The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Legislative roundup — Feb. 14


The New Mexican

Days remaining in session: 6

No politician pay raise: The House of Representatives on a 29-32 vote rejected a measure Thursday that would have given the governor and other statewide elected officials a 10 percent raise.

"These officials have not been compensated in a number of years," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe. He said House Bill 11 was pitched without asking elected officers whether they supported it. Gov. Susana Martinez has said she was not in favor of it.

Democratic Reps. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces joined Republicans in voting against the bill

Among the objections from House members was the disparity between the proposed raise for elected officials and the 3 percent raise proposed for state employees that is currently being considered by the Legislature.

A Real ID for travelers: For the past three years, Gov. Susana Martinez has argued that New Mexico's current driver's licenses don't meet requirements of the federal Real ID Act of 2005 because a 2003 state law allows licenses for undocumented immigrants. That has been one of Martinez's arguments for repealing the state law.

But on Thursday, Martinez sent a special message to allow a bill that would direct the state Taxation and Revenue Department to design and issue "Real ID" cards that would comply with the federal law. Such a card would allow bearers to board airplanes and enter federal buildings. House Bill 359, sponsored by House Speaker Kenny Martinez, D-Grants, would do tha

A similar bill introduced last year by Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Farmington, died in committee on a bipartisan vote.

HB 359 will be heard by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

So he's a poet?: A memorial to create a poet laureate position in New Mexico created a quandary Thursday for Sen. Stuart Ingle, a rancher and, apparently, a wordsmith of the plains.

Ingle, R-Portales, wondered if he should vote on a job that he might end up getting.

After the laughter stopped in the Senate Rules Committee, Ingle put aside his moral dilemma and supported creation of a poet laureate. The memorial advanced without opposition.

Tax break for younger seniors: Sen. Lee Cotter, R-Las Cruces, wants to lower the age at which New Mexico residents are exempt from paying state income tax

Only about 75 people have applied for the current exemption for people who have reached the age of 100. However, SB 200, which cleared the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee and was sent to the Senate Finance Committee, would grant the exemption to taxpayers who are 97 and older.

"We appreciate these elders have been paying for students' education and for numerous other government services for many, many years," Cotter said in a news release. "They deserve a break."

He said currently, there are about 250 people who would benefit from the change, saving them an average of $1,500 a year in taxes, starting with the 2014 tax year. The senator said he felt the state could afford to forfeit their nearly $400,000 in state income tax payments.

E-cigarette ban advances: The House of Representatives by a 65-0 vote on Thursday approved a bill that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to people younger than 18. It was amended to add e-cigarettes to the list of items banned on campuses at public schools.

The only objection during the House debate was over whether the bill reaches far enough. Some lawmakers support classifying e-cigarettes, which often are used to ingest nicotine via water vapor, as tobacco products.

Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, brought a couple of e-cigarettes to the House floor

The American Cancer Society and other groups that crusade against smoking favor regulating e-cigarettes in the same way that tobacco is regulated

"The language that we have in there now leaves some loopholes for Big Tobacco to drive some big trucks through," Rep. Elizabeth "Liz" Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said of House Bill 15.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products. "We can't wait for the FDA," Thomson said. "They may never come up with anything."

The Santa Fe City Council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and to prohibit their use in public places where smoking is not allowed.

The House bill next will be heard by a Senate committee.

Indigent care bill moves forward: A retooled version of SB 268, which seeks to establish a dedicated funding stream to provide money for indigent care, which would be used used to draw a windfall in federal matching funds, cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee on a 5-3 vote Wednesday. It now moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill would require counties to turn over the equivalent of a one-twelfth-cent gross receipts tax to the state for the indigent care fund. In the past, counties had discretion over how much they contributed to the state to leverage federal Medicaid dollars as part of the Sole Community Provider program, which has been eliminated. The bill also would give counties authority to impose a new one-twelfth-cent tax to generate the needed revenue. The tax would sunset in five years.

The New Mexico Association of Counties opposed early proposals for addressing the issue, which would have required that counties contribute all of an existing one-eighth-cent tax to the state for this program, but association Executive Director Steve Kopelman said Thursday that his board is "fine" with the new proposal. However, there are some aspects of the bill that the board has not fully vetted

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe.

Looking ahead: Educators wanting to "take back the joy of learning" -- and no doubt give lawmakers grief -- plan to amass on the Santa Fe Plaza around 12:30 p.m. Saturday for speeches, salsa music and a march down Don Gaspar Avenue to the Roundhouse, where there will be a presentation in the Rotunda at about 2:15 p.m. Organizers expect at least 500 educators to show for the event.

• The state Department of Transportation and several local and regional transportation providers will set up information booths in the Rotunda and give away items during Transportation Day at the Capitol, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14.

• New Mexico In Focus will look at legislative issues, including proposed fixes to the state lottery scholarship program and the controversial Downs Racetrack & Casino lease at the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque. The show airs at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, on KNME Channel 5.1 and repeats at 7 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 16

• Reps. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Dennis Roch, R-Logan, discuss education issues with Lorene Mills of Report from Santa Fe at 8 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 16

Quotes of the day: "I believe the term is 'aerodynamically efficient.' " -- Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, responding to another lawmaker's reference to his bald head.

• "What is transparent about a cooling-off period?" -- Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, challenging arguments that government would be more open if legislators were barred from lobbying jobs for two years after leaving office

• "It's going to take a pretty stout horse to drag me back here." -- Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, during debate about whether legislators should be prohibited from holding lobbying jobs for two years after leaving office.


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