In many ways, it felt like high noon on the House floor for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lawmakers on Friday debated one of the governor’s favored pieces of legislation — a crime reform bill that would do away with the six-year statute of limitations on second-degree murder charges. Moving the bill forward from the House of Representatives to the Senate with less than a week left to this year’s 30-day legislative session would provide a breakthrough — or at least movement — in what had been a succession of stalled measures. Fortunately for the governor, the drama was dispensed with quickly: It took the House less than 20 minutes to discuss and vote to approve House Bill 79, which now heads to the Senate for consideration. For Lujan Grisham, who has been pushing for tougher penalties for violent offenders and tighter pretrial release standards to keep those defendants behind bars, Friday’s action was a small victory.
A bill clearly aimed at blocking Holtec International from building an underground storage site for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico is moving forward. The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 5-4 to advance a bill that would ban the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel in the state — and would essentially kill Holtec’s plans to build a repository for this high-level radioactive waste in the Carlsbad area. It now will go to the House Judiciary Committee. A key point in the debate was whether the state has the authority to stop the federal government from approving what’s described as an interim storage site to keep the material until a permanent place is created. Some lawmakers and regulators who back House Bill 127 say although the state can’t interfere with how the commission regulates the waste, it can block storage sites that could cause adverse environmental impacts.
After a three-hour debate in the House of Representatives late Sunday, the Healthy Workplaces bill passed 36 to 33 and will head to the Senate. HB 20 would allow all private employees working in the state to accrue up to eight days of paid sick leave per year. If passed, a full-time employee would have to work close to six weeks before being able to accrue one full day of sick leave, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said. Chandler is the lead sponsor to the bill. An employee would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. The debate largely revolved around small businesses in the state.
Since the early part of the 20th century, the number of liquor licences in New Mexico have largely been finite. As a result, those licenses are now worth roughly half a million dollars. In recent years, state lawmakers have tried various ways to reconfigure the state’s liquor laws that would both make it less costly for potential new liquor license holders while also not devaluing current licenses.
This year, there are a handful of bills aimed at creating a new type of liquor license for restaurants to add spirits to their menus, instead of adding more liquor licenses to the mix. The general idea is that restaurants would be able to obtain a license to sell mixed drinks as long as a certain percentage of sales is for food, much like a beer and wine license. But even the idea of increasing the number of restaurants that can serve alcohol beyond beer and wine has some current liquor license holders concerned.
Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives filed a lawsuit Saturday with the New Mexico Supreme Court, charging rules changes adopted early in the 2021 session are unconstitutional. House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, and Reps. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, and Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, filed the lawsuit. It names House Speaker Brian Egolf and the Legislative Council as defendants. The lawsuit asks the Supreme Court to issue a stay prohibiting the defendants from enforcing the rules until a final decision is rendered.
Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January.
Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use.
While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact.
“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom.
Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.
A bill to reinstate a solar tax credit is headed to the governor’s desk. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, passed the House floor Wednesday by a vote of 51-19. SB 29 would create a personal income tax credit to cover 10 percent of the costs of a solar thermal or solar photovoltaic system for residential, business or agriculture applications. Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo is the House sponsor of the bill.
New Mexico initiated a similar tax credit in the last decade, which expired in 2016. The Legislature passed a bill to reinstate the credit that same year, but it was pocket-vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez.
The state House passed a memorial that would direct the State Investment Council (SIC) to explore investment opportunities in renewable energy, transmission and storage. HM 9 directs the SIC and the State Land Office to collaborate together on developing a strategic plan for investing in renewables and related projects within the state. “The goal of this memorial is to invest more renewables in our state,” said Democratic Rep. and bill sponsor Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde. “Our state has the second highest solar density in the country, second to the Mojave Desert in California. The renewable industry is booming in other states, this is a great opportunity to move forward in this area.”
With a vote of 6-0, Democrats on the House Taxation and Revenue Committee passed a bill that advocates say would help the uninsured and the underinsured. No Republicans voted on HB 278. Committee co-chair Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, tried to go to a vote at one point but then appeared to stall. He asked Rep. Deborah Armstrong, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, to talk more about the bill. A few advocates of the bill ran out of the hearing to try to find more Democrats who could return to the hearing.
A proposal to expand access to solar energy for New Mexico residents through the development of community solar projects passed its first committee Tuesday. Community solar projects, also referred to as “solar gardens,” are programs in which the energy generated by local solar systems are shared among energy subscribers. The power generation is typically located in a central location and distributed to subscribers in the area. Albuquerque Democrat and bill sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero presented HB 9 to the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Santa Fe Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero and the Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who also represents Santa Fe, are co-sponsors of the bill, along with Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.