NM Legislative Roundup February 28th

18 February 2009

NM Legislative Roundup February 28th

Days remaining in session: 21 


Penalizing paperwork:

The House has approved a measure (HB367) that would reduce the amount of paperwork that state agencies can send to lawmakers. It puts some teeth into a current law that puts a five-page limit on what agencies can send to lawmakers, with a few exceptions.

Violations would mean the salary of the responsible Cabinet secretary or division director would be docked 10 percent.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, is carrying the bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Egolf has said the bill could save the state about $10 million a year.


Animal protection:

The state’s budget woes may be making it hard on the humans this legislative session, but advocates say it could be a banner year for animal protection.

The governor endorsed a bill (HB781) creating an equine protection fund. It would accept money from public and private sources to help care for, or humanely dispose of, horses that are abandoned or given up. He also touted proposals that prohibit euthanizing dogs and cats in gas chambers (HB265) and allow lethal injection to be done by trained technicians, rather than requiring veterinarians (HB593).

And he put in a plug for legislation (SB391) that limits when ranchers and farmers can kill wildlife on private land and provides a system for compensating them for crop losses.

Attorney General Gary King touted legislation (HB434) that allows animals to be added to temporary domestic protection orders. It means that pets would be removed — for their own protection — when domestic violence victims left home for a shelter, and cared for until the victims reclaimed them or decided where they should be placed.

Another measure (HB159), passed by the House, would broaden the state’s felony animal cruelty law, including making it a felony to deny food, water or shelter if it leads to great bodily harm or death.

Unwatering a watered-down bill:

Gov. Bill Richardson said proposed new exemptions to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act should be taken out of a bill pending in the House Health and Government Affairs Committee.

HB507, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, aimed to speed up the response time for getting public records, as well as make clear that e-mail can be used to make a formal request under the act.

But a committee substitute for the measure being pushed by executive agencies would create new exemptions to the Inspection of Public Records Act — changes that Martinez has said he cannot support and never intended.

Richardson said Friday “it should be changed” to take out the exemptions.


Development zones:

 The House approved HB552, which would allow infrastructure development zones to be set up with local government approval.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, would allow newly developed areas to pay for their own infrastructure without burdening areas that wouldn’t benefit.

The bill was amended in committee, and no longer contains provisions to give the new zones the power of eminent domain and to finance oil and gas development.

Voters in the zones would need to approve the issuance of the general obligation bonds. However, the property tax levies would not be subject to limits imposed on local governments.

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, said taxpayers could face potentially hefty tax levies if the proposed zones overlap with other development districts.

“I do not see enough protection for the taxpayer from having these initiatives layered one on top of the other,” said Arnold-Jones.

The measure goes to the Senate for consideration.

Expanding health care:

Lawmakers hope to expand health care in New Mexico by limiting how much health-insurance companies spend on administrative costs.

The House approved a measure (HB111) Friday that would require insurers to use at least 85 percent of their health-insurance-premium collections for reimbursing direct health care services provided to individuals.

Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, the bill’s sponsor, said it will ensure more money is going into health care rather than administrative costs.

The proposal is part of a package of health care reforms advocated by the governor. Heaton estimated that administrative costs for health insurers average 17 percent or 18 percent.

The House unanimously approved the measure and sent it to the Senate for consideration.


Train studies:

Lawmakers are asking for studies to determine whether it’s feasible to offer commuter rail service to additional communities in New Mexico.

The House approved nonbinding measures Thursday requesting the Department of Transportation to conduct feasibility studies of extending commuter rail from Santa Fe to Taos and from Santa Fe to Las Vegas and Raton.

Also endorsed was a nonbinding measure for a feasibility study of establishing commuter rail service between El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico’s second largest city.

The proposal initially had called for a study of extending service by the Rail Runner commuter train to Las Cruces, but the measure later was revised.

Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, who chairs the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, said the studies would not be started until local governments or private interests provided money to pay for all or most of the costs.

Rail Runner service to Santa Fe started in December.

The train has been operating between Belen and Bernalillo since 2006. In establishing the commuter rail service, the state agreed to buy nearly 300 miles of track between Belen and southern Colorado.

The memorial calling for a study of the Santa Fe-to-Taos route was approved by the House 53-11; the Santa Fe-to-Raton proposal was approved 50-19; and the Las Cruces-to-El Paso study proposal was approved 48-18.

The rail study of service from Santa Fe to Taos is HJM18; the study of service from Santa Fe to Las Vegas and Raton is HJM30; and the study of commuter service between Las Cruces and El Paso is HJM26.


Looking ahead:

Both the House and the Senate are scheduled to convene at 11 a.m. today.

u HB285, which would repeal the death penalty in the state will be heard Tuesday by the Senate Public Affairs Committee.