Legislative roundup, Jan. 31

Posted 1/31/20

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Legislative roundup, Jan. 31

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Days left in session: 21

Record approval: The Senate Conservation Committee unanimously passed two bills in a matter of minutes Thursday. Senate Bill 1 appropriates $1 million a year for the New Mexico Land Grant Council, which supports land grant issues, to hire another surveyor and property attorney.

The extra staff will help the council stay abreast of land grant surveys and challenges, said Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, who introduced the bill. 

Senate Bill 69 appropriates $2.5 million to ensure New Mexico continues to get federal money from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to help maintain water systems. Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, said the state money is a required match to receive the $11 million-plus in federal funds.

Early Christmas gift: Members of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee also moved quickly in unanimously passing House Resolution 4, which changes the date when lawmakers can begin to file bills before a legislative session. The new date would be Jan. 1. Currently, lawmakers can begin filing bills in mid-December.

The filing date is important because under a new ethics law that took effect this year, it initiates a period in which lawmakers cannot solicit campaign contributions.

Tax exemptions move forward: The House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously voted to advance a pair of differing bills offering a tax break to Social Security recipients.

House Bill 29 is a Republican-led effort to exempt Social Security recipients from paying any income tax, while House Bill 77 is a Democratic initiative to give recipients a break on $24,000 worth of Social Security income.

"I'd like to give this headache to the tax committee," joked Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, chairman of the labor committee.

Coyotes in the Roundhouse: Daniel Goodman, a tour guide at the state Capitol, gave a theatrical lesson on legislative business before some 20 students from Carlos Rey Elementary School in Albuquerque.

Bruce Torres, an assistant principal, said the students chosen for Thursday's visit take part in the student council programs or are part of a special "Coyote Crew" that demonstrates extra interest in civil affairs.

"We bring them to Santa Fe to show them how the Legislature works and try to connect decisions made at the school level to the state level," he said.

Retirement overhaul advances: A senate panel voted Thursday to advance legislation that would overhaul the state pension system in an effort to shore up massive retirement debt that some lawmakers worry the state won’t be able to pay without reform.

In a room packed to capacity, the Senate Public Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 72, which now advances to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. The legislation would increase contribution rates for employers and employees and reduce pension increases meant to keep retirement funds on pace with inflation. 

Retirees, including Jack Brodeur, executive board member of AFSCME Council 18, said the proposal would force an unfair cut to retirees’ pensions. But supporters, including Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat, argue that although the changes are difficult, they’re necessary to preserve the retirement system.

Quotes of the day: "It's always Wednesday." — Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, who explained that during the session, legislative workers don't get Mondays, Fridays or weekends because they work nearly every day.

 “We’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” — Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance committee, before discussing her panel’s work on the budget. 

 

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