NM Legislative roundup March 18

Days remaining in session: 3

Title insurance overhaul:

New Mexicans will be able to shop for lower title-insurance rates under legislation going to Gov. Bill Richardson.

A bill to revamp the title insurance system won final approval in the Legislature on Tuesday on a unanimous Senate vote.

Currently, state regulators determine the cost of title insurance and establish a uniform rate that all title-insurance companies must charge.

Under the legislation, the state will set a price floor for title insurance, but insurers can charge a lower rate if it’s approved by the superintendent of insurance.

People pay for title insurance when buying or refinancing a home.

“This bill, which will result in tangible savings for homebuyers and homeowners, is like a modest stimulus for New Mexico,” said Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico, which has long pushed for reforms, “and it is especially urgent given the current recession and housing crisis.”

Red-light cameras:

Revenue from new traffic-camera enforcement programs in Santa Fe and Las Cruces would be shared with the state under a bill approved by both houses of the Legislature.

SB519, introduced by Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, would amend a state law that requires Albuquerque — or any other city with a population of 200,000 or more — to turn over most of the money it receives in fines through its camera program. If the governor signs the legislation that passed the House on Monday, the revenue-sharing would apply to all the state’s cities.

Cameras have been in use in Albuquerque for several years, and the program cranked up in Las Cruces last month. Santa Fe expects its cameras to be up and running within three months at four Cerrillos Road intersections.

A spokesman for the governor said late Tuesday that he would not comment on the governor’s stance regarding the bill until the final version is available for review.

Car-title lending:

Legislation regulating car-title lenders was sidetracked in the House on Tuesday, jeopardizing its chances for passage during the legislative session that ends Saturday.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who is pushing the bill, blamed pressure from the industry’s lobbyists and said she hadn’t given up.

Denish said car-title loans are almost wholly unregulated in the state. There were more than 2,700 title-loan repossessions in 2007, she said. “These industries are stripping wealth out of our communities with their title lending practices, and it’s good policy to have more oversight,” she said.

HB406 restricts interest rates and fees on car-title loans, and requires such lenders to be licensed by the Financial Institutions Division of the state Regulation and Licensing Department.

The bill cleared three House committees before reaching the House floor for a final vote Tuesday. It was then shipped back to the Business and Industry Committee, the first committee that had considered it.

Committee Chairwoman Debbie Rodella, D-Española, objected to changes that had been made in subsequent committees and said she wanted to review it.

Animal gas chambers:

The Senate has approved a bill (HB265) that would eliminate the use of the gas chamber to euthanize stray dogs and cats.

“New Mexico has taken an important step in improving the lives of our stray animals by eliminating the use of the gas chamber for euthanasia,” supporter and Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said in a statement. “I’m proud that the Senate supported a more humane method to euthanize our stray cat and dog population and provide the necessary resources for communities to make the transition.”

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, is the bill’s sponsor.

Feral hogs:

The Senate has approved a measure (HB594), which would prohibit transporting, breeding or selling feral hogs.

Under the proposal, New Mexicans could still catch a wild pig to make it a pet.

The measure was introduced because of a proliferation of feral pigs, which can spread disease to wildlife and destroy their habitats.

UNM confirmations:

A Senate committee leader says lawmakers may not hold confirmation hearings during the legislative session for regents at The University of New Mexico and the delay has upset Gov. Bill Richardson.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the Rules Committee, said Tuesday that the confirmation hearings could be held later this year if a special session is called to deal with budget issues.

She said it’s taken longer than expected to get background checks completed. The committee has been locked in a dispute with the Richardson administration because the Department of Public Safety no longer will conduct background checks for the panel on appointees to high-level positions. At the committee’s request, the Attorney General’s Office has agreed to conduct the reviews.

The legislative session ends Saturday, but Richardson’s appointees can continue to serve if the Senate hasn’t acted on their nominations.

Looking ahead:

Bring a snack and some NoDoz: Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez predicted late nights in the Senate from now until the session’s end on Saturday.