Legislature passes halfway point

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

With the 60-day session of the 2007 New Mexico Legislature just past the midway point, local legislators say the pot’s just beginning to boil at the Roundhouse.

“Right now we’re in the middle of a lot of things,” Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said. “This is where it really gets busy.”

Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, said it was hard to believe the session was already more than half over.

“We’re just slogging through, a little bit at a time,” Moore said, “though it seems like we started the late nights a little earlier than usual.”

This past week several major bills saw movement, including a budget bill approved by the House and sent to the Senate on Tuesday. Lawmakers say the 11 percent increase approved in the House will likely grow even more as it moves through the Senate.

Moore said he voted against the budget bill believing the state needs to show more fiscal restraint.

“An 11 percent increase is a big increase in anybody’s book,” he said. “I don’t take the vetoes (defeats) too seriously, so it doesn’t really bother me.”

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, is also worried about the size of increases in the budget, which she fears could bloat to as much as $5.8 billion in its operating portion.

“I’m concerned about continuing to increase the budget,” Kernan said. “I worry about what will happen if the oil and gas money dries up.”

She says her chief concerns are programs and purchases that will require recurring expenses in the future.

She said a good example of what she fears is the educational employees retirement plan, which has been underfunded and in trouble for some time. While lawmakers currently have a 1.5 percent increase tacked to that program, Kernan ponders what will happen to it and other programs in a lean budget year.

Capital outlay
Lawmakers revived many capital outlay projects vetoed by the governor last year and lumped them together with new spending projects for a total of $82 million. That bill landed on the governor’s desk late last week after approval by both houses.

Among the items that would be revived from last year are $200,000 in funding for Eastern New Mexico University for parking lot improvements, an ambulance in Curry County, Roswell school money and a DeBaca County gas pipeline.

Ingle said he was glad to be able to address those needs in the eastern side of the state.

“Within a week, we’ll know who got what,” Ingle said.

Minimum wage
After the Senate quickly passed a minimum wage bill early in the session, that bill and a competing House version have moved slowly in House committees. Local lawmakers were unsure whether the Senate would get the House bill or if the Senate bill would make it to the House floor.

Both bills are in the House Business and Industry Committee.

“I thought we would have that settled by now,” Moore said. “There is fairly broad-based interest in the minimum wage.”

Moore said he opposes it in general for reasons of competition with surrounding states. He said he would like to see it left with the federal government.

Kernan said she’s also surprised because the Senate sent its version over early in the hopes of getting it through quickly.

Other issues
Other issues the three lawmakers interviewed are watching closely include a variety of eminent domain bills that could affect how municipalities and counties operate. Kernan and Moore said they were supportive of some type of bill but said it was early in the process.

Moore said smoking ban legislation appears to be headed toward approval. He said he was surprised at how much interest had been expressed from Clovis residents in favor of a ban in public places.

The three legislators are in agreement the cockfighting ban will pass and passage of medical marijuana legislation is looking favorable, according to Moore.

Total bills passed —
Locally sponsored bills passed:
• SB257 Claims Data to Other Health Insurers — Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs
• SB111 Concealed Handgun in Certain Businesses — Stuart Ingle, R-Portales

Total bills passed —
Locally sponsored bills passed:
• HJM21 Ronald Reagan Day — Anna Crook, R-Clovis
• HJM7 State’s Response to Severe Weather — Brian K. Moore, R-Clayton
• HB697 Tax Information and Reports to Labor Dept. — Moore
• HB507 Wildland Firefighter Criminal Liability — Keith Gardner, R-Roswell
• HB471 Established Linked Deposit System — Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa
• HB441 Gross Receipts Information for Municipalities — Campos
• HB425 Motor Carrier Drug Test Report — Gardner
• HB329 Local Hospital Gross Receipts Eligibility — Moore
• HB235 Require Tax Expenditure Budget — Moore
• HB194 Municipal Deposits of Public Money — Moore
• HB189 Rules for Killing of Non-gamefish — Campos
• HB188 Reusable Energy Transmission Authority Act — Campos
• HB114 Soil and Water Conservation District Assessment — Crook
• HB40 Curry County Magistrate Election Precincts — Campos

Jan. 16 — Opening day
Feb. 15 — Deadline for legislation introduction
March 17 — Session ends (noon)
April 6 — Legislation not acted upon by governor is pocket vetoed
June 15 — Effective date of legislation not carrying an emergency clause or other specified date

Source: N.M. Legislature Web site