Legislature Considers Legalizing Pot, Budget Solvency Plan Advances In State Legislature

Jan 25, 2017

New Mexico Legislature Considers Legalizing MarijuanaThe Associated Press

Democratic state lawmakers say the time is ripe for New Mexico to legalize and tax marijuana sales for recreational use as the state grapples with a budget deficit and plunging revenues.

Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque on Wednesday announced details of a forthcoming bill to legalize marijuana and tax sales by at least 15 percent to help shore up shaky state finances and reinvigorate the economy.

Local governments would choose whether to allow marijuana sales and could collect a 5 percent tax. Former district attorney and Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has consistently opposed legalizing marijuana or industrial hemp production.

Supporters of legalization also are pursuing a constitutional amendment that could go to a statewide vote in 2018 without the governor's say.

Budget Solvency Plan Advances In New Mexico LegislatureThe Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers have outlined a compromise on solvency legislation designed to fix a state budget deficit and restore reserves.

A conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday signed off on solvency measures that would target $46 million in local school district reserves to shore up the state general fund. A vote on the provisions was pending in the House and Senate.

Other compromises would reduce funding by $7.6 million to a closing fund to support businesses that expand in New Mexico, a smaller cut than initially proposed.

An amended package of budget solvency bills would fill an $80 million shortfall for the current fiscal year ending June 30 and boost reserves to 2.3 percent of annual spending.

City Councilor Under Fire For Comment About Slapping Women – KOB-TV, Associated Press

A Carlsbad City Council member is under fire for posting on social media that women have the "right to get slapped."

KOB-TV reported Tuesday that J.R. Doporto says he was only joking on his personal Facebook page when he commented that women have many rights, including the right to cook, clean and get slapped, just one day after millions of women gathered in communities around the world to march for women's rights.

Doporto says people who know him, know he was joking. He says he is sorry if he offended anyone.

Many members of the Carlsbad community say Doporto should be held accountable for his words regardless of his intention. A petition is calling for his resignation.

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway released a statement to KOB saying Doporto has his right to freedom of speech.

Public officials across the U.S. are facing consequences for social media postings on the women's marches.

The rash of incidents, which range from boorish to vulgar, highlight how nasty political discourse has become since the divisive presidential election.

Lawmaker's Aide: EPA Freeze Won't Stop Colorado Mine CleanupThe Associated Press 

A spokeswoman for Colorado Republican congressman Scott Tipton says the cleanup of a massive mine waste spill in southwestern Colorado won't be affected by the Trump administration's freeze on some environmental spending.

Liz Payne said Wednesday that Tipton's office got assurances from the White House that restoration work and water quality monitoring after the Gold King Mine spill will continue.

The spill polluted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The administration ordered a temporary suspension Tuesday of new business activities at the Environmental Protection Agency, including work assignments to contractors.

The EPA oversees the Gold King cleanup. The agency inadvertently triggered the 3-million-gallon blowout in August 2015.

The freeze created widespread confusion about its reach. Tipton's statement was the first word on whether the Gold King would be affected.

2 Lawmakers Pushing 'Right To Die' Bill In New MexicoAssociated Press

Two Democratic lawmakers are pushing a proposal that would allow terminally ill patients in New Mexico to end their lives with help from doctors.

Reps. Bill McCamley and Deborah Armstrong have filed a bill that would prevent New Mexico doctors from facing prosecution for helping terminally ill patients end their lives.

Five other states allow residents to end their lives legally with medication prescribed by a physician.

In June, the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to overturn a state law preventing doctors from ending the lives of terminally ill patients. The state's assisted suicide law classifies such acts as a fourth-degree felony.

Advocates vowed to pressure lawmakers to change state law.

Head Of Navajo Nation Releases Aid To Deal With Storm DamageAssociated Press

The head of the Navajo Nation has declared a state of emergency in response to winter storms that have hit the huge reservation that encompasses New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

President Russell Begaye issued the declaration on Tuesday. The move will free up funds from the Navajo government to help parts of the nation that have been hit particularly hard by the storms.

In a statement, Begaye said: "Constituents at the chapter level are requesting wood, coal, water, medication, and food. These funds can be used for that."

Begaye said chapters on the 27,000-square-mile reservation that have declared emergencies can now use money designated for such situations.

New Mexico Supreme Court To Decide Power Plant CaseAssociated Press

It will be up to the New Mexico Supreme Court to determine whether state regulators followed the law when deciding a case that will chart the path forward for a major electric provider and its half-million customers.

Environmentalists argue the Public Regulation Commission's approval of a plan to replace the power lost from the upcoming closure of two units at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station was arbitrary.

Attorneys for New Energy Economy say Public Service Co. of New Mexico is relying too much on coal and nuclear power and that the utility failed to prove the cost-effectiveness of the plan.

The utility says the plan was thoroughly examined as part of a public process, complies with a federal mandate to curb haze-causing pollution and keeps costs down for customers.

New Mexico House And Senate Diverge On Solvency PlanAssociated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are sending a budget solvency bill to the governor even as new disagreements have emerged over how to fix a state budget deficit and rebuild reserves.

The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would tap tax payments by insurance companies immediately instead of waiting for the next fiscal year. That would free up $88 million to shore up the state general fund.

The Legislature is attempting to plug an $80 million current-year deficit and create a modest financial cushion.

Negotiations over three other solvency bills were extended Tuesday after the Senate rejected House amendments. A proposal to reduce public school district funding by 2 percent was sent to conference committee to decide whether schools with low reserves will be exempt.

Bills To Reinstate New Mexico's Solar Tax Credit Move AheadAssociated Press

Bipartisan efforts are making headway in the New Mexico House and Senate to reinstate a tax credit that spurred nearly a quarter billion dollars of investment in roof-top solar and related jobs before expiring last year.

A Senate panel on Tuesday endorsed one of three identical bills that call for renewing the credit for an additional eight years. A House committee took similar action Monday.

The credit expired in 2016 despite attempts during the previous legislative session to extend the program. The chief concern last year was the $5 million it would cost the state annually to continue the program.

While lawmakers are still grappling with a budget crisis, supporters say the return on investment outweighs the cost and that the legislation should be seen as an economic development bill.

New Mexico Bill Would Halt Enforcement Of Immigration LawsAssociated Press

A new proposal would prevent New Mexico law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero has introduced a bill that would prohibit New Mexico police departments or sheriff's offices from cooperating with federal agents in deporting immigrants suspected of living in the country illegally.

The Albuquerque Democrat's plan also would ban agencies from getting "federal funds, equipment, personnel or resources for the purpose of detecting or apprehending" such immigrants.

The proposal comes as a number of New Mexico cities and towns have declared themselves "sanctuaries" for immigrants living in the country illegally. Activists have presses cities and towns for the declaration amid uncertainty from President Donald Trump.

The new president campaigned on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and promised to deploy a "deportation force."

Downturn In Energy Production Hits Budgets In 6 States - By Christina A. Cassidy, Associated Press

A new financial analysis says six of the country's major energy-producing states have slipped into recession.

The report by S&P Global Ratings says a sharp decline in energy production and exploration over the last 18 months has caused revenue to plummet and job growth to stagnate. The states are Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

The budget troubles are not limited to just energy-producing states, although they are among the hardest hit. A recent Associated Press survey found that two-thirds of the states are currently dealing with a budget shortfall or expect to confront one in the coming fiscal year.

Experts say state economic growth has been slower than expected, with revenue in some places failing to meet projections or keep up with rising spending needs.