Proposal for state ethics commission advances to full Senate

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission, a proposal that has died in the New Mexico Legislature year after year. The measure now moves to the full Senate, where its advocates hope it receives a vote before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. Note: This story has been updated throughout with more information on the proposed ethics commission. Members of the Rules Committee voted 9-1 to advance House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. The House last week voted 66-0 for the measure.

Panel rejects expanded background checks

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.

House unanimously approves ethics commission proposal

The New Mexico House of Representatives on Thursday night agreed to give voters a chance to establish a state ethics commission through amending the constitution. The House voted 66-0 to pass House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But the measure faces a harder time in the Senate, which despite a string of state government scandals in the past decade, has been the traditional burial ground for ethics legislation. Under Dines’ proposal, a seven-member commission would be appointed by the governor and the Legislature to investigate possible ethical violations by legislators, state officers and executive branch officials. The proposed body also would investigate alleged violations of campaign finance laws, laws covering lobbyists and disclosure requirements for state contractors.

House OKs proposal to tap endowment for early ed

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.

Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

Measure creating independent ethics commission advances

Several lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle had pointed questions Thursday about a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish an independent ethics commission in New Mexico. But at the end of the hearing, the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously to give a do-pass recommendation to House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, and send it to the House Judiciary Committee. “We all know there is an obvious gap in trust between us in office and the public,” Dines told the committee. “The more we do to restore trust, the better it will be, not only in New Mexico, but in the U.S.” Under Dines’ proposal, if the seven-member commission is approved by voters in 2018, members would be appointed by the governor and the Legislature to investigate possible ethical violations by legislators, state officers and officials in the executive branch.

Bill allowing open primaries gets warmer reception in House committee

Voters unaffiliated with either of the two major political parties — currently barred from participating in primary elections — would be allowed to choose either a Democratic or Republican primary ballot under a bill that unanimously cleared a House committee Tuesday. But judging by the reaction a similar bill received in a Senate committee earlier this week, the House bill could run into trouble if it makes it to the other side of the Roundhouse. The House Local Government, Elections, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to House Bill 206, sponsored by Reps. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, and Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. Garcia Richard says her bill is aimed at increasing voter turnout.

State Supreme Court upholds closed primary system

An attempt to open primaries failed after the state Supreme Court ruled against an Albuquerque resident. David Crum, who is registered to vote but is not affiliated with any political party, sought to end the closed primary system, saying it violates a portion of the state constitution. The State Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling dismissing the case, saying that the current restrictions requiring that primary voters be registered with a major political party at least 28 days before the primary and only allowing voters to vote in primaries of that party were “reasonably modest burdens which further the State’s interests in securing the purity of and efficiently administering primary elections.”

The Republican Party of New Mexico opposed Crum’s suit and said it would “unconstitutionally infringe on RPNM’s freedom of association,” according to the Supreme Court ruling. A state district court agreed and granted the party’s motion to dismiss. Crum appealed the dismissal, prompting the Supreme Court to review the case.

Senate committee kills bill to keep government job applications secret

A state Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday to stop a bill that would have changed the public records law to allow state agencies to keep secret the names and résumés of most job applicants. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-0 to table Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. The bill would have restricted public access to most applications for government jobs. If an applicant didn’t become a finalist for a position, the application would be kept secret forever. “Some positions merit disclosure,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, a committee member.

Lobbyists spent more than $85,000 in first weeks of session

Members of New Mexico’s citizen Legislature only receive $164 per day for expenses, plus mileage, during the session. But there are other perks to the job. For instance, the industry group called Ski New Mexico last week handed out VIP membership cards to 110 of the 112 state lawmakers, entitling them to two free days of skiing at any of eight ski areas in the state. The total value of the cards was $27,500, according to a lobbyist expense report filed this week by George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico. That expense represented a large portion of the $85,000-plus that lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have reported spending on meals, parties, receptions and gifts for legislators and others so far in the session, which began just over two weeks ago.