Friday, March 29, 2013

Gov has Signed 74 Bills So Far

UPDATE: 4:03 pm This post has been rewritten to reflect the latest batch of bill action by the governor.

Gov. Susana Martinez today signed the education pension bill (Senate Bill 115 sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle, of Portales) as well as four bills aimed at reforming the Public Regulation Commission.

Gov. Susana MartinezThis comes a day after she signed another major piece of legislation, the Health Insurance Exchange bill, SB 221, sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo and Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington.

For those keeping count, Martinez has signed 74 bills into law as of this afternoon. She's also vetoed 14 bills, including eight just this afternoon. Among those were the minimum wage increase -- which she'd said she would veto.

The last day a governor can take action on bills is Friday April 5.

Martinez still has 211 bills to consider before next Friday.

Among those not acted upon are the PERA pension bill, and the tax reform bill.

The pension bill will require teachers and other education employees earning more than $20,000 a year to pay more into their retirement. The bill, which becomes law in July, will lower cost-of-living increases for retirees. It also imposes a minimum retirement age of 55.

The PRC bills include all four bills in a package of reforms. The include establishing minimum standards for commissioners; making the Insurance Division a separate entity outside of the PRC; moving the responsibility of registering corporations to the Secretary of State's office; and de-regulating motor carriers, such as taxis and moving companies.

The health insurance bill will create the framework for a marketplace where consumers can shop for health insurance. Under federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). the state must have the exchange ready to enroll insurance customers by October.

Besides the minimum wage bill, the other legislation Martinez vetoed today dealt with education. These include SB 587, sponsored by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, which would have established a council to revamp the current system of grading schools.

In her veto messages to the House and Senate, Martinez said, "The status quo has failed and must be reformed if we are going to truly give every child the opportunity to chase his or her dreams. The vetoed bills, in one way or another, represent a desire by the establishment to cling to the same failed status quo."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Race is On

Sam Bregman
There's just one month before the state Democratic Party's Central Committee chooses a new party chairman to replace outgoing Chairman Javier Gonzales.

Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman, who made a strong bid to unseat Gonzales two years ago, appears to be the front runner.

A former state vice chairman, and former Albuquerque city councilor, Bregman has gotten lots of endorsements. Just this morning the Bregman camp announced that Las Cruces Sen. Bill Soules had signed on. Earlier this week Bregman won the support of Sens. Phil Griego of San Jose and Carlos Sisneros of Questa.
Roxanne Lara

But Bregman is getting a spirited challenge from Roxanne "Rocky" Lara, a former Eddy County Commission member.

She's a newcomer to the state political scene. But she made a surprisingly good showing a couple of weeks ago with Santa Fe County Dems. (How many Santa Fe members of the state Central Committee elected from Santa Fe seems to be in dispute. Lara claims she got about 75 percent. Bregman says he got more than 50 percent. I guess we'll know for sure when the Central Committee meets in Las Cruces on April 27.

For several months before he announced he was running for chairman, Bregman had been the subject of speculation that he might run for governor next year. He said when he entered the chairmanship contest that he wouldn't. Just to be sure I asked him again yesterday. Nothing's changed.

My story about the chairmanship race is in this morning's New Mexican. CLICK HERE.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Roundhouse Roundup: On Last Minute Decisions

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

One of the winners in the recently adjourned Legislature was Think New Mexico, the think tank across the street from the Capitol. The organization was successful in convincing the Legislature to pass three bills aimed at reforming the scandal-blasted Public Regulation Commission.

Of course, those bills didn’t only have Think New Mexico behind them. State voters in the last election passed constitutional amendments mandating the general ideas behind the legislation. The bills basically filled in the details.

The three bills include Senate Bill 8, which would require new qualifications for commission candidates; House Bill 46, which would move the Corporations Bureau from the Public Regulation Commission to the Secretary of State’s Office; and HB 45, which would create an independent Office of the Insurance Superintendent and remove that division from the commission.

They still must be signed by Gov. Susana Martinez. It might be presumptuous to say that’s a sure bet, but I haven’t heard any rumblings about possible vetoes.

The passing of the PRC bills made me think back to the October 2011 report by Think New Mexico that launched the effort to reform the commission. The report included the history of how the commission came to be in the first place.

“Those present at the birth of the Public Regulation Commission in 1996 still shudder when thinking about how it came into being,” the introduction to the report began. “There was surprisingly little deliberation about the formation of what is likely the most powerful state regulatory body in the nation …”

Surprisingly little deliberation? In the state Legislature? As recently as 1996? How could that be?

