penalties should be decreased for certain amounts of marijuana.

Prefiled legislation so far

The first day to prefile any legislation was December 15 of last year. What followed was a flurry of proposed legislation that ranged from raising the minimum to addressing the state’s long battle over driver’s licenses and who should or shouldn’t get one. Here’s a rundown on just a few key bills that were filed last month. Minimum Wage

Increasing the minimum wage is a divisive subject. Republicans have opposed increases and Democrats have generally been in favor of a higher earning minimum wage.