Legislative roundup: Feb. 13, 2013

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, wants the federal government to start negotiating for the return of Spanish land grants to displaced heirs.


Days remaining in session: 31

More jail time for gun crime: People who steal firearms or who carry them while running from the law would face more jail time under a bill moved forward Tuesday by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

House Bill 297, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rhem, R-Albuquerque, also would increase penalties for felons found in possession of guns. Current sentencing guidelines call for one additional year of jail time for those gun crimes, in addition to whatever sentence a defendant is facing for the primary crime. The bill calls for three years minimum mandatory sentences for first offenders and six years for second offenses.

A representative of the Public Defender Department and others told the committee they worry that the bill will send more people to trial, increasing the cost to the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, law-enforcement officials, including Department of Public Safety Secretary Gordon Eden, said they favor the rule change, which is similar to federal sentencing "enhancements" when crimes involve guns.

Rhem said he believes the increased penalties will discourage felons from possessing guns and reduce gun theft because it will be a deterrent. "We need to go after the individual, not the gun, and so we need to highlight their behavior. If you are going to use a gun to commit a crime, you are going to do the time," he said.

The proposal, approved as a "do pass with no recommendation" on a divided 3-2 vote, moves next to the House Judiciary Committee.

New Mexico Bowl: In a bipartisan move, the House Democratic whip and the House Republican whip are trying to whip up support for a bill that would appropriate money for the New Mexico Bowl.

House Bill 530, sponsored by Reps. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, and Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, would appropriate $1.5 million to The University of New Mexico Board of Regents to be used over three years for the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. (Gildan is a clothing manufacturer that is a major sponsor of the event.)

According to the bowl's website, since its inception in 2006, the bowl game has been played on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas at University Stadium on the UNM campus. "The contest has pitted the Mountain West Conference against the Western Athletic Conference in the state's only annually nationally televised sporting event."

In a news release, Maestas said the event is "the kind of sports tourism that creates jobs, brings tourism dollars into the state and showcases New Mexico as a tourism and business destination."

The bill goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Hurry up and graduate: New Mexico college students on a state lottery scholarship would have to graduate within six years or would have to pay back two semesters of the scholarship under a bill introduced by Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque.

Senate Bill 451 is aimed at solvency problems in the scholarship program, according to a news release.

In addition to having a deadline for graduation, students would need to achieve a minimum score on the ACT or SAT entrance tests to qualify for the scholarship. And the minimum grade-point average would be raised to 2.75 from the current 2.5 GPA to continue receiving the scholarship.

The bill goes to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.

Map nerds rejoice: Rep. Stephen Easley, D-Santa Fe, an IT guy, will make map nerds everywhere cheer if his HB 493 to create a state digital geospatial data clearinghouse is approved. The bill creates a clearinghouse at The University of New Mexico to collect, inventory and maintain geospatial data, maps and photos. The clearinghouse would be accessible online and open to the public. The bill will be heard first in the House Energy and Natural Resources committee.

Helping homeless veterans: HB 495 seeks $100,000 to provide services to homeless veterans living in rural areas. The bill is carried by Rep. George Dodge Jr., D-Santa Rosa. The funding would go to the Department of Veterans' Services, but the bill doesn't indicate specifically how the money would be used.

Land grants: Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, wants the federal government to start negotiating for the return of Spanish land grants to displaced heirs.

In her Senate Joint Memorial 38, Lopez points to "inequities in the legal conclusions and reasoning" found by the New Mexico attorney general in a 2004 federal report on land grants by what was then called the General Accounting Office. The memorial calls for the federal government to begin talks with the state and land grant boards for the return of the land. Advocates say the land in question could be millions of acres.

The legislation will be heard by the Senate Rules Committee. It would then go the Senate Conservation Committee.

Looking ahead: Wednesday is Autism Day at the Legislature. Advocates for people who suffer from autism are pushing three bills during this session. HB 22, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque, would provide autism coverage to public employees in New Mexico. The bill passed the House unanimously and now is at the Senate. Meanwhile, SB 213, sponsored by Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and the identical HB 209, sponsored by Rep. Liz Thompson, D-Albuquerque, would appropriate $2 million to the Department of Health to expand and develop programs for individuals with autism spectrum disorder in the state. According to advocates, the prevalence of autism has increased from 1 in 150 in 2007 to 1 in 88 today.

o Wednesday also is Community Schools Day at the Legislature, and a 1 p.m. news conference in the Rotunda is scheduled to open with a "flash mob" of students who are converging on the Capitol, along with parents. Speakers will include Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, whose SB 179, the "Community Schools Act," is awaiting its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee. Other scheduled speakers include House Majority Floor Leader Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque; Jose Muñoz with the ABC Community School Partnership; Julia Bergen with Communities in Schools; and Frank Mirabal, vice president of Educational Support at Youth Development Inc.

Quote of the day: "I don't mean to neuter your bill." -- Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, offering an amendment to a bill (SB 174) by Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, that would repeal the New Mexico Animal Shelter Board and move its duties elsewhere. The committee gave a do-pass recommendation for the bill.


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