The narrative explains how the PRC began as a proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 16, sponsored by Rep. Bob Perls, D-Corrales. Then House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, D-Albuquerque didn’t like the proposed amendment, so he assigned it four committees. That’s normally a kiss of death, especially in a 30-day session.

But then something weird happened. The darned thing started passing out of its committees. “The odds of its passage, however, were still stacked against it as it came up for a vote on the House Floor around 11 p.m., the night before the session’s adjournment at noon the next day,” the report said.

It went over to the Senate, where it was assigned to the Rules Committee. “However, with only about an hour remaining until adjournment of the session, [Senate President Pro-tem Manny] Aragon made a rare parliamentary procedural maneuver,” the report said. “He removed HJR 16 from the Senate Rules Committee — without a hearing — and brought it directly to the Senate Floor as the next order of business. The Senate passed HJR 16 with only a few minutes remaining in the session.”

The constitutional amendment went on to squeak by the voters in November 1996.

Now some of you gentle readers might want to draw comparisons between the frantic, last-minute wheeling and dealing that got the PRC legislation passed to the frantic, last-minute wheeling and dealing that got the controversial tax bill passed in the final seconds (some say beyond the final seconds) of the 2013 session.

Don’t be silly. There are major differences in the passing of these two pieces of legislation.

The PRC legislation went through four House committees, while the tax bill, in anything resembling its final form, didn’t get heard by any committee. The fiscal impact report for the PRC resolution was available long before any floor vote, while the fiscal impact report for the tax bill didn’t get released until several days after the session ended. And the voters got the final say with the PRC legislation. That won’t happen with the tax bill.

House Speaker Kenny Martinez and others have said that if there are any unforeseen problems with the tax bill, the Legislature can just come back and fix it next year.

After all, the Legislature finally got around to fixing problems with the monster created in 1996 by the PRC legislation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Priebus, G.P. Bush Coming to NM for GOP Dinner

G.P. Bush

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and George P. Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush, are headlining the state Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday, March 23.

“The staff, officers and I are excited to have such prominent and strong leaders as our special guests for the Lincoln Day Dinner,” said state GOP chairman John Billingsley in a news release. “This is a great opportunity for New Mexico to come out and show their support for the growth of our party, and for them to hear from two outstanding conservative leaders.”

Bush recently announced he is running for agriculture commissioner in Texas.

For more information, interested individuals should contact Robert Perea at 505-610-1831 or .

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sen. Lopez Wants Legal Opinion on Skandera

Rep. Bill McCamley isn't the only lawmaker seeking an Attorney General's opinion today. Sen. Linda Lopez, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee also wants one.
Sen. Linda Lopez

Legislators are allowed to request opinions from the attorney general. The opinions themselves do not have the force of law.

As her letter, below, points out, (and as I noted in my Sunday column this week), Skandera was the subject of 10 hours worth of testimony in her long-delayed confirmation hearing before Lopez's committee.  

Lopez had several  questions for the AG involve charter schools contracting with private companies -- specifically the New Mexico Virtual Academy, a Farmington charter school, and K-12 Inc., a private for-profit management company under contract with the school. Lopez wants the attorney to say whether there are possible procurement code violations in the school's contract with the company.

She also asks for opinions regarding the legality of $1.7 million from a general obligation bond that went to schools that scored high in the recent A-to-F ratings.

Lopez also asked for an update on the AG's investigation into Public Education Department Employeess being used to compiles lists of non-union teachers for Gov. Susana Martinez's political consultant, Jay McCleskey. A spokesman for the department told Lopez  an AG investigator said he would recommend that the investigation be closed.

Looks like KIng and his staff have some opinion-writing ahead of them.

McCamley Asks for AG Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage

A day after Santa Fe Mayor David Coss urged New Mexico's county clerks to start accepting wedding license applications from same-sex couples, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, has asked Attorney General Gary King to issue an opinion on whether this would be legal.

McCamley was requested to request the opinion by Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins. Ellins, in a letter to McCamley today said that clerks currently are prohibited from issuing licenses to same-sex couples by a 2004 opinion by King's predecessor, Patricia Madrid.

McCamley, in an email to reporters said he's "extremely proud" that Ellins asked him to make the request to King. County clerks can't request opinions of the attorney general, but legislators can.

"As Santa Fe City Attorney Geno Zamora recently pointed out, nowhere in New Mexico law is marriage defined as between a man and a women and denying same sex couples the right to officially express their love for one another is blatant discrimination," McCamley said.

"I truly hope that Attorney General King takes a deep and thorough look at this law. I further hope that he decides that clerks should issues licenses to any couple of legal age and allow New Mexico to enter the 21st century."

McCamley's letter to King is below:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Greta Says Susana Might Run for Prez

Fox News' Greta Van Susteren and Gov. Susana Martinez had a nice little game of softball back in December.

