Legislative Roundup: 10 Days Remain In 2021 Session

Legislative Roundup

Prayer for senator: Members of the state Senate offered a prayer for Sen. Bill Sharer and his family at the onset of Tuesday morning’s floor session. But no other details were provided.

Sharer, a Republican from Farmington, has been physically absent from the Roundhouse for two consecutive days.

Sen. Craig Brandt, a Rio Rancho Republican and retired pastor who led the chamber in prayer, said, “Lord, we just pray for Sen. Sharer and his family.”

As a result of Sharer’s absences, two bills that have been subject to a legislative maneuver known as a call of the Senate, which requires every member to be physically present at the Capitol, remain in limbo.

“We’re basically on hold while Sen. Sharer is gone on those two matters,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said, (D-Santa Fe). Wirth is the sponsor of one of the bills that have been held up on the floor.

Mystery solved: Members of the Senate Finance Committee looked high and low Tuesday for the person who tacked a mysterious amendment onto Senate Bill 133 after its sponsor, Sen. Bobby Gonzales, (D-Ranchos de Taos), said he didn’t craft it, even though his name was attached to it.

“Did it just fall out of the sky?” asked Sen. Bill Sharer, (R-Farmington).

After the hearing, Sen. George Muñoz, (D-Gallup), who chairs the committee, said it was his amendment.

But Muñoz wasn’t around at the time to explain because he had left the hearing to attend another meeting when the question arose. He said he had sent the amendment to the Legislative Council Service in his name and “somehow” it came back with Gonzales’.

“That’s not what was supposed to happen, so I’ll take responsibility for that,” he said, adding he hasn’t been in committee when the bill has come up for consideration twice. “I will take the blame 100 percent for that.”

Improving legislative process: A bill that would create a 10-member commission to review and develop proposals to improve the legislative process cleared the House on a 41-26 vote Tuesday.

Under House Bill 301, a bipartisan Legislative Process Review Commission would evaluate legislative policies and procedures and report its finding by October 2022.

“Depending on the commission’s findings, this may mean shifting to a full-time, professional Legislature, which would allow representatives to give year-round, dedicated focus to their work in the Roundhouse,” one of the sponsors, Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, said in a statement.

The measure will be considered next by the Senate.

Salaries for public officials: New Mexico voters would be asked whether to establish a commission to set the salaries of legislators and other public officials under a measure the House passed Tuesday on a 44-24 vote.

The sponsor, Rep. Daymon Ely, (D-Albuquerque), said House Joint Resolution 12 is part of a “continuing development of making the state more professional.”

The proposal calls for voters to amend the state constitution to establish a public officer salary commission as a state agency. The proposed seven-member commission would be composed of two gubernatorial appointments, one state Supreme Court appointment and four legislative appointments.

In addition to lawmakers, the commission would “establish and limit” the salaries of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor, among others.

Ely agreed the “main thrust” of the proposed constitutional amendment is to transfer the authority to set the salaries of public officials from the Legislature to the commission, an idea some Republican lawmakers didn’t support.

“I don’t like to surrender my power,” Rep. Stefani Lord said, (R-Sandia Park). “Neither do my constituents. My constituents are very hard-core in their beliefs, and they like to keep ‘We the people.’ ”

Clean Fuel Standard Act: Despite concerns it would drive up prices at the gas pump, a bill designed to reduce emissions from the transportation sector narrowly cleared the Senate Finance Committee on a 6-4 vote Tuesday.

Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, (D-Albuquerque), would establish a clean fuel standard for New Mexico. It aims to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels through a market-based credit program. The transportation sector is the state’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Stewart said.

“This applies to businesses that refine, blend, make or import transportation fuel,” she said. “It does not apply to fuel retailers like gas stations.”

Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the Western states chapter of Power the Future, a nonprofit fossil fuel advocacy group, called the bill “disastrous”. In an email, he said supporters of the measure are ignoring that it could raise gas prices at a time when prices are “already skyrocketing.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, on the other hand, touted the benefits of the bill on Twitter. “New Mexico’s clean fuel standard program will drive economic investment while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change,” she tweeted.

Elder workforce plan advances: It’s a problem plaguing small rural and Native American communities: few young people sticking around to work or to help elders who remain behind.

House Bill 256, sponsored by Rep. Jack Chatfield (R-Mosquero), and Rep. Derrick Lente, (R-Sandia Pueblo), could help change that. The legislation, which cleared the House over the weekend, requires the Aging and Long-Term Services Department to put together a task force to determine whether the state should develop initiatives to train workers in the field of elder care.

Chatfield told the Senate Indian, Rural and Cultural Affairs Committee there often are no job opportunities for young people in rural areas, but they are needed by their elders.

The committee voted 6-0 Tuesday to move the bill to the Senate floor for consideration.

Quote of the day:  “I went to Northern California where they plant a lot of marijuana. I didn’t go because of that.” —Sen. Bill Tallman, (D-Albuquerque).