Showing possible signs of movement from the Senate Monday, the chamber’s majority and minority leadership have been spotted around their respective offices in the Roundhouse even though the chamber voted to adjourn early Saturday morning. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told NM Political Report Monday that he, President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, are among the senators who returned to the state capitol building as the House hears, and amends, budget bills originally sent from the Senate. Sanchez wouldn’t go into detail about what they were doing or if they are going to hear any House bills, but confirmed there is some sort of conversations happening. “We’re visiting, trying to figure some things out,” Sanchez said. Sanchez didn’t say if they were speaking to the House.
The Senate, saying their business was done for the legislative session, passed a number of bills to fix the budget deficit this year and the recently-completed fiscal year that ended on June 30, adjourned sine die. This means the Senators can go home. The state constitution provides that the House would need to stay in session for three days—not including Sundays—to force Senators to come back. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee passed a feed bill that would fund the Legislature during the special session for three days; the Senate passed their own version.
As for the actual budget, the Senate passed eleven bills, including the bill to fund the special session.
While former state Rep. Sandra Jeff avoided ballot disqualification after a recent scuffle with the Secretary of State, several questions remain about possible discrepancies in previous campaign reports. The biggest question is the sudden disappearance of more than $27,000 in debt from her failed 2014 campaign for reelection to the state House of Representatives. In July 2014, Jeff reported a loan contribution of $26,720.82 from Gallagher & Kennedy, a law firm with offices in Santa Fe and Phoenix. A note next to the contribution reads, “Campaign Debt for legal fees incurred.”
Jeff continued to report this debt, plus an extra $1,200 that she loaned to herself, for the next six campaign reporting periods, marking a period of nearly two years. But on March 15 of this year, Jeff amended seven old campaign reports from the 2014 election cycle.
As energy prices remain low, a handful of New Mexico lawmakers will attempt to lower taxes on some oil and gas production this upcoming legislative session. Two bills, one in each chamber, target tax relief for specific types of oil and gas extraction. In the state House of Representatives, James Strickler, R-Farmington, pre-filed a bill to increase the threshold of oil prices to qualify for an existing state tax incentive. In the Senate, Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, has a bill to reduce the severance tax rate on oil extraction. Both lawmakers say they filed their bills in response to stubbornly low oil prices that they say have hurt the state’s oil and gas industry.
A current Santa Fe County Commissioner wants to go back to the Roundhouse. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics announced today that she is running as a Democrat for the seat held until March by Phil Griego, another Democrat. Griego, who had held the seat for 18 years, resigned amid an ethics issue involving his vote for a bill that benefited his real estate client. Gov. Susana Martinez subsequently appointed Republican Ted Barela to fill the seat, which he currently holds. Stefanics held the same seat for one term in the mid-1990s.
The State Senate will have a full 42 members on Friday after Ted Barela is sworn in to represent District 39. The swearing-in will take place in Estancia on Friday. Barela will be sworn in by Magistrate Pro Tem Steve Jones in a public ceremony at the Estancia Community Center at 3:00 p.m.
The former mayor of Estancia will replace Phil Griego, who resigned after admitting to violating the state constitution by benefiting from a real estate deal made possible by legislation passed in the Legislature. Barela will be sworn in two weeks to the day after Martinez made the announcement. Martinez had hoped to name a replacement during the session (Griego resigned with a little less than a week before the end of the session).
After the general election in 2014, New Mexico Republicans took control of the House with a 37-33 majority over Democrats. This doesn’t mean that there are not any new Democrats. A total of seven Democrats won their respective races and will start their first terms as representatives. There is one new state Senator, Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Democrat was named by the Bernalillo County Commission to replace Tim Keller, who won statewide election as state auditor. County commissioners chose Stephanie Maez, D-Albuquerque, to replace Stewart in the House.