House sends budget bill to governor

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The state House of Representatives voted Wednesday to send a $9.57 billion budget bill to the governor for her approval. On a voice vote, the chamber concurred with the Senate’s amendments to House Bill 2, the last procedural step to send the bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. The Senate amendments include, among other changes, an additional $130 million in recurring spending for initiatives to address hunger and new investments in the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship college tuition fund. But concerns were raised on the House floor about the way the Senate Finance Committee made some extra budget adjustments just a day after the committee had already approved the bill. That action, which took place Sunday morning, annoyed Republican senators on the committee and raised questions about behind-the-scenes deals and political pressure for changes that may have come from the Governor’s Office.

House passes $9.4B budget; gov signals she wants changes

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

At the halfway point of the 60-day legislative session, New Mexico’s proposed budget is halfway to the governor’s desk. The $9.43 billion spending plan, which includes average 5% pay raises for state government employees and leaves room for rebates for taxpayers, is headed to the Senate Finance Committee after passing the House 52-17 Thursday. Seven Republicans joined all 45 Democrats in the House in voting to advance House Bill 2. During a three-hour discussion and debate on the spending plan — the highest in state history — Republicans who voted against it raised concerns about the budget’s proposed 12.4% increase in spending, given the state’s financial peaks and valleys. Minority Leader Ryan Lane of Aztec said what gave him the most “heartburn” was the proposed spending increase comes on the heels of a 14% jump the year before.

Mixed results from annual Kids Count Data Book

The results from the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released this week by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children, are mixed, the group’s  executive director, Amber Wallin, said. NMVC releases the Kids Count Data Book annually at the start of the Legislative session to provide policy makers with information and statistics on how New Mexico’s children and families are doing on four fronts: educationally, economically, health and family and community. Data gathering for the data book was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and that problem continues, with some data reflecting pre-pandemic conditions, Wallin said during a press conference this week. Some of the data reflects averages from the years 2016 to 2020, she said. One of the most striking deficits the 2022 data book reveals is child hunger.

Lundstrom moved from influential appropriations committee post

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Just as the last day of the 2022 legislative session ended with a bombshell of surprise when then-House Speaker Brian Egolf announced he was not running for reelection, the first day of this year’s session ended with a shock. Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was removed from her post as chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee by new House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, during an evening floor session on committee assignments. Lundstrom will be succeeded by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces. The action took place shortly before the House of Representatives adjourned for the day. 

Lundstrom said in an interview Martínez had told her of his plans about 20 minutes before he announced the move. Seeming to fight back tears, Lundstrom told lawmakers who approached her after the floor session, “This is unbelievable.”

House deadlocks on Clean Fuel Standard Act, which fails on tie vote

With the clock ticking down to the end of the Legislative session, the House of Representatives rejected a bill on a tie vote during the early morning hours on Thursday aimed at reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. The House voted 33-33 for the Clean Fuel Standard Act following several hours of debate after 3 a.m on Thursday. 

SB 14, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would require a 20 percent reduction in carbon intensity of transportation fuels refined, blended or produced in the state by 2030 from the 2018 levels and a 30 percent reduction in carbon intensity by 2040. The bill would not impact gas stations. It also sought to create a carbon credit market to help meet those goals. The credits would have been generated from a variety of sectors including electrical generation, the oil and natural gas industry and agriculture.

Clean Future Act heads to House floor

The Clean Future Act moved out of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Saturday after lengthy discussions that began the previous day. The committee voted 6-3 to pass a committee substitute for HB 6. The vote fell on party lines after Chairwoman Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, limited the amount of time the three Republicans had to ask questions. The Clean Future Act will now move to the House floor and Louis told the Republicans that they can ask the sponsor, Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, questions about the bill on their own time. The bill coincides with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s efforts to address climate change and calls for reducing emissions across all sectors in the state with the goal of reaching net-zero emissions based on 2005 emissions levels.

House passes bill to appropriate $504 million in federal relief funds

An amended version of a spending bill passed both the full House and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Friday which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, will appropriate $504 million of the $1.1 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act into state relief funds, state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces said. The bill ultimately passed the House on a 65-1 vote, including changes made in a committee. Small, a co-sponsor of HB 2, introduced the amendment to the HAFC meeting Friday morning. He said the $504 million is slightly less than half of the total funds the state is transferring into a contingency account of the general fund. The $504 million would be expected to be made available to the agencies and is intended, based on federal guidelines, to provide relief due to losses incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bill to overhaul hunting, wildlife management hits roadblock in committee

Legislation to reform hunting regulations and wildlife management in New Mexico stalled in the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday. Senate Bill 312 appears doomed for this session after members tied 4-4 on a vote to reconsider debate and vote on the legislation in the absence of Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who serves on the committee. 

A vote earlier in the week also resulted in a tie. “Right now it just seems like there is a stalemate in the committee,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, a Cerrillos Democrat who chairs the committee. Currently, 84 percent of hunting tags go to residents, 10 percent are set aside for outfitters and 6 percent go to nonresidents. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, both Las Cruces Democrats, 90 percent would be reserved for residents and the rest for out-of-state hunters with none for outfitters.

Bill to revamp New Mexico wildlife management stalls in committee

Legislation that supporters say would modernize wildlife management in New Mexico but opponents counter would hurt outfitters who operate on public lands has stalled on a tie vote in a Senate committee. “My district is parts of six counties — it is all rural — and I, in this case, I’m going to have to support my constituents,” Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, told other members of the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday before joining with three Republicans to table the 241-page bill. Senate Bill 312 is now stuck in the committee with just over three weeks left in the session. Some lawmakers struggled over whether or not to support the measure, which included changes they supported wholeheartedly but others that gave them pause. “I hate bills like this,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.

House leaders trade jabs after positive COVID tests

A day after revelations of several people with ties to the Roundhouse testing positive for the novel coronavirus, including a Republican lawmaker, House leaders in both parties traded accusations and verbal jabs, creating more strife in their already rocky relationship while also politicizing COVID-19. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said some members of the GOP are consistently flouting the rules and putting others at risk. He said he is “constantly having to remind members to put on a mask” and “physically locking committee rooms as the only means to prevent certain Republican members from congregating.” “I had one member who was in a room with other Republican members not wearing a mask,” Egolf said during a virtual news briefing Friday morning. “I instructed him to follow the rules and put the mask on.