Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another Prostitution Bill Passes House

The House just passed, unanimously another bill aimed at stopping the promotion of prostitution in New Mexico.

This was Rep. Tim Lewis' House Bill 295, which would add prostitution websites and online forums as places that promote prostitution.
Everyone knows it's Wendy.
(Breaking Bad fans will get it.)

This was sparked by a high-profile case involving a former president of The University of New Mexico.

F. Chris Garcia, a political science professor, was arrested in 2011 and accused of helping to run a website called Southwest Companions, which promoted prostitution.

But last year, a state district judge ruled that the website did not constitute a “house of prostitution.” Whitaker also said the website wasn’t a “place where prostitution is practiced, encouraged or allowed.”

That decision prompted Gov. Susana Martinez to call for legislators to update New Mexico’s prostitution laws to include websites.

Will 2013 be remembered as "The Year of the Pimp?" in the Legislature?

As I wrote about in today's New Mexican, this is one of several prostitution bills being heard in the Legislature this year.

I'm still not sure why this is such a hot topic in the Roundhouse this year. But these bills seem to be flying through.

Skandera Hearing Likely to Take Two Days

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez just dropped by the news room and told reporters that tomorrow's Rules Committee hearing on Education Secretary designate Hanna Skandera likely won't be over until Saturday.

This sounds like the biggest public grilling this side of the world's largest free barbecue in Dalhart, Texas. (But likely not as tasty.)

Whether the committee gives Skandera's nomination a do-pass or do-not-pass, the full Senate would have the final vote.

Unless ...

Sanchez, answering reporters' questions, said there's one scenario in which Skandera's nomination would not go to the Senate floor. That's if there is a tie vote. In that case, just like a tie vote on a bill, the nomination would stay in the Rules Committee.

But even if that happens, Skandera would stay on as "secretary designate" with full pay.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Skandera to Get Confirmation Hearing

Two years after Gov. Susana Martinez nominated her for secretary of the state Public Education Department, the Senate Rules Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Hanna Skandera.

The committee never scheduled a hearing for Skandera during the 2011 or 2012 sessions -- or anytime between sessions as the committee has done for some nominees.

Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez sent a letter to Skandera today informing her of the hearing.

Skandera has been acting as secretary and being paid the same as a full-fledged cabinet secretary since early 2011.

My favorite line in the letter is, "Congratulations on your appointment and the committee looks forward to welcoming you on Friday."

The hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Gov. Johnson Signs Legal Brief Supporting Marriage Equality

Former Gov. Gary Johnson's name is among the 80-plus prominent Republicans who have signed a  legal brief to be submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a high-profile same-sex marriage case.

The list of Republicans on that list includes several ex-governors, including Jon Huntsman of Utah, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and William Weld, Paul Cellucci  and Jane Swift, all of Massachusetts.

There also are several former members of President George W. Bush's administration and campaigns, former GOP National Chairman Ken Mehlman, President Reagan's Office of Management and Budget director David Stockman, a couple of members of Congress and dozens more.

One technical matter though. Unless he's changed his registration since November, Johnson isn't a Republican anymore. I saw him with my own eyes change his registration from Republican to Libertarian, his first step in becoming the Libertarian Party's 2012 presidential nominee.

The Supreme Court intends to hear a suit next month that seeks to reverse the 2008 California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage. The high court also plans to hear a case seeking to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Slate has the entire list of dignitaries who signed on to the brief.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Marijuana Day at the Roundhouse?


Marijuana Day? Well, not really.

However, the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance at 11:15 a.m. today will present the results of a poll they say reflects that New Mexicans are “shifting their views on drug policy reform.”

I haven't seen the poll yet, and I don't even know which polling organization did it.

But I've got to add a big word of caution here: Results from polls commissioned by an organization -- be it a political campaign or an advocacy group -- tend to say what the organization wants. Not accusing anyone of dishonesty here, it's just a fact of life.

And if you don't believe me, ask U.S. Sen. Heather Wilson.

That being said, it's not a big stretch to think that public attitudes towards marijuana are shifting toward liberalizing the laws. New Mexico has had its medical marijuana law for years and none of the horror stories envisioned by the opponents came true. And of course there's our neighbor to the north, Colorado, where voters just last November said to legalize it.