And now Van Susteren is floating the idea that Martinez could be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2014 --  and not just because it seems that all New Mexico governors seem to run for president these days.

I may be the only one who thinks it, but I think New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is a possible candidate for her party’s nomination.  I flew to New Mexico in December and spent the day with the Governor just to get a feel for whether I thought she had any interest in running.  (Of course you watched our interview with the Governor on ON THE RECORD at 10 pm  in December.)  I think the article below is interesting… gives you an idea of what she is doing and how she is doing as Governor of New Mexico.  I have NO idea if she is going to run or not.
The "article below" Van Susteren refers to is the Associated Press account of the last-minute passing of the massive tax bill Saturday.

Monday, March 18, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: We Will Not Hear a Bill Before Its Time

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

When citizens go to the Roundhouse to testify for or against some bill or just to see their government in action, they are expected to be respectful and act with courtesy. That’s really not asking all that much.

So you’d think you could expect our elected representatives to treat the citizens with the same respect and courtesy. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

A glaring example of that happened late last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the night it heard House Bill 77, which would mandate background checks on people buying firearms at gun shows.

This has been one of the most controversial issues facing the Legislature this session. People on both sides of the issue were extremely interested in how the bill was going to play out.

But as it turned out, both sides got the shaft.

The saga started Tuesday night when Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Martinez told a member of New Mexicans for Gun Safety that the committee wasn’t going to hear the bill. Now in fairness, it’s not clear whether Martinez meant he wasn’t going to hear the bill that night or at all. That prompted the gun safety group to hold a rally at the Roundhouse the next day demanding HB 77 be heard.

When Thursday came around, it wasn’t certain the bill would be heard. It didn’t appear on the first version of the Judiciary Committee agenda. In fact, it wasn’t until about 6:30 that night when it appeared on a revised agenda.

It was the very last item, following 20 other bills.

And when the meeting began about 8 p.m., Martinez announced that he would hear the bills in order. And he kept that promise.

That’s what I consider rude.

I’m not saying that the other 20 bills weren’t important. And there were people attending the meeting interested in some of those other bills.

But dozens of people were there just to hear the gun bill. And they waited nearly three hours for the committee to get to it. In other words, it was handled in a way that inconvenienced the most people.

As it turned out, the hearing on HB 77 only took about 45 minutes — which is downright rapid compared with some of the other committee hearings on this bill.

I suppose that people who supported the bill might think the wait was worth it. The committee, on a party-line vote, gave HB 77 a do-pass. Some were surprised that Martinez voted in favor of the bill.

But I bet there are those on both sides who will think twice about going down to the Roundhouse in the future to watch democracy in action.

(Note: The bill died in the last minutes of the Senate Saturday due to a Republican filibuster.)

The rocky road to limbo: Of course, if your name is Hanna Skandera and you’re reading this, you’re likely to be thinking, “A three-hour wait? What are you complaining about?”

Indeed, one of the more bizarre spectacles of this session was the 10-hour, three-day confirmation hearing for Public Education Secretary designate Skandera, which, as of this writing, ended with no vote.

Granted, Skandera, who first was nominated by Gov. Susana Martinez two years ago, has been controversial. But whether you love her or hate her, it’s not fair to anyone that she hasn’t received a vote. Senators who have problems with her should just vote no.

I suspect if there were enough “no” votes, a final action would have been taken by now. Instead, there’s likely to be another year in limbo for Skandera. Who knows? Maybe next year the Rules Committee can hold another grueling 10-hour grilling and come to the same non-conclusion.

Skandera, despite the delay, will still be doing the same job at the same salary. She just has to call herself “secretary designate” instead of secretary.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bad Break for Breaking Bad Bill

The "Breaking Bad" bill got a bad break Friday, as Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the measure, which would have encouraged more television series productions in the state.

House Bill 379, sponsored by Rep. Moe Maestas, breezed through the Legislature with little dissent. It passed the House unanimously and was approved by The Senate by a vote of 32 to 8.

Martinez, in her veto message, said because it wasn't part of a "comprehensive tax reform package." Said the governor, "Unfortunately, as of the time I am required to take action on this bill, the legislature has chosen to only pass a package to increase subsidies to Hollywood, while failing to pass reforms designed to diversify our economy and help New Mexico businesses grow.

“I cannot in good conscience further expand New Mexico’s film subsidy while leaving other sectors in our economy unassisted and genuine reform unattained," Martinez said." I again reiterate my willingness to meet legislators halfway and will support an increased film incentive as part of a broader reform package that I hope the legislature will pass before adjournment."

