Senate committee passes Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, but strips it further

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass a committee substitute to the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill that strikes back end automatic voter registration. The 6-3 vote came along party lines. The Democrats voted in favor of the SB 8’s committee substitute, introduced by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. The Republicans on the committee voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill.

Committee advances salary proposal for lawmakers

A proposed constitutional amendment that would task the State Ethics Commission with setting the salaries for all state elected officials — from the governor to lawmakers, who are now unpaid — cleared its first committee hearing Monday. The legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 8, also would change how commission members are chosen, allowing the New Mexico Supreme Court to make two of the seven appointments. The Senate Rules Committee advanced the proposal 7-1. The lone Republican attending the hearing, Sen. Greg Baca of Belen, cast the dissenting vote but didn’t explain why. The push to set a salary for lawmakers comes as the Legislature considers a separate proposal to increase the pay of New Mexico’s statewide elected officials by five figures; though, lawmakers aren’t included in that bill. 

As members of the only Legislature in the nation that serves for free, New Mexico lawmakers have long broached the idea of giving themselves a salary.

NM Senate committees advance two redistricting maps

Two New Mexico state Senate committees advanced two redistricting maps on Thursday, one for Congress and one for the state Senate. A New Mexico Senate bill that would redraw the state’s congressional districts inched closer to a full Senate vote on Thursday after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would make significant changes to the three congressional districts by grouping much of northern New Mexico with a portion of the southeast part of the state. The bill also suggests including rural areas like Carrizozo with much of the urban Albuquerque area. But more rural areas of Albuquerque would be included in the southern congressional district. 

The proposed map is similar to what is largely being referred to as the “people’s map” which was backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups. Proponents of “the people’s map” have also added their support of SB 1, arguing that it would group together large populations of Hispanic and Latino voters.

Offensive phone calls disrupt House rules committee meeting

A House committee charged with creating rules for running the special session got an earful Wednesday when some telephone callers into the meeting criticized social protests and uttered racial epithets. The scene, legislators on both sides of the aisle said, pointed to the challenge of running a nontraditional session of the Legislature. Members of both political parties expressed outrage at the calls, which effectively ended any effort to take public comment by phone during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee at the Roundhouse. “What we just heard is pretty disgusting,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Rep. Jim Townsend, the minority leader in the House, agreed. 

“I am the strongest proponent of public involvement that there is, but when I hear comments like that … that’s uncalled for,” said Townsend, R-Artesia.

Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

“I apologize.

Senate committee spikes lobbying disclosure bill

There are about 700 registered lobbyists bustling around the Capitol this year. What are they working on? They don’t have to say. A Senate committee shot down legislation on Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session.

Senate committee deadlocks on ethics panel

New Mexicans voted in a landslide for an ethics commission to police those in state government. But a Senate committee can’t seem to agree on how it should work. The Senate Rules Committee deadlocked Monday in a round of votes on two different bills that would set up the commission. The logjam comes amid questions about how much the public should know about the panel’s work and how much authority it should have to subpoena documents or witnesses. This disagreement is not a surprise given that lawmakers have been left to decide how to police themselves.

Early childhood ed funding proposal stalls again

Several Democrats joined with Republicans on a state Senate committee Monday to block a proposed constitutional amendment on early childhood education funding, snubbing a priority for members of their party in the New Mexico House and posing a challenge to the agenda of newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Senate Rules Committee tabled a resolution that would have asked voters to decide whether the state should take an additional 1 percent of the nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund each year to expand services to the youngest New Mexicans. Backed by a coalition that includes liberal advocacy groups and the Catholic Church, the measure has foundered for years in the face of opposition from budget hawks among Senate Democrats who contend the proposal would undercut the growth of an endowment that is key to the state’s school system. But Lujan Grisham urged lawmakers in her State of the State Address this year to consider taking a “responsible pinch” — a “poquito” — of the fund to pay for more early childhood education programs.

Within hours of the Rules Committee’s vote on Monday, the Democratic governor offered up an alternative to the tabled bill, proposing to take half as much money and designate it specifically for pre-Kindergarten, with a separate provision she argued should assuage the concerns of fiscal conservatives concerned about depleting the fund. If Lujan Grisham can win support for that idea, she will have pulled off a victory that has eluded Democratic leaders in the House.

Senate panel pares back open-primaries bill

Don’t worry, political parties. New Mexico is not going to cut you off. Not yet, anyway. The Senate Rules Committee reined in legislation on Wednesday that would have required political parties pay for their own primary elections if independent voters are not allowed to participate. Backers saw Senate Bill 418 as a sort of compromise in New Mexico’s ongoing debate over whether to open up its closed party nominating elections.

Bill to create early childhood education department advances

One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s favored legislative initiatives finally advanced Wednesday when the Senate Rules Committee voted 8-0 for a bill to create a centralized department for early childhood education. Senate Bill 22 would consolidate programs that are spread among several agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. The sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, helped his cause by cutting in half his initial request of $2.5 million to get the department running by July 1, 2020. Padilla now is seeking $1.25 million for the department to make the proposal more palatable. He said the public would benefit from the new agency.