NM Legislative Roundup March 14

Days remaining in session: 7

Conference committees:

A measure to open conference committees to the public and members of the Legislature who aren’t on the committees is pending on the Senate floor.

Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the proposal, (SB737). The committee she chairs, Senate Public Affairs, approved the measure Thursday night and sent it to the floor. The House has already approved a similar measure, which is pending in the Senate Rules Committee.


Putting contracts online:

The House on Friday approved a measure (HB546) that would put all state contracts worth more than $20,000 online by Jan. 1, 2010.

The General Services Department will maintain the database. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, now goes to the Senate for debate.

Filling legislative vacancies:

The Senate has approved a bill (SB254) that would require a county commission submitting the name of one of its members to the governor for consideration in filling a vacant, multicounty legislative seat to also submit at least one additional name of someone who is not on the board.

“This legislation is being led by the need for ethics reforms that would help avoid possible conflicts of interest. This measure aims at ensuring that the process is as transparent as possible and fair to all qualified and interested people with political aspirations,” said Sen. Lynda M. Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, the bill’s sponsor. Lovejoy said the bill could help avoid conflicts of interest and “revolving door politics.”

The bill goes to the House for consideration.

Extra term for county officers:

A proposal to relax term limits on elected county officials easily passed the Senate on Friday.

The measure would allow county officials to serve three consecutive four-year terms. Currently, there is a limit of two terms, and then an individual is ineligible to hold a county office for two years.

The proposal (SJR2) by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, would cover county commissioners as well as elected officers such as sheriff, clerk and assessor.

Supporters, such as Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, said the proposed constitutional amendment would help smaller counties retain experienced leaders. Sen. Dianna Duran, R-Tularosa, said, “This change will actually empower the taxpayer to keep officials who are doing a good job in their offices.”

The proposal passed the Senate 32-3. If the House approves it, the proposal will be on the general election ballot in 2010 for voters to decide.

Renewable energy financing:

A bill that would help homeowners finance solar-energy systems and other renewable-energy projects through property tax assessments on their houses is scheduled for a hearing before the House Health and Government Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. today.

Senate Bill 647, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, is one of three similar bills that allow counties to establish special tax assessment districts and allow homeowners to request a special tax on their properties, with the revenue going to pay for long-term loans on renewable energy improvements such as solar photovoltaic or solar thermal systems.

Auto emissions:

New Mexico will delay implementing emission requirements for cleaner-burning automobiles under a proposal approved by the House on Friday.

The tougher emission standards are to start with 2011 model cars, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Those should become available to consumers next year, but the California-developed emission limits are on hold because of a federal regulatory decision.

President George W. Bush’s administration last year blocked California and 13 other states, including New Mexico, from implementing their proposed vehicle standards that will restrict greenhouse-gas emissions. California and other states are trying to reverse the decision, however.

The legislation will push back the start date for the New Mexico standards until 2013 model vehicles.

The House approved the proposed delay on a 50-19 vote and sent it to the Senate, which has approved a similar measure.

Looking Ahead:

Gov. Bill Richardson on Monday will hold five-minute constituent meetings with people who wish to talk with him about pending legislation. The meetings are on a first-come, first-served basis in his fourth-floor office of the Capitol from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

Richardson’s office says the governor won’t talk about capital outlay requests.