Legislative roundup — Feb. 12
The New Mexican
Days remaining in session: 8
Gun ban holstered: A proposed prohibition on openly carrying guns in the New Mexico House of Representatives and its committee rooms at the state Capitol didn't get its scheduled debate, at least not formally.
On Tuesday morning, the House Rules and Order of Business Committee failed to seat a quorum for the second time in a week, so House Resolution 3 remains holstered on the committee's calendar.
But that didn't stop Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and San Juan County Sheriff's Office Detective Mike Sindelar from casually holding their own discussion. Egolf proposed the restriction on weapons in the House, and Sindelar has been outspoken about his opposition to it.
While waiting for the committee hearing that never happened, Egolf told his foil that guns can chill open discussions at the Roundhouse. He said citizens seeking to testify about legislation and the lawmakers who present bills can be intimidated when guns are present.
"I'm not a 'take 'em all away' kind of guy, by any stretch," Egolf said, telling Sindelar that he is a gun owner.
But Sindelar wasn't swayed. He said he is accustomed to seeing guns carried in the open and feels safe in their presence, a perspective he said many in the state share.
The Senate rejected a similar proposal to ban guns in parts of the state Capitol. The House proposal wouldn't apply to people with permits that allow them to carry concealed weapons legally.
Senate confirms Martin: The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed F. David Martin as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
Martin was nominated by Gov. Susana Martinez last April after the retirement of the previous secretary, John H. Bemis. Martin previously served as the environment secretary under Martinez.
Budget could budge: Republican and Democratic leaders in the House negotiated Tuesday in hopes of giving the stalled budget bill a push. They will meet with members of their respective parties Wednesday morning, and action on the budget could come later in the day.
House Speaker Kenny Martinez, D-Grants, recessed the House on Tuesday to allow for some back-channel negotiations on budget issues. But Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, who chairs the Legislative Finance Committee, said he wasn't aware of any progress following that session.
The budget stalled on the speaker's desk Friday after a 34-34 vote failed to advance it from the House to the Senate. Democrats were down two members, Reps. Phillip Archuleta of Las Cruces and Ernest Chavez of Albuquerque, who both have health problems and haven't attended the session to date.
Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, joined Republicans in voting against the bill, which Democrats had commandeered to strip out merit pay for teachers and principals and other initiatives supported by the Republican governor. Democrats favored individual school districts controlling the money Martinez wanted used for the initiatives, while Republican said the New Mexico Public Education Department should control the money to assure they are enacted
Webcasting measures advance: The House Appropriations and Finance Committee gave thumbs up this week to two proposals dealing with webcasts.
House Resolution 2, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, would require that all webcasts of House committee meetings and floor proceedings during the session be archived so viewers may watch at their convenience. Currently, such webcasts can only be watched live. The resolution goes to the House Judiciary Committee.
Another Steinborn measure, House Concurrent Resolution 1, would require the Legislative Council Service to begin webcasting all committee hearings that take place between legislative sessions. This also goes to the House Judiciary Committee. However, for this resolution to go into effect, it must pass both the House and the Senate.
Second chance for DWI bill: House Bill 10, left to die last week, got a do-pass recommendation from the House Transportation and Public Works Committee on Tuesday on a 6-0 vote and now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.
Sponsors Elizabeth "Liz" Thomson, D-Albuquerque, and Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, asked the members of the committee to reconsider the bill after it was tabled last Thursday.
The bill, similar to one passed by the House last year, closes loopholes in the state's DWI laws. The bill would include felony DWI under the state's Habitual Offender Enhancement statute, increase requirements for removal of an ignition interlock device and mandate home Breathalyzers for offenders sentenced to house arrest.
DWI recidivism: House Memorial 75, introduced by Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque, asks the Administrative Office of the Courts to convene a task force to survey practices and programs for DWI recidivism.
The memorial proposes a review of research results from programs like the 24/7 sobriety and drug monitoring program in South Dakota. It also calls for a survey of the effective sentencing and probation management practices around New Mexico, such as supervised probation, drug testing and jail time sanctions for probation violations.
Minimum-wage boosters: Sen. Bill Soules says he is optimistic that a constitutional amendment to raise the statewide minimum wage will make the November ballot.
Soules, D-Las Cruces, said during a news conference Tuesday that ordinary people from both political parties believe an increase is necessary. The state minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, although Albuquerque and Santa Fe require higher wages.
The constitutional amendment introduced by Soules and Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, would raise the minimum wage to about $8.20 and have yearly escalators built in to account for changes in the cost of living. It would need to clear the Senate and House of Representatives to qualify for the ballot.
Julia Castro, who owns Cafe Castro in Santa Fe, joined Soules and other Democrats at the news conference. She says she pays her employees above Santa Fe's minimum wage of $10.51 an hour. "My major expense is my payroll," Castro said, "but I don't mind."
She said she cuts back a bit on her household expenses to meet payroll because the state needs to "change the disparity of the haves and have-nots."
Toughen that process: Sen. John Ryan proposes a constitutional amendment to make it harder to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
It survived its first hearing Tuesday, advancing from the Senate Rules Committee on a 5-4 vote. Ryan, R-Albuquerque, says a two-thirds majority of the Legislature should be required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Currently, a simple majority is required.
Thirty-seven proposed amendments have been introduced this session, but no more than a handful are likely to make the ballot. Ryan's proposal to heighten the requirements goes next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Looking ahead: Lawmakers will recognize acequia leaders and the 25th anniversary of the New Mexico Acequia Association beginning at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, in the Roundhouse. Parciantes and mayordomos will talk about the importance of maintaining the centuries-old ditch systems that provide irrigation to thousands of acres of gardens, orchards and crops.
Acequia associations are asking for investment in irrigation works and for a "positive" working relationship with the state engineer to develop water sharing and allocation during the current drought.
• Senate Bill 89, which would commit $82 million from the Arizona Water Settlements Act toward water supply projects in southwestern New Mexico that don't include diverting the Gila River, is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Conservation Committee at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13.
The Interstate Stream Commission has until the end of this year to tell the U.S. Department of the Interior how it proposes to use federal money and Gila River water available under the settlement. Conservationists don't want to see the Gila River -- the state's last free-flowing river -- dammed and diverted.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, proposes using federal funds to beef up water conservation, watershed health and irrigation systems to meet water supply needs before diverting the river.
Quote of the day: "I'm against your amendment because I don't believe smoking a bowl should be a constitutional right." -- Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, to Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, about Senate Joint Memorial 10, which would allow voters to decide whether marijuana use should be legalized in the state.