Cannabis legalization bill heads to House floor

A House bill aimed at legalizing and regulating recreational-use cannabis passed its second committee Wednesday and will next be debated on the chamber’s floor. 

HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Representatives Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee along party lines by a vote of 8-4. 

The committee adopted Martínez’s proposed substitute bill which made some significant changes including eliminating specific tax revenue designations, often referred to as earmarks. Specifically, the new version of HB 12 would eliminate earmarks for a medical cannabis patient fund and a designation for communities disproportionately impacted by previous drug laws, although Martínez said funds for those specific purposes would remain. The new version of the bill also removed fines and fees for juveniles, strengthened employers’ rights to enforce a drug-free work environment, delayed the start dates for selling recreational-use cannabis through dispensaries and adjusted tax rates on cannabis sales. 

Just as he did in the previous committee hearing on the issue, Martínez cited three major principles of his bill: the protection of the current medical cannabis program, legalization with equity and restorative justice and a strong regulatory framework. 

Martínez also stressed that New Mexico could be the third state in the U.S. to legalize cannabis legislatively instead of through a voter initiative. 

Romero also stressed that a comprehensive bill that includes social and restorative justice provisions would ensure no one is left behind. 

“Of course, the most important component as to why this is the best way to do it, is because of how we’re trying to reduce the harm in our communities and really soundly address the social justice and access to justice components of this, while we’re trying to create a brand new industry,” Romero said. 

Only Republican members of the committee raised questions and concerns about the bill, which were largely focused on the social impacts of legalization and less about taxation and revenue. 

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said he thought legalization would be viewed as a mistake in the future. 

“I do believe that 10 years from now, we’ll look back at the impact this has had on New Mexico and I just really believe, deeply, that we will all regret doing this,” Harper said. 

He also recounted a conversation he had with a state lawmaker in Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for years. 

“I can’t remember what political party she was, so I’m not even going to guess. But she did say that she was hoping that we would legalize marijuana so that her homeless camps would all move to New Mexico where it’s warmer,” Harper said. “So just something, something to think about.”

Ultimately, Harper’s line of questions were more focused on taxes and revenue and even though he voted against the bill, he praised the work of the two sponsors. 

Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, also asked specifics about how cannabis would be taxed and the potential revenue, but later asked if it was a smart move to legalize cannabis while many in New Mexico are on public assistance. 

“We’re a very poor state, and we’re about to pass legislation that would take another $625 million out of their pockets,” Scott said.

House committee OKs health insurance premium tax hike

The state House of Representatives is set to consider legislation that would create a fund to help offset the costs of health insurance premiums for lower-income people who purchase individual policies through New Mexico’s Obama-era insurance exchange. Proponents of House Bill 122 — which passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on a 7-2 vote Wednesday — say it will widen access to coverage for self-employed workers and others who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but struggle to pay premiums on their own. Opponents argue, however, the measure ultimately would shift the costs to small businesses and their employees, who would see their own health insurance rates rise to cover a higher tax on their provider. HB 122, sponsored by Reps. Deborah Armstrong and Javier Martinez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, would increase a current 1 percent surtax on health insurance premiums to 2.75 percent.

Insurance handout is coming, say backers of health fund bill that stalled

New Mexico legislators are giving a handout to insurance companies, say backers of a bill designed to create a fund for the uninsured. 

The bill passed the House floor 41 to 25 earlier this week but failed to make it to the Senate Finance Committee agenda by Wednesday evening. It has to go through that committee before reaching the Senate floor. The legislative session ends at noon on Thursday. Adriann Barboa, spokesperson for a coalition of nonprofits serving the vulnerable called New Mexico Together for Health Care, called  HB 278 a “one-time opportunity” for New Mexicans to get nearly everyone in the state insured. The federal government made a change to give a tax rebate to insurance companies this year.

Bills to exempt Social Security from tax tabled

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two bills Friday that proposed to eliminate or reduce the state’s tax on Social Security income. Key legislators had previously voiced support for House Bills 29 and 77, and the majority of public attendees who spoke favored it at Friday’s committee hearing. Yet Democratic and Republican legislators alike said they were worried about altering the tax without having a plan to replace lost revenue. 

“You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere you have to pay the piper,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-chair of the committee. “Let’s find a way to pay for it so we don’t create a hole in the general fund.”

Legislature advances budget-balancing, tax measures

A House panel passed a bill to restore funding vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez for next year for higher education, courts and the state Legislature Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, tax packages that would increase taxes on things like internet sales and gasoline also moved forward. The budget vote came mostly on party lines save for state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, who joined Democrats in supporting it. Maestas Barnes was also the lone Republican to vote for a failed override attempt of Martinez’s budget vetoes earlier in the day. In total, the bill appropriates roughly $765 million—$745 million for higher education and $19 million for legislative offices—for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Democrats push tax, budget plans to House floor

An effort that had broad support to bring in more money to New Mexico government by taxing all internet sales has mushroomed into a measure to raise additional money from hospitals, trucking companies, nonprofit organizations and car buyers. Democrats say the amendments to House Bill 202, originally an effort to raise $30 million by expanding the gross receipts tax to out-of-state internet transactions, are necessary to restore cash reserves and put the state on better financial footing to avoid further cuts to school districts and another credit downgrade. With the changes, the bill is now expected to bring in $265 million in ongoing revenue. Some $1 million a year would come from the legislative retirement fund. A sponsor of the tax bill, Rep. Carl Trujillo D-Santa Fe, said lawmakers have cut spending, both during the 2016 session and again in an October special session.

House Dems propose tax, fee hikes to raise state revenues

With the state still running a deficit and reserves depleted, Democrats in the New Mexico House of Representatives have identified four tax or fee increases they say would prevent more cuts to education and put the state on better financial footing. The initiatives — taxing all internet sales, raising the permit fee on heavy trucks, closing a loophole that benefits nonprofit hospitals and increasing the tax on vehicle transfers — could raise more than $200 million in ongoing revenue. Some of it would go to avoid cuts in state agencies and some to beef up reserves. The move to bring together the House Democratic caucus came on the same day as state economists restated a revenue forecast from December that shows the economy has stabilized but reserves are far below the desired level of $300 million, or 5 percent of recurring revenue. The reserve account for the $5.6 billion budget at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 is projected at 1.6 percent.

Film industry seeks bump in New Mexico tax incentives

A proposal to boost New Mexico’s maximum annual payout of tax incentives for film and television productions moved forward Friday afternoon with a do-pass recommendation from the House Business and Industry Committee, despite legislators’ vexation over a mathematical error in the bill’s text. Legislators of both parties expressed support for New Mexico’s growing film industry, though some cautioned against the perception that the state might prioritize these incentives while lawmakers struggle with pressing budget concerns. “We just cut education twice — in the special session, we just cut it a few weeks ago, and we’re getting ready to cut it again,” said Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Sandoval. “Three times. My constituents are like, ‘Can we at least freeze the film industry in these difficult times?'”

However, backers of the bill characterized the proposed increase as an investment by the state and an adjustment for inflation.

Local-option fuel tax gains bipartisan support in House

Republicans and Democrats joined together Friday to advance a bill that would allow cities and counties in cash-strapped New Mexico to find out if voters are willing to pay more at the gas pump in order to support better roads and bridges. Lawmakers have had difficulty finding agreement on any tax issue the past two years, but HB 63 seems headed toward approval. The House Taxation and Revenue Committee gave it a unanimous thumbs up. Under the proposal, voters could impose a local-option tax on gasoline and diesel fuel sales to residents and visitors alike to fund road work. Sponsored by Reps.