The New Mexico state Legislature convenes Jan. 19, which leaves lawmakers plenty of time to sleep off their post-New Year’s hangovers. This year, they’re only meeting for 30 days, and they’re supposed to focus on the budget. That’d be easier if the numbers would stop moving. Woogh…
The upshot: Bills having nothing to do with money and lacking an endorsement from Gov. Bill Richardson will likely go nowhere, though House and Senate leaders also can decide if a bill gets a hearing.
As of Jan. 5, 66 bills had been filed in advance. The most prolific pre-filer, with 17 bills, is Sen. Timothy Keller, D-Bernalillo. Keller tells SFR there are two reasons why few lawmakers bother to file their bills early. “One is, it just takes a lot of time. I’ve been working on these nights and weekends all year,” he says. “The other reason is strategic. If you want to get an issue out there, you pre-file. But if you want to keep something under the radar, you’re not going to.”
These early bills got SFR’s attention, at least. The alternative titles are merely our suggestions for added zest.
CONSUMER & TAXPAYER PROTECTIONS
SB 33: Database & Requirements of Certain Loans
Alt. title: “Loan Shark Surveillance”
This bill would cap interest rates on small, payday-type loans—from 36 to 45 percent, depending on the amount. It also would require companies to track their loans in a database accessible to state regulators.
“Lt. Gov. [Diane] Denish had a predatory lending task force, and a whole group of industry and interested legislators met. There was not a consensus coming out of that…but the lieutenant governor asked me to carry this bill,” Wirth says.
SB 19: Attorney General Securities Enforcement
Alt. title: “The Gary Bland Memorial Bill”
Keller modeled this bill on a New York state law that enabled the prosecutions of financial fraudsters like Bernie Madoff—and CDR Financial, the subject of a pay-to-play investigation in New Mexico.
“Thank goodness for New York because they’re the ones that have been policing our security investments and the rest of the country’s. The idea is to give our AG similar powers, only with respect to securities fraud,” Keller tells SFR.
Does Keller want the state AG to investigate fraud because the executive branch can’t police itself? “We definitely have structural conflicts of interest in our state investment funds,” Keller says.
Both the State Investment Council and Regulations and Licensing Department, which have oversight of state securities, are controlled by the governor’s office.
HB 27: Recovery of Damages to Natural Resources
Alt. title: “Make Polluters Pay”
Courts have ruled that the state can recover cleanup costs from companies that pollute lakes and streams, but not underground aquifers.
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, would change that. “It’s a false concept to say, ‘We’re going to get only surface water protected, but not groundwater,’ because it’s the same,” Egolf says.
Oil and gas companies have stalled this change in the past. “A lot of people in that industry want to be able to say, ‘Look, we had a spill and we paid our fine and that’s that.’ What we’re trying to say is, ‘OK, you paid the fine, but you also need to pay to clean up.”
Lawmakers say they’re sponsoring several anti-DV proposals at the request of Richardson’s office. SB 2, for instance, would narrow the scope of domestic violence laws with language specifying parents, grandparents, in-laws and “dating or intimate partners,” whether or not they live together.
“There’ve been different interpretations of who is a ‘household member.’ The domestic violence community has come together in an effort to narrow the focus on those particular cases,” sponsor Wirth tells SFR.
Other DV bills:
HB 17: No Domestic Violence Offenders as Police
Alt. title: “The No Shit, Sherlock Act of 2010”
As the law stands today, New Mexico forbids thieves and drunk drivers from becoming cops—but wife-beaters are A-OK.
SB 26: Create NM Domestic Violence Commission
Alt. title: “Yet Another Commission”
This bill would create a permanent, 23-member “leadership commission” to address domestic violence. It does not provide permanent funding for the domestic violence czar position created by Richardson, but its sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo, tells SFR “this is an attempt at keeping that initiative going.”
The governor is backing Senate bills 3, 4 and 5, which increase drunk driving penalties, according to Wirth, who sponsored all three.
One bill “closes a loophole that currently allows someone arrested for DWI who refuses a breath test to plea down to a non-DWI offense,” Wirth says.
Another bill, co-sponsored by Egolf, increases penalties. Those stiffer penalties would require three days in jail on a first conviction, or five days on a first conviction of aggravated DWI. The legislation also would forbid judges from substituting community service or electronic monitoring for jail time.
“It’s appalling, the casual attitude a lot of people have toward drinking and driving. One of the ways we change that is to give jail on the first time,” Egolf says.
SB 10: Narrow Food Tax Deduction to Staple Foods
Alt. title: “The You’ll Eat It And Like It Act”
Currently, grocers can deduct food sales from their gross receipts taxes. This bill, by Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Bernalillo, would limit those deductions to “staple foods” including “meat, poultry, fish, bread, cereal, vegetables, fruits or dairy products.” Under these rules, green chile appears to be a staple, but not Frito pie.
SB 6: Create Additional Judgeships
Alt. title: “The Judicial Vacation Preservation Act”
The bill would add an eighth judge to the 1st Judicial District Court, which hears cases for Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties. Sponsor Wirth explains it’s part of an “attempt by the court to restructure internally by taking away one of the hearings officer positions and finding significant resources internally to create a new judge.”
SB 9: Space Flight Informed Consent Act
Alt. title: “Branson’s Law”
This bill would release private spaceflight companies from liability should some future flight end in fiery doom. One obvious beneficiary: Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which plans to begin commercial launches from Spaceport America outside Truth or Consequences next year.
Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Doña Ana, tells SFR she was asked to sponsor the bill by the state Spaceport Authority as a deterrent to “frivolous” lawsuits. The bill, as written, doesn’t exempt companies if they show “gross negligence” or reckless disregard for safety; Papen says other states competing for spaceflight business have gone farther in limiting liability.
HB 20: Change Math Requirements For Graduation
Alt. title: “No Dunce Left Behind”
A school principal—Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Doña Ana—introduced this bill, which would cut the state’s high school diploma requirements from four to three units of algebra-level math. The bill would allow “financial literacy” to count for one of those units.
Garcia says it’s difficult to find high-level math teachers in New Mexico.
“I think it’s very much more important that our students learn everyday math,” she tells SFR. “I have a lot of support from a lot of superintendents. I understand that it is probably lowering the bar, but…if they’re college-bound, the counselors will make sure they take [advanced courses].”