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Today, New Mexico's 50th legislative session began with all its attendant pomp and circumstance: a series of Biden-esque gaffes; a fiery speech from new Gov. Susana Martinez; and an apparently failed attempt to unseat state Rep. Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, as House speaker.
Moments after the state House convened, representatives cast their votes for speaker--a position Luján has held since 2001, and which comes with a significant measure of power. (The speaker assigns lawmakers to committees and decides which and how many committees bills must pass through, giving him huge influence over which bills actually make it to the House floor.)
Despite an expected challenge from Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Doña Ana, Luján's only opposition was state Rep. Tom Taylor, R-San Juan, who lost out to Luján 36-33.
Andy Nuñez, the Democratic state representative who had predicted that Cervantes had the votes to wrest the speakership from Luján, declined to vote for either Luján or Taylor, instead declaring himself "present."
Luján accepted his next session as House speaker with a short speech.
"I am deeply humbled and honored to continue to serve as your speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives," Luján said. "I thank you for the honor."
After a brief recess, the state Senate joined the House to hear Lt. Gov. John Sanchez awkward introductions of public dignitaries in attendance--"Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gonzales" (it's Gutierrez); "Super Court Justice Edward Chavez" (Supreme); etc. Then came Gov. Susana Martinez' State of the State address.
You can view the entire speech here, but here are a few key points (with SFR's own fact checking):
"The day I was elected Governor, the state's budget deficit was estimated at just over 200 million dollars," Martinez said. "A week later, it doubled and grew to half a billion dollars."
That's not a wholly accurate representation of what happened. The Legislative Finance Committee, the state Legislature's nonpartisan budget agency, had estimated the budget gap at approximately $250 million; then-Gov. Bill Richardson's office put it at $450 million.
Here's a great explanation of why the LFC's number (recently revised to $215 million) is the right one.
2. Film tax rebate
“I propose reducing the state’s film subsidy from 25 percent to 15 percent,” Martinez said today. “This has been incorrectly referred to as a tax credit,” she added. “It has nothing to do with taxes.”
According to the New Mexico Film Office (part of the state’s Economic Development Department), that’s not wholly true. The only expenses that qualify for the current 25 percent refund are taxable production costs. In other words, film producers pay, say, $92 in taxable expenses and $8 in state taxes on those expenses. The total ($100) is used to calculate the rebate ($25).
“Technically, New Mexico has a ‘refundable tax credit,’” the Film Office’s website explains.
3. “Rational regulation”
“We will maintain common-sense protections for consumers, workers and our environment,” Martinez said. “Rational regulations will remain, but irrational red tape will be cut.”
But potential conflict lies in whose definition of ‘rational’ will prevail.
Martinez named the oil and gas pit rule, a 2008 environmental protection measure, and the greenhouse gas emissions cap approved in December (which Martinez terms the “cap-and-tax”) as examples of irrational red tape--but the agencies that approved these regulations, often after extensive public input, would obviously beg to differ.
(This Richardson-era press release gives a sense of the conflict between environmentalists, who maintain the pit rule protects groundwater and that drilling activity rises and falls according to oil prices, and pit rule critics who say it discourages drilling.)
Martinez made public her support for the education reform model implemented under Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida: giving individual public schools a grade, from A to F, on their performance.
“That’s real accountability that will yield real results,” Martinez said.
An interesting article in Florida’s TCPalm explores the pros and cons of the Bush model.
5. Expanding Katie’s Law
Martinez favors expanding a law named after Katie Sepich, a NMSU student who was raped and murdered in 2003 and whose killer was caught years later (in a case Martinez herself prosecuted) via a DNA match.
Sounds reasonable. But an expansion would require DNA to be collected at all felony arrests�not convictions.
“To me, it is a violation of people’s rights to have their DNA collected when they have not been convicted of a crime,” Santa Fe defense lawyer Dan Cron tells SFR. “The standard for arresting someone is very low�a probable cause standard�and I think it’s an invasion of people’s right to privacy.”
Also, Cron notes, requiring DNA collection at every single felony arrest could represent a significant cost increase to the state.
Martinez also favors increasing penalties for repeat DWI convictions.
6. Public employee ethics
“I propose prohibiting members of my administration and the Legislature from lobbying for two years after leaving state government,” Martinez said. She also favors instituting “criminal penalties for public officials who know about, but fail to report, pay-to-play activity.”
7. Voter ID
One of the most controversial items on Martinez’ list is to require all prospective voters to show photo ID.
“When people have to show a photo ID to rent a movie, it’s not too much to ask to show a photo ID to vote,” Martinez said.
But critics--like the Brennan Center for Justice and the ACLU, which sued to challenge Missouri’s voter ID law in 2006--say it’s a method of disenfranchising low-income voters who might not be able to afford a state-issued ID.
8. Restoring the death penalty in New Mexico
When Martinez said, early in her speech, that she hoped to “put New Mexico on even footing with Texas,” she meant it in more ways than one.
“I am calling on the Legislature to repeal the repeal and reinstate the death penalty,” Martinez said, to thunderous applause.
At any rate, it’ll be an interesting session.