The news conference is scheduled in Room 318 of the Capitol.

There are two major pieces of marijuana reform legislation in this session. House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque -- , which would reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession -- is on the agenda of The House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee today. (I wrote about that a few weeks ago. Read it HERE.)

Warning, though. That committee doesn't meet until after the House floor session, so that could run late.

The other piece of marijuana legislation is Senate Joint Memorial 31, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque. This memorial asks the state to study the fiscal effects of legalizing marijuana in the state.

SJM 31 was on the Senate Rules Committee's agenda yesterday, but it did't get heard. Maybe tomorrow.

UPDATE: 11:47 am:  I have some information on the poll, which was performed by Brian Sanderoff's Research & Polling, Inc. (a legit outfit) and commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance.

According to the executive summary, 57 percent of New Mexico voters polled favor reducing penalties for adult possession of marijuana to a civil penalty with small fines and no jail time (much like Rep. Kane's bill would do).

A slightly smaller number, 52 percent say they would support legalizing marijuana for adults so it could be taxed and regulated.

Nearly 40 percent said their legislator's position on the issue would not be likely to make a difference in how they vote. 31 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a legislator who voted to reduce penalties for marijuana possession.

The firm polled 514 voters. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

UPDATE: 1:40 pm Embedded below is the poll, with crosstabs.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Monday, February 25, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Dog Days at the Roundhouse

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 24, 2013

The New Mexico Legislature is going to the dogs.

Shockingly, the budget bill so far contains
no funds to beef up regulation of dog poker.
Also, lawmakers are moving several bills through dealing with those of the canine persuasion. And some might even argue that the Legislature is being kinder to dogs than most other interest groups in the Roundhouse.

The Senate early this month unanimously passed Senate Bill 139, sponsored by Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. Under this bill, K-9s — police dogs or dogs used by corrections officers — would be offered for free to their trainers or handlers when the animals retire from service.

Moores said in a news release that if the trainers or handlers don’t take the dogs, the animals would then be offered to a nonprofit organization, “if they are not a threat to public safety.”

“Currently, these dogs are treated like all other state-owned property, ” Moores said. “They are auctioned off or destroyed like an old computer or rundown vehicle.”

Moores told the Senate that many of the dogs have been trained as drug-sniffing dogs, and he doesn’t want them auctioned off to drug dealers.

Maybe I’m missing something here. Why would a drug dealer want a drug-sniffing dog around his house. To help him find misplaced dope? But I’ve known enough cops who have trained and worked with K-9s and I know what a strong bond there is between them. So I can’t see how this bill would be a bad thing.

Speaking of police dogs, there are a couple of bills that would allow local law enforcement agencies to use funds from the Law Enforcement Protection Fund to buy protective vests for K-9s. The bill doesn’t earmark any extra money for doing this.

Normally I hate it when I see a self-respecting dog wearing a sweater or some other kind of weird clothes. But this is different.

The Senate last week unanimously passed SB 141, sponsored by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. A similar bill, House Bill 152, sponsored by Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, got through its first committee and now is in the House Appropriations Committee.

Dog the Bounty Hunter appears in NM House of Representatives to support a bill establishing minimum requirements for bounty hunters
House members also seemed to like this Dog.
Then there’s SB 320, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriquez, D-Santa Fe, under which a person with a disability who uses a qualified service dog would have to be admitted to public buildings and public accommodations if the critter is under control. A disabled person would not be required to pay additional charges for the animal, but could be liable for damage done by the dog if a non-disabled person would be so liable.

Rodriquez’s bill would make it illegal to intentionally interfere with the use of a qualified service animal, unless there was a good reason for doing so. It also would be a misdemeanor to try to pass off an unqualified dog as a service animal.

That bill made it with no dissenting vote through the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

None of these dog bills have been controversial. However, HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, as originally written, would prohibit all local governments from adopting ordinances to regulate dogs in a “breed-specific way.” The purpose was to stop cities from adopting bans on pit bull terriers.

(Full disclosure: My daughter and her husband are proud owners of a pit bull. Omar is a little rambunctious, but he’s real sweet to my toddler grandson.)

