Over objections, New Mexico energy chief confirmed

After his confirmation hearing turned to discussion of climate change and the Four Corners methane hotspot on Wednesday, environmental groups lambasted Mew Mexico’s top oil and gas regulator as echoing politically conservative talking points while one legislator described the conversation as “very troubling.” But despite opposition from conservationists and a small group of Democratic lawmakers, the state Senate voted 32-4 to confirm former oil and gas industry executive Kenley McQueen as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. While McQueen won praise from some lawmakers as having an expert grasp on the sector he is now in charge of policing, environmental groups have likened his appointment to picking a fox to guard a hen house, prompting some of the harshest opposition that any of Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointees have met so far in the current legislative session. Related: Climate change part of debate over energy head’s confirmation

The secretary’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday only seemed to enflame criticism from liberal senators. “What I heard today was very troubling,” Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said later on the Senate floor.

Miffed by pace of confirmations, Gov. withdraws appointees

Setting up a constitutional showdown with the Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn most of her appointees awaiting confirmation in the state Senate but will keep the officials in their posts across New Mexico government. Aides to the governor accused lawmakers on Wednesday of moving too slowly in confirming her nominations, leaving more than 70 unconfirmed as the session enters its final weeks. But some senators suggested Martinez was attempting an end run around the confirmation process that would undercut the Legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch of government. “The governor cannot circumvent the Senate’s authority,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen told the chamber Wednesday afternoon after a clerk read aloud a letter from Martinez announcing the move. The unusual maneuver has turned a typically mundane administrative process into an unlikely flash point between the governor and Democratic legislators as debate over bigger issues, such as the budget and taxes, come to a head.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.

Gov. Martinez’s appointees in line to be confirmed may overwhelm process

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.

UNM Regent’s political ties questioned after HSC overhaul

A political action committee that supports GOP candidates is housed in the same law office as the president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents who co-authored recent controversial changes to the university’s Health Science Center. The incorporation document for New Mexicans for Honest Leadership lists the same downtown Albuquerque address and suite as Doughty, Alcaraz & deGraauw, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office. The PAC is in good standing with the state. Doughty, Alcaraz & deGraauw is the same law firm where Robert Doughty, who the state Senate confirmed as a regent last year, works as a partner. Campaign finance reports don’t list Doughty’s name as associated with the PAC.

Ethics commission dies in Senate again

A proposal to see the state finally institute a state ethics commission died, once again, in the Senate Rules Committee. This time, the legislation went down without even a vote, as the committee sponsor asked for his bill to be rolled over instead of having the Senate vote on a proposed committee substitute. Related Story: A brief history of the Legislature rejecting ethics commissions. “We have great differences and I’m concerned that if this went forward and became a committee substitute, it would be something that I certainly would not to have my name on the bill or resolution,” Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, said. And so, with a whimper, the ethics commission once again died, a common result in the last decade since a task force determined an ethics commission is one of the top things needed for ethics in New Mexico.

A brief history of the Legislature rejecting ethics commissions

If approved into law, the latest push for creating independent ethics commission would be the culmination of a decade of efforts to combat corruption in New Mexico. But if history is any guide, the road to agreement could still be long and rocky. Update: Add this one to the list of failed attempts: The legislation died in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday morning. This piece continues as originally written below. The impetus came in a mirror image to the current situation, just a decade earlier.

No decision on ethics commission until tomorrow

The Senate Rules Committee sliced and diced a proposed constitutional amendment to create an independent ethics commission and delayed a decision until Tuesday. The discussion on the independent ethics commission proposal by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, went so long that the committee rolled the legislation over until the next meeting so Senators could join the rest of the chamber on the floor. “Please do not mistake the deliberative nature of the Senate for trying to kill something,” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said, referring to tweets he saw that said the Senate Rules Committee was trying to kill the bill. “We’re trying to get it right.” He mentioned that because it is a constitutional amendment, it is particularly important to get the wording right.

Marijuana legalization clears first hurdle

A proposal to legalize marijuana advanced from the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday morning, in a fashion that even a key supporter found surprising. Related Story: Marijuana legalization passed a second committee for the first time ever

The Senate Rules Committee initially voted against a do-pass motion, which would send the proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate Judiciary Committee with a recommendation to pass. The vote was on party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans against; there were an equal number of each in the committee Wednesday. Related Story: House says no to worker’s comp money going to medical pot

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, then asked for a do-pass with no recommendation. Sen. Ted Barela, R-Estancia, joined all Democrats present and voted for the legislation.

Dems, GOP stay split on early childhood education funding

Legislation to increase the funding for early childhood education received good and bad news on Monday morning. The bad news came from the House, Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, where a proposal to ask voters to approve a 0.7 percent increase in distribution from the land grant permanent fund failed, with the Republican majority voting against it. The legislation, brought by Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Javier Martinez, both Albuquerque Democrats, would increase the distribution from 5 percent to 5.7 percent, with a 10 year sunset. Maestas explained that it is really a 0.2 percent increase, because a previous constitutional amendment has the amount at 5.5 percent, but it will drop back to 5 percent.