Supporters argued that it's desirable for the state to host series like the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad and In Plain Sight — both of which were shot in New Mexico — and Longmire, which is about to begin shooting its second season in Santa Fe and other New Mexico locales.

"TV series that are successful stay around for several years. Movies come and go." Maestas said in an interview early in the session. Longer series mean more job security for New Mexico crews, he said.

Under current law, the state's film incentive program offers a 25 percent rebate to film companies for most in-state expenditures. Maestas' bill would have increased the rebate to 30 percent for a television series that shot at least six episodes in a single season in the state or spent at least $500,000 on constructing sets.
Wendy's bummed

Despite Martinez's statement that the bill represented "increased subsidies to Hollywood," the $50 million cap per year on film production rebate payouts wouldn't have been affect by the bill.

HB 379 also would have allowed the state to carry forward unused film tax credit production funds from previous years, if the state spent less than the current $50 million annual cap. For example, if the state spent only $40 million on the rebates one year, the next year the cap would go up to $60 million.

The governor's entire veto message is HERE 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Good News For K-9s

Gov. Susanna Martinez has signed a couple of the dog bills I wrote about about in a recent column -- specifically the ones dealing with police dogs.

First there's 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 has said 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.”

The governor also signed SB 141, sponsored by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City. This would allow local law enforcement agencies to use funds from the Law Enforcement Protection Fund to buy protective vests for K-9s. The bill didn’t earmark any extra money for doing this.

No Labels for Lisa

Sometimes I worry that incoming freshman lawmakers who enter the sausage factory of a legislative session will become cynical and jaded before their time. (Like certain reporters I could name.)
Sen. Lisa Torraco

But that doesn't seem to be the case with Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque. In a news release this morning, Torraco was full of sunshine.

 “I am encouraged how well we are working together in the New Mexico Senate and I want my fellow senators to know they are appreciated," Torraco said. "The U.S. Senate should look to the New Mexico  Senate for guidance and leadership regarding working across the aisle to fix things.”

Torraco said she'll be handing out pins to other senators today from a national political group of moderates called "No Labels." Said the senator, “I hope we all wear them proudly as a reminder that we fix and don’t fight.”

No Labels, according to its website is "a movement of Democrats, Republicans and everything in between dedicated to the politics of problem-solving. We stand united behind a simple proposition: we want our government to stop fighting and start fixing."

The co-chairmen of No Labels are former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat. Neither one is particularly loved by the partisan "bases" of their respective parties.

But the session isn't over yet. I'll let you know if any senator stabs another with his No Labels pin before Saturday.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More GOP vs. SGR

The war of words between freshman Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard, D-Los Alamos, and the state Republican Party continues.

Over the weekend, Garcia-Richard sent a press release denouncing Gov. Susana Martinez and her GOP allies over her votes regarding the bill to repeal the law allowing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Garcia-Richard last week had voted with Republicans to blast HB 606 out of the Labor Committee, but voted against moving it to the House floor. In the House Appropriations Committee, she voted with Republicans against tabling the bill. Martinez in a radio interview had accused her of breaking her campaign promise of voting to repeal the current law.

Garcia-Richard's news release Saturday declared, "My vote will no longer be manipulated or held hostage by Gov. Martinez and until she is willing to come to the table and compromise, I will vote against any attempt by Republicans to once again blast HB 606."

The state Republican Party responded this morning with an email with the subject line "GARCIA-RICHARD: MORE FLIP-FLOPS AND INACCURATE STATEMENTS."

“Not only is Garcia-Richard apparently admitting to caving to political pressure, but her statement is also inaccurate,” said state GOP Chairman John Billingsley. “It’s a shame to see this issue diminished by falsehoods and inconsistent positions.”

The release also quoted House GOP Whip Nate Gentry who said, “Rep. Garcia-Richard claims that she received no support on her alleged amendments from Republican leadership; however, she never spoke to any of us in leadership regarding amendments.”

A few hours later, Garcia-Richard shot back:

“Over the last week, I have met with Gov. Martinez, Sen. (Stuart) Ingle (sponsor of a similar bill on the Senate side), and Rep. (Paul) Bandy (a fellow member of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee) regarding a possible resolution to this divisive issue ... Time is short but if all parties can set the political theater aside we can still get a good bill passed this year. I again call on the governor to sit down with leadership to develop a workable solution and to stop using this issue as leverage for 2014.”

Watch for further developments

Monday, March 11, 2013

House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Rep. Moe Maestas mentioned this work of
art during discussion of HB 465.
Adults possessing less than eight ounces of marijuana in New Mexico would no longer receive any jail time under a bill passed this afternoon by the House.

The House voted 37-33 in