NM Legislative Roundup February 26th

18 February 2009

NM Legislative Roundup February 26th

Days remaining in session: 23

Smoking in car:
The Senate on Wednesday agreed to a measure (SB44) that would prohibit adults from smoking in a car in the company of a minor.

“Small children are not in a position to object when someone is smoking in a vehicle in which they are passengers,” said Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill.

“This is tragic, since we now know that secondhand smoke, especially in confined areas like the interior of a vehicle, poses significant health risks for occupants in general and children in particular,” she said in a statement.

The bill goes to the House for consideration.

Public records:
House Majority Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said he no longer supports a bill he sponsored that aims to provide better access to public records.

At a meeting of the House Health and Government Affairs Committee, a variety of executive agencies sought exceptions to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, Martinez said. He said he can’t support a committee substitute for the bill (HB507) and will work to restore the bill to its original form.

The proposed exemptions include “records of a public body, that, by their nature, must be confidential in order for the public body to avoid the frustration of a legitimate government function.”

Another would exempt “records contained in or related to examination, operating or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of or for the use of a public body responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.”

Another proposed change says nothing in the records act “shall be construed to require a public body to provide records pursuant to that act to a party with whom it is in litigation.”

Martinez’s bill, among other things, would speed up the response time for agencies to produce records. Currently, agencies have three days to respond to a request and 15 days to produce the information unless they need more time. The bill would give an agency 10 days to produce records.

It also makes clear that an e-mail message is recognized as an official request for records under the act.

Plant power:
A measure pending in the House would look into the possibility of using the plant camelina as a biofuel.

The proposal (HB670) allocates $150,000 to New Mexico State University to look into the plant’s power potential. The plant is a member of the mustard family and grows in arid areas.

Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, is carrying the bill.

Oregon, Montana and other states are already looking into the plant’s potential.

Order of succession:
A measure (HJR15) pending in the House would have the speaker of the House serve as acting governor if the governor or lieutenant governor isn’t available.

Currently, the secretary of state steps in when the top two executives are out of town.

Under the proposal, the secretary of state would be fifth in line to succeed the governor, after the Senate president.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Anderson, R-Albuquerque, has two committees to clear in the House.

Solar loans:
Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, isn’t the only one jumping on the solar-energy loan bandwagon.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Benjamin Rodefer, D-Corrales, are sponsoring bills that would allow cities and counties to voluntarily create special tax districts and sell bonds to provide money to loan for solar-energy systems; homeowners could opt into the districts and apply for low-interest, long-term loans tied to the properties.

The loans would be paid back through an additional tax assessment only on those properties. The bills are based on a similar program started last fall by the city of Berkeley, Calif.

Wirth’s bill is SB647. Rodefer’s bill is HB893. Neither has been to a committee hearing yet. Egolf’s HB572 had a partial hearing Sunday in the House Business and Industry Committee, but further discussion was postponed.

Looking ahead:
A vote on a domestic partnership measure is expected in the Senate today. The bill (SB12) would give the same rights to domestic partners that married couples have.