The bill -- which has its own website -- passed the House last week with bipartisan support on a 48-14 vote. But before it got to the House floor, the House Judiciary Committee stuck on an amendment that would exempt home-rule cities from the law. Home-rule cities include the larger cities in the state, including Santa Fe.

Herrell told Capitol Report New Mexico that Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, will carry the bill in the Senate.

Wirth is a veteran of pooch legislation. A couple of years ago, he convinced the Legislature to pass a bill allowing restaurants to allow dogs in outdoor areas.

All in all, this year, if you say the state Legislature treated you like a dog, that means they treated you pretty good.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Committee Tables Marriage Equality Amendment

A House Committee voted Thursday to effectively kill a proposed constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

The House Voters & Elections Committee voted 7-4 to table House Joint Resolution 3 sponsored by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

All Republican members of the committee were joined by Democrats Debbie Rodella of Espanola and Mary Helen Garcia of Las Cruces to table the legislation.

Immediately before the vote, Egolf's voice was full of emotion when he said, "If this doesn't go forward, it's an extraordinary shame that people have to come here to ask for permission under the law to be treated equally.

Among the supporters for the measure was House Speaker Kenny Martinez, D-Grants, who compared the issue to interracial marriage, which was illegal in many Southern states before the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared such laws to be unconstitutional. Martinez noted that many of the arguments against interracial marriage at the time were based in religion.

That also was the case with the arguments against Egolf's proposed amendment. Many of those who testified against HJM 3 were clergy. One opponent told the committee, "Rome burned while men lusted over one another. ... Sodom and Gomorrah were ripped from the face of the Earth while men lusted over men. ... Can we expect (God) to bless America if we sanction this experiment? "

Had the resolution passed the Legislature, there would have been a proposed constitutional amendment on the state's general election ballot in November 2014.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Meanwhile, Back in 2014 ...

Gov. Susana Martinez
Gov. Susana Martinez
While most of the state's political junkies are still mired in the current Legislature, a couple of national political sites are looking ahead at the 2014 elections -- including New Mexico races.

Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has this to say about our governor's race.

Like (Gov. Brian) Sandoval in Nevada, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) of New Mexico is a Hispanic Republican governor in a state that Barack Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. But over the last few years, the Land of Enchantment has moved more sharply in a Democratic direction (though it did elect Martinez in the 2010 national Republican wave), making it less safe for a Republican incumbent at the statewide level than swingier Nevada. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Martinez recently came out in favor of a Democrat-sponsored bill that requires background checks at gun shows in New Mexico, winning plaudits from progressives in the state. It appears that Attorney General Gary King (D), the son of former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King (D), will probably challenge Martinez in 2014. He may or may not get a clear shot at the Democratic nomination. While New Mexico has become bluer, Martinez is still a relatively popular incumbent, so this race is LIKELY REPUBLICAN.

In another section of the article, Sabato lists King, State Auditor Hector Balderas and lawyer Sam Bregman as possible contenders. Bregman, who is running for state Democratic Party chairman has said flatly he will not run for governor if he gets elected to the chairmanship. I haven't asked Balderas lately, but most say he'll run for attorney general rather than governor. King already has announced his candidacy for governor.

Sen. Tom Udall
New Mexico also has another U.S. Senate race next year. Or is it a race? The New York Times' Nate Silver seems to think not.
Silver, who was a lot closer in predicting last year's presidential race than, say, Dick Morris, gives Udall a 97 percent chance of winning next year. That's the second-safest Democratic seat up for grabs next year.

The disappointing performance of former Representative Heather Wilson, the Republican candidate in New Mexico’s open-seat Senate election last year, suggests that Republicans have little upside against the reasonably popular Democratic incumbent, Tom Udall.
Also this week National Journal rated Udall as one of the two most liberal members of the Senate. The publication noted:

Yet the liberal label will likely have little effect on Udall's reelection bid next year. He is one of the most secure incumbents in the country, something he owes not just to his first-term record or his well-known name in Western politics, but to a changing New Mexico that now rests solidly in the Democratic column.

Still, I predict we'll hear the phrase "most liberal senator" in untold numbers of GOP campaign ads next year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 17, 2013

There was a little dust-up in the state Senate last week that didn’t get much news coverage, but left some hurt feelings.

