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.
Now that the legislative session is over and the dust is—mostly—settled, legislators now are turn their focus to the upcoming elections. While some candidates have announced their intention to take over the veterans that called it quits this year, the official count won’t be until after the deadline to file on March 8. Here’s who we know for sure is leaving this year, and a couple no one is sure about. House of Representatives District 24 – Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque confirmed last year on social media that he would not run for reelection. He later endorsed Dr. Christina Hall, an Albuquerque chiropractor, as his replacement.
Two competing proposals for reforming New Mexico’s bail process moved forward on Monday, setting up an inevitable clash as they move towards the floors of the House and Senate. The Senate version has two components: It would allow judges to deny release of those awaiting trial if they are deemed a danger to the public and it would allow judges to not impose bond if the only thing keeping someone accused of a non-violent crime in jail is a lack of ability to pay bond. The House version only has the first part, on allowing judges to keep those deemed dangerous in jail until trial. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, presented his version along with New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. Wirth said the legislation was “narrowed dramatically” since he started the vetting process through interim committees last year.
New Mexico candidates and political action committees have paid more than $7 million in consulting fees and media buys to Jay McCleskey and his company since early 2011, an analysis of state campaign finance records shows. McCleskey, Gov. Susana Martinez’s top political adviser and viewed as the mastermind of her 2010 election and 2014 re-election, received another $110,000 in 2014 from a top GOP group Martinez is set to lead next year. It is no secret what McCleskey has pulled down in recent years as a top political consultant, but the money now appears to be under the microscope of an ongoing federal investigation. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Friday night that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into money the Martinez campaign spent on McCleskey’s services. The influential GOP consultant created McCleskey Media Strategies in 2011 after Martinez took office. Using a database from the Secretary of State’s office, New Mexico In Depth analyzed campaign and political action committee dollars paid to McCleskey, his firm and his wife’s firm since 2011.
A bill that would create a two-tiered driver’s license system was approved by a Senate committee on Thursday. The bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by an 8 to 1 vote. Senate Bill 653, often referred to as a compromise bill, was presented by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. Smith told the committee that the proposed legislation would create a license that meets the federal Real ID Act and another that would serve solely as a statewide license. Supporters of the bill have said it would be less discriminatory than other proposals.
The Senate narrowly voted to pass legislation that would decrease the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill squeaked by on a 21-20 roll call vote. Most Democrats supported the legislation and most Republicans opposed the legislation, though members of both parties were on each side of the vote. The version of the legislation that passed the Senate would make the penalty for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a ticket with a $50 fine instead of jail. Possession of 8 ounces or more would remain a felony.
An effort to bypass the committee process for right-to-work legislation failed on a party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle asked to move the right-to-work legislation to a committee of the whole instead of going through the traditional committee process and the three committees to which it was assigned. The bill was ultimately assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Republicans have complained that the right-to-work legislation has yet to be heard since passing the state House on a near-party-line vote. The chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that it would be heard on Sunday and invited all the Senators to attend.
A bill that would allow local districts to vote on whether to allow beer and wine home delivery passed the Senate on Monday afternoon. The vote was 32-10 in favor of passing the legislation, with both bipartisan support and opposition. The legislation would allow adults over the legal drinking age, 21, to order up to two six-packs of beer and two bottles of wine for delivery as long as it comes with at least $20 in food. The restaurant that delivers the alcohol must get at least 70 percent of its gross receipts from the sale of meals to qualify for a beer or wine license. The delivereis would have to stop when the the restaurant stops selling food or at 10:00 p.m., whichever happens first.
The state Senate voted 22 to 19 on Monday afternoon to approve the nomination of Hanna Skandera to the position of Secretary of the Public Education Department. All Republican members of the chamber voted to confirm along with five Democrats. One Democrat did not vote. Skandera was perhaps the most controversial pick by Susana Martinez to serve in her cabinet. Her nomination passed the Senate Rules Committee earlier in the day then passed the full Senate later in the afternoon.