Houses passes bipartisan gun bill to punish ‘straw buyers’

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

It is one of the simplest ways for felons to get their hands on guns — having someone they know buy one legally and then sell or give it to them. 

It’s a process known as straw purchasing, and although federal laws prohibit such actions and can put the people who give or sell those guns to felons in jail for up to a decade, there is no state law against such deals in New Mexico. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives attempted to rectify that Friday by voting 62-3 to approve House Bill 306, which, if it becomes law, would make it a fourth-degree felony to knowingly buy a gun for or give one to a felon. 

This means someone convicted of buying a gun for a felon could face up to 18 months in jail, said House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. Bills to fight crime have been a theme of this year’s session, as have gun control proposals that have divided Democrats and Republicans. HB 306 is one of the rare gun bills that both parties support — Lane and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham put out a joint statement a month ago announcing the bill’s introduction. The three votes against the bill, which now goes to the Senate, came from Republican Reps.

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.

Retired judge files ethics complaint against House speaker

As retired Judge Sandra Price watched the state House of Representatives debate a bill that would allow people to sue government agencies over civil rights violations, one particular moment grabbed her attention. It was when Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, rose to ask the bill’s sponsors — House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque — to accept a substitute bill. 

The amended legislation would have required any lawmakers who work as attorneys to agree not to represent clients in complaints that might fall under the proposed New Mexico Civil Rights Act. Lane, Louis and Egolf are all attorneys. 

Just days before Tuesday’s debate on the House floor, Price had filed a complaint against Egolf with the State Ethics Commission, claiming he stands to benefit if the bill is passed into law. She argued he should have disclosed that at least 20 percent of his business concerns civil rights litigation. Watching Lane — an attorney who, Price said, knew nothing about her claim — argue the point on the chamber floor made her “almost fall out of my chair.”

Lawmakers adjust to a largely virtual session

Two weeks into the 2021 legislative session, it looks like no one is home at the state Capitol. The hallways and hearing rooms — which normally would be bustling with activity by this time in a 60-day session — were empty Tuesday, aside from the rare sighting of a staff member or New Mexico State Police officer. Perhaps more surprisingly, Tuesday’s House floor session ran quickly and quietly, with no sign of the partisan rancor of the previous week, when party leaders bickered. House Republicans have questioned and criticized rules for running the session in a hybrid format, which allows members to participate in person or to log in online from home or their Capitol offices. And late last week, some members of the House GOP petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to halt those rules, arguing they are unconstitutional.