SANTA FE (KRQE) – The 2016 Legislative Session is quickly coming to a close, set to end at “sine die” at noon on February 18.
Below is the current status of several high profile bills being considered and interesting bills that have made it to the governor’s desk. It will be updated as the session heads towards its conclusion.
HB 2 – The Budget
This entire session has had a financial cloud over it with as projections of the state’s budget picture got worse and worse and worse, credited to a crash in the oil and gas industry. Lawmakers sent a $6.2 billion budget to the governor’s desk that increases spending on Medicaid, corrections, state police and education, giving police and correctional officers as well as many teachers a pay hike. To make up for that, budget makers are sweeping one-time money from different state funds into the budget. They are also cutting most state agencies. There looms a possibility that if revenues don’t improve, lawmakers will have to return for a special session.
Capital Outlay Projects
During the last regular session, late squabbling over capital outlay projects led to a major meltdown and a special session. There was some frustration over how water project money was allocated in this bill, but a late amendment failed and the bill went to the governor’s desk.
HB 99 – REAL ID/Driver’s Licenses
Lawmakers and Governor Susana Martinez have ended a long-running feud over driver’s licenses, passing a reform that makes the state’s licenses federally compliant and settling the issue of how the state should handle driving privileges for those here illegally. The governor is expected to sign the bill.
SJR 1 – Bail Bond Constitutional Amendment
What was initially a sharp fight between courts and the bail bond industry was resolved in a compromise. Voters will get to decide if they want to change the constitution to allow judges to hold without bond criminal suspects deemed too dangerous to release while also giving those too poor to afford bond a path out of jail.
SB 118 – DWI Penalties
The original version of this bill increased penalties for 4th-7th DWI offenses and added additional penalties for 8th and subsequent DWI offenses.
In the form passed out of the legislature in the early morning hours, the bill only increases penalties for 8th and subsequent DWI offenses. It also dramatically increases penalties for DWI vehicular homicide. Currently, the maximum sentence for that crime is 6 years. This bill ups it to 15 years.
HB 65 – Child Porn Penalties
What a strange road this bill has been on. This originally started as an effort to allow prosecutors to charge those accused of child porn charges with a crime for each image in their possession.
Instead of doing that, the bill now significantly increases the maximum penalties for possessing, distributing or manufacturing child porn. It includes an exemption so that teens who are consensually sexting each other can’t be charged under this statute.
It was sent to the governor’s desk in that form early Thursday morning.
HB 97 – Less Testing for High School Freshmen, Sophomores
It’s rare when an education bill has support from teacher’s unions and the Public Education Department, typically rivals these days. That bill was one to reduce testing for high school freshmen and sophomores, deemed duplicative after PARCC was implemented for those grades.
SB 1/HB104 – First Aid Training Mandatory for High Schoolers
A bipartisan push to save lives, known as Jonathan’s Bill, is heading to the governor’s desk. That bill requires schools to include CPR and first aid as part of their curriculum.
HB 138 – 17 Year Olds Voting in Primaries
While efforts to open up the state’s primaries failed, there could be more people voting in this year’s primary election if the governor signs this bill. It allows 17 year olds who would be 18 in time for the general election to vote in the primary election. This has been pitched as a way to encourage more involvement in the political process for the younger generation.
SB 153 – College Credit for Military Service
This bill didn’t get a lot of attention but should be welcome news for veterans. It gives them an opportunity to earn college credit for their military service.
SB 21 – Brittany Alert
A proposed new Brittany Alert similar to an Amber Alert, but for individuals with physical and mental disabilities, was sent to the governor’s desk.
HR 1 – Archive Webcasting
On the transparency front, the House will start archiving its webcasts in 2017, making committee hearings more accessible to the public. Currently they are live-streamed but not saved.
Republican Top Issues – Three Strikes Expansion, Teen Curfew, Right to Work, Ending Social Promotion
As expected, the Democrat-controlled Senate killed off a number of bills that Republicans have either long backed (holding back third graders who can’t read) or gave a lot of attention to recently in the wake of a tough crime year in Albuquerque (teen curfew, three strikes expansion).
Democrat Top Issues – Education Funding from Long Term Savings, Minimum Wage Hikes, Helping Solar, Pay Hikes for State Workers
Because the governor sets the agenda for lawmakers in a 30-day session, many issues near and dear to Democrats couldn’t be heard at all (minimum wage increases, solar tax credits). A proposal that could be heard, because it’s a constitutional amendment, was one to spend more money out of the land grant permanent fund on education. The Senate was able to approve that, but on a party-line vote. It looks likely not to make it to voters.
A proposed across-the-board pay hike for state workers originally in the LFC budget was axed after it became clear to budget makers the state was in a budget crunch/crisis.
Long Shots – Marijuana Legalization, Abortion Restrictions, Bringing Back the Food Tax
A marijuana legalization effort made it further than before in New Mexico, getting to the Senate floor before it was voted down.
Proposed late-term and partial-birth abortion bans did not make it out of committee.
A “statement” pitch to start taxing food again in New Mexico didn’t go anywhere, but it’s unclear if it was ever truly intended to.
Changing the Roundhouse – Capital Outlay Reform, Ethics Reform
Capital outlay reform was a more prime topic than usual, with lawmakers looking at fixing a system that’s left a lot of money on sidelines. But a number of bills to increase transparency and prioritize the money being spent didn’t go anywhere. Background here: http://krqe.com/2016/02/16/another-year-another-set-of-pork-projects-for-lawmakers/
While some campaign finance measures did make it through, a proposal for an independent ethics commission in New Mexico fell apart in committee after the sponsor decided he didn’t want his name on what he viewed as a weakened bill.
Taking Pensions from Convicted Public Officials
The Dianna Duran case raised a lot of questions in New Mexico, including why she was allowed to keep her public pension following a conviction. A proposal to clear up the law and expand which pensions could be taken following a conviction didn’t get far.