Wednesday, Feb. 13, was Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Day at the Roundhouse. As is the case with most “special” days during a legislative session, there was a memorial, in this case, Senate Memorial 39, sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque.

As is the case with most of these memorials, which have no force of law, SM 39 was pretty innocuous. About the most controversial thing it said was, “Whereas, the New Mexico Senate welcomes members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to the state Capitol …”

Yep, you can bet your sweet whereas that some people took offense to the memorial.

Most eyes in the Roundhouse on Wednesday were on the House, where the gun-show bill was being debated. So it was only later that I started hearing angry rumors about what had happened in the Senate. “The Republicans threatened to shut down the whole Senate for the rest of the session if they passed the GLBT Day memorial!” was what several sources told me.

That didn’t seem quite likely, so I decided to check it out with the GOP Senate leadership.

Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque told me right away that he was the one who went to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen and asked that there be no hearing on SM 39. “It would have created a big floor fight,” he said. Another Republican senator was ready to introduce a “Traditional Family Day” memorial in retaliation, Payne said.

No Republican actually threatened to shut down the Senate, Payne said. But he made the point that encouraging politically charged memorials could open the door to memorials for a “Right to Life Day,” a “Pro-Choice Day,” on down the line.

“Those things should be in bills,” Payne said. If the Senate is going to get into serious, emotional debates about controversial issues, it should be over pieces of legislation that actually do have the force of law.

Memorials, Payne said, should be for uncontroversial matters — honoring champion baseball teams, the March of Dimes, etc.

Payne said he and Sanchez agreed to give the organizers of GLBT Day a certificate from the Senate instead of debating the memorial.

At the risk of offending a huge portion of my readers, I must say I see Payne’s point. For one thing, I’ve put myself on record saying the Legislature should drastically restrict the number of memorials and resolutions, which take up way too much time in both the Senate and the House.

I’m not for avoiding bitter floor fights over real issues that affect people, including gay rights.

But I’d much rather the Legislature spend time arguing over real legislation — like Rep. Brian Egolf’s proposed constitutional amendment to put marriage equality in the state constitution (House Joint Resolution 3) or Rep. Mary Helen Garcia’s House Bill 234, which would create a specific crime for bullying — than having some mud fight over some toothless but emotion-charged memorial.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, pointed out that other groups — Hispanics, Native Americans, African Americans, get their memorials. He called the Senate’s certificate a “second-class type of recognition.”

I also spoke with Amber Royster, the new executive director of Equality New Mexico, a major advocacy group for gay rights. She said she agreed that more legislative energy should be put into actual legislation.

Still, she wonders why such an innocuous memorial memorial like McSorley’s should be so controversial, why something that merely states, “New Mexico’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is composed of vibrant residents who are members of the state’s working community, including teachers, doctors, attorneys, accountants, activists and clergy,” should potentially lead to a floor fight.

Hopefully in the near future it won’t.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A New License Compromise

Sen Pete Campos
Sen. Pete Campos
One day after a new driver's license bill, endorsed by Gov. Susana Martinez, was introduced in the Senate, Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, came out with his own version of a bill that still would allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally.

Senate bill 578, would create a two-tiered driver's license. One would be a license that would comply with the strict standards of the federal Real ID Act. The other would be for people who could not use the license to board planes or enter federal buildings.  The other would be available to New Mexicans regardless of immigration status.

This is the type of license originally advocated by Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle of Portales, who ended up sponsoring the more restrictive bill endorsed by the governor. Interestingly, Ingle is a co-sponsor of Campos' bill.

Like Ingles' bill, SB 578 has been assigned to the Senate Public Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

The Gun Show Vote

Party-line votes are so boring and predictable. That's one thing I liked about the vote yesterday on House Bill 77, the bill that would require background checks on people buying guns at gun shows. The vote was mainly along partisan lines, but eight Republicans and three Democrats bucked the prevailing winds in their own parties.

Republicans were given some cover by Gov. Susana Martinez, who earlier this week saud she'd probably sign the bill as currently written.

I spoke yesterday, with Rep. Nate Cote, D-Las Cruces, one of the Dems who voted against the bill. He acknowledged that the fact he represents "a conservative district" greatly influenced his vote. His email, he said, was heavily against the bill. (Cote lost his seat in 2010, but won it back last year.)

