Legislative Roundup: 2023 Session Ends Noon March 18

Constitutional amendments: Voters will consider two constitutional amendments on property tax exemptions for veterans next year.

The Senate gave unanimous approval Friday to two House joint resolutions.

Under House Joint Resolution 5, voters will consider an amendment to extend the current property tax exemption for veterans with disabilities who are considered 100% disabled, as well as the widows and widowers of those who are deceased, to veterans who are less than 100% disabled and their widows and widowers, according to a fiscal impact report.

“Right now, if you’re a 100% disabled veteran, you get a 100% tax exemption. But if you’re 90% [disabled], you don’t get anything,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho.

Brandt said House Joint Resolution 6 is similar but deals with veterans who are not disabled.

“Right now, we have a $4,000 exemption from your property value for anyone who served in our armed forces and had an honorable discharge,” he said. “This moves that to $10,000.”

Buying guns for felons: A bill that would make it a fourth-degree felony in state law to buy a gun for another person who is prohibited from owning a firearm, such as a felon, passed the Senate 28-10 Thursday.

House Bill 306, a priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, creates the new crime of unlawful purchase or transfer of a firearm for another and carries an 18-month sentence.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who was among the Republicans who voted against the bill, said federal law already makes such actions a felony.

“We don’t need to be duplicating all federal laws unless you just feel like that’s a really fun thing to do,” he said. “I think it just makes things more confusing, but if it makes people feel better, we can pass it and accomplish nothing.”

Nuclear freeze: The House of Representatives voted 35-28 Friday to approve Senate Bill 53, which would prohibit the storage and disposal of radioactive materials or waste in New Mexico unless the state has agreed to the creation of the disposal facility and unless the federal government already has created a permanent nuclear waste repository. Lujan Grisham signed the bill, which had already passed the Senate, into law later Friday.

The effort, sponsored by four Democratic lawmakers, is aimed at slowing the efforts of Holtec International from building a proposed storage site between Hobbs and Carlsbad that would hold highly radioactive uranium from reactor sites around the country.

Some House Republicans argued it could be tough to fight the proposal if it is approved by the federal government. They also said such a facility would be good for business and jobs in the southern part of the state.

The Senate already has passed the bill, which now goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her signature.

Oil and gas revenue: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 26, which will transfer excess oil and gas revenue from the Oil and Gas Emergency School Tax, as well as production royalties from federal lands, to the state Severance Tax Permanent Fund starting in 2025. 

At the end of the fiscal year, the Department of Finance and Administration can decide how much of the revenue can be distributed to early childhood education initiatives or to other funds. 

“This is the wisest, most prudent and most effective use of our money from oil and gas,” Lujan Grisham said before signing the bill in her office at the state Capitol Friday.

Legislative complaints: A de facto gag order would be removed against anyone who makes accusations of misconduct against lawmakers under a bill headed to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 169, which the Senate passed 34-2 Thursday, amends existing law governing the interim Legislative Ethics Committee.

“A person making a complaint is barred from being able to discuss the complaint itself or the investigation as it progresses,” said Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. “The reciprocal part of that rule and statute does not require that the party who is the subject of the complaint has to maintain that confidentiality or that silence.”

Calls to remove the confidentiality provision grew after Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, rebutted allegations by Marianna Anaya, a female lobbyist who accused him of groping her, while Anaya has been muzzled by what she has called an “unconstitutional gag order”.

Cervantes, an attorney, said the confidentiality provision may violate First Amendment protections on free speech.

Quote of the day: “Who is this punk?” —Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, of a guy he saw driving a white Lamborghini who pulled in front of him and then pulled over to talk on his cellphone. The punk, Harper said with a laugh during a Friday morning committee hearing, turned out to be actor Robert Downey Jr.

“How many millions of dollars did we spend for a Spaceport that still doesn’t do anything?” —Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, during a morning committee hearing.

“Why is this bill necessary? In English. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Pharmacy Act — blah, blah, blah. Why is this important?” —Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, questioning Cheranne McCracken, executive director of the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy, during Friday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. O’Neill called McCracken’s response “vague”.


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