Here's my colleague Julie Ann Grimm's article about the vote in today's New Mexican. And below are the representatives who didn't vote party line.

Republicans who voted for HB 77
Alonzo Baldonado
Kelly Fajardo
Nate Gentry
Jason Harper
Terry McMillan
Paul Pacheco
James White
Monica Youngblood

Democrats who voted against HB 77
Nate Cote
George Dodge
Kiki Saavedra

Compromise ... or What?

After weeks of speculation about a compromise on changing a 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico driver’s licenses, Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales introduced a bill Monday that would alter the state’s licensing system.

Senate Bill 521 quickly was endorsed by Gov. Susana Martinez, whose spokesman called it “a very reasonable compromise.”

However, Marcela Diaz of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a local advocacy group for immigrants, complained that “this so-called compromise is an insult to those who are trying to create fair and workable solutions that integrate immigrant families into our state’s public safety and anti-[drunken-driving] efforts.”

The rest of my story is in today's New Mexican. The bill itself is HERE

I understand that Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas has a bill of his own that's expected to be dropped today. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who Let the Dog In?

Dog the Bounty Hunter appears in NM House of Representatives to support a bill establishing minimum requirements for bounty huntersThe House of Representatives got a celebrity visit this morning: Duane Chapman, aka Dog the Bounty Hunter.

No, the Dog wasn't there to serve any outstanding warrants.

He was there to show support for Rep. Jim Smith's House Bill 313, which would authorize a licensed bail bondsmen to retain the services of a fugitive recovery agent -- a bounty hunter - to investigate, locate, arrest, and hold a fugitive after notifying local law enforcement.

The bill would hold the bail bondsman responsible for the qualifications and behavior of the fugitive recovery agents they hire and establishes requirements for bounty hunters.

Dog didn't speak to the House. The bill still is in the House Business & Industry Committee.

Cat and Dog
Cat & Dog

Monday, February 11, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Real ID Can't Pass Real Committee

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
February 10, 2013

Who says Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature can’t put aside partisan differences, roll up their sleeves and come together and agree on legislation?

This happened just last week. And no, I’m not talking about some apple-pie memorial honoring some 4-H Club. I’m talking about a real, live controversial issue that ended up with a unanimous, bipartisan vote in a House committee.

The bill was House Bill 144, sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. The legislation would require the state Motor Vehicle Act to create a new kind of identification card that would comply with the stringent requirements of the federal Real ID Act.

Last week, the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee spoke with one voice on the bill.

The panel unanimously tabled it — effectively killing the bill.

It’s not surprising that there’s across-the-board opposition to Real ID, which requires documentation of legal residency status to obtain a license.

After all, only 13 states have adopted driver’s licenses that comply with the Real ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 to standardize the driver’s license system nationwide. And 17 state legislatures around the country have passed laws forbidding their states to comply with the law, and several other legislatures have passed resolutions stating opposition to the law.

What’s surprising about this action is that just last October, Gov. Susana Martinez wrote to the federal Department of Homeland Security, wanting to know whether the feds would be extending the deadline for states to comply. At that point, the deadline for state compliance was in January.

“Unfortunately, New Mexico’s practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants not only poses a significant and well-documented public safety threat, it also undermines the validity and security of every New Mexico driver’s license,” Martinez said in a letter to the department. “It’s deeply concerning that New Mexicans who work at our labs, get on an airplane or need to show identification at any other federal facility will no longer be able to use their driver’s license to do so.”

By late December, Homeland Security announced that the deadline would be extended again. Still, supporters of the governor’s long-thwarted move to repeal the law that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants continue to use the Real ID argument to advocate for the repeal.

Bandy’s bill offered a possible way around the driver’s license issue. New Mexico driver’s license would be unchanged, but the new ID card would be ready in case the feds actually do start enforcing the act and requiring “Real IDs” to board planes or to enter federal buildings.

But Republicans weren’t going for it. The comment made by the one Republican to speak on the bill was that it would “take the heat off the Legislature to fix the driver’s licenses.”

The committee’s vote was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico's director of public policy. Steve Allen said the ACLU “is pleased that both parties in the Legislature don’t have any interest in implementing the Real ID Act. We applaud them.”

But Bandy said, “We’re going to need to do something soon.”

The Homeland Security news release in December announcing the latest Real ID deadline extension said the department by this coming autumn expects to publish a schedule for compliance. No actual date for implementation has been set.

More strange bedfellows: So we have Republicans on the House Health, Government and Indian Affairs Committee voting with the American Civil Liberties Union on the Real ID bill. But that’s not the only strange alliance in this session.

Just the day before, the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled Sen. Peter Wirth’s bill that would have specifically outlawed texting while driving. Most Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, which was opposed by the state Criminal Defense Lawyer Association. Meanwhile, most Democrats voted for the bill — which was supported by a couple of big corporations, Verizon and AT&T.

Just another Roundhouse do-si-do.

Governor Supports Gun Compromise

The Roundhouse press corps just spoke with Gov. Susana Martinez after a short speech in the Rotunda.

Among the questions asked was whether she supports the House Bill 77 compromise, which passed the House Judiciary Committee Friday night.That bill would require background checks on people who buy guns at gun shows.

"I think I could support it if it stays the way it is, that has, number one, keeping the guns out of the hands who people who don't have any business having guns.," she told reporters.

The people who have no business having guns, she said, are people who have been "declared mentally ill through the court system" and those who have been convicted of felonies.

The bill still has to go to the House Appropriations & Finance Committee before it gets to the House floor. And if it passes there, it still has to go through the Senate.

UPDATE: 4:04 pm. The House Democrats say that HB 77 will be debated by the full House on Wednesday.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Great Guns! Committee Approves Gun Show Bill with Bi-Partisan Support

After struggling with House Bill 77 for several days, the House Judiciary Committee Friday night passed a gun-control bill aimed at requiring background checks for people purchasing firearms at gun shows.

Surprisingly the bill passed with bipartisan support on a 13-3 vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, praised committee members, including Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, who opposed the bill in its original form but helped craft compromise amendments for the bill that allowed it to make it through the committee.

Unlike the original version, the bill would not require background checks for people buying guns in private transactions outside of gun shows. The new version of the bill also would establish a procedure to align the state’s mental health and criminal conviction records with the federal instant background check system.

The law currently requires background checks for gun purchases from licensed dealers, whether at retail stores or gun shows. However bill supporters say that currently some 40 percent of all gun sales in the state do not require background checks.

Last week the committee stalled on the original version of the bill, leading many, including myself, to consider it dead.

It's not over yet for HB 77. It still has to go to the House Appropriations & Finance Committee before it gets to the House floor. And if it passes there, it still has to go through the Senate -- and then get signed by our pistol-packin' governor.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Double Marijuana Hit

Not one but two pieces of legislation were introduced in the state Legislature.

The first is one I discussed with Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, a few weeks ago.

Senate Joint Memorial 31 requests that the state Economic Development Department convene work group, conduct a study and report back to the Legislature on the budgetary implications of taxing and regulating marijuana in New Mexico.

"It is time to study how wasteful New Mexico’s punitive marijuana laws are and how they continue to sustain a massive, increasingly violent underground economy, waste scarce law enforcement resources, and rob New Mexico tax-payers of millions in potential revenue," said Emily Kaltenbach,  state director with the Drug Policy Alliance in a news release.

Ortiz y Pino told me earlier that he would like to have a study in hand when he introduces a constitutional amendment to legalize the drug next year.

"Whether by the hand of lawmakers or a fed-up electorate, these laws are going to change," Kaltenbach said. She said a study would also "bring to light how the safe regulation of marijuana would undermine criminal enterprises on both sides of the border, while boosting New Mexico’s economy and protecting New Mexicans’ safety."

The voters in the states of Colorado and Washington decided to legalize marijuana last year.

The other piece of legislation is House Bill 465 sponsored by Rep.Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque.

Under the bill, possession of up to 4 ounces  of marijuana would be a civil penalty with increasing fines between $50 and $300. Possession of more than four but less than eight ounces would be a misdemeanor with no potential for jail time.

Currently, in this state, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a petty misdemeanor crime with fines and possible jail time. Possession of more than one ounce and up to 8 ounces is a full misdemeanor crime with bigger fines and possible jail time of up to a year.

Kane, a firefighter in Albuquerque, said in her experience in responding to fires, accidents and incidence of violence, she's seen plenty of bad situations caused by alcohol and drugs like meth and crack. "But I've yet to respond to a call caused by marijuana," she told me.

This bill appears to have legs at least in the House. Among the co-sponsors of Kane's bill are House Speaker Kenny Martinez, Majority Leader Rick Miera and Majority Whip Moe Maestas.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

Senate Judiciary Tables Texting Bill

In my story in today's paper about the Senate Judiciary Committee's tabling of Sen. Peter Wirth's bill to ban texting while driving, I spoke with Johanna Terrazas, a Chama resident whose father-in-law Alberto Terrazas, was killed in an accident involving a teenager the family believes was texting just before the wreck.

“Maybe I should email [senators who voted against the bill] a couple of photos of my father-in-law’s vehicle,” she told me.

She emailed me one such photo. Here it is:

Monday, February 4, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: The Latest Purge Scare

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 3, 2013

At least a couple of elections officials in Santa Fe and Albuquerque have some concerns about the way that Secretary of State Dianna Duran wants to clean up New Mexico voter rolls.

Duran last week sent a letter to all county clerks on Jan. 25 outlining a dilemma and how she proposes to handle it.

SOS Dianna Duran The letter first was publicized by the liberal group Progress Now New Mexico, whose director, Pat Davis declared, “Dianna Duran can’t wait to purge voters.”

The elections officials I talked to didn’t go that far. But both said there are potential problems in that letter.

The background: The National Voter Registration Act says there are only two reasons a voter can be removed from the official list of eligible voters for changing an address.

One is if the voter confirms in writing that he or she has moved to a different jurisdiction. The other is if the voter has failed to respond to a confirmation notice and hasn’t voted or appeared to vote from the date of the notice through the date of the next two general elections for federal office.

But here’s where the problem starts: As has been widely reported — even in this column — in 2009 the confirmation notices mailed out by Duran’s predecessor did not comply with federal law, and the sticklers at the Department of Justice ruled it invalid.

Thus, Duran wrote in her letter, “It appears the state may not in 2011 or 2013 lawfully remove voters from its official list of eligible voters based solely on a suspected but unconfirmed change of address.”

Gotta purge somebody: In that letter, Duran notes that the federal law “continues to obligate the state to take reasonable steps as part of its general program of list maintenance to remove persons from the voter rolls who have become ineligible for other reasons, such as death, disqualifying felony conviction, or mental incapacity as provided for by state law.”

She also pointed to a state law that requires individual county boards of registration to meet no later than March 15. What to do?

Duran said the Attorney General’s Office advised her that the boards of registration should meet to “review the list of eligible voters … Based on the AG’s guidance, any individuals identified by the board of registration shall be reviewed and investigated by the Secretary of State …” That investigation would determine whether a voter should be removed from the rolls.

Possible problems: Santa Fe County’s veteran elections director, Denise Lamb, has no problem with thinning out bloated voting lists. She said following the 2008 election, following regular procedure, Santa Fe Country purged between 4,000 and 5,000 names from its voter list.

“But you do have to follow federal law,” Lamb said. She said she’s contacted Duran’s office with a simple question, “Can the duties of the board of registration be expanded without statutory authority?” She said that nowhere in the law does it say that boards of registration report names to the secretary of state for investigation.

Bernalillo County Maggie Oliver, a possible Democratic challenger to Republican Duran in 2014, also has concerns about the new process outlined by Duran. Oliver said last week she also wonders about the practicality of the individual county boards reviewing the entire voter roll — especially in the larger counties.

According to the latest registration figures, there are 430,923 voters in Bernalillo County and 99,452 in Santa Fe County.

But the Attorney General’s Office said there is no legal problem here. “We don’t believe this is an expansion of the board of registration’s duties,” said Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for Attorney General Gary King, who, for the record, is a Democrat.

Regarding the logistics question, Duran’s chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, said his office is “working closely with the AG; we are in the process of developing guidelines for how counties may ensure compliance with both the state and federal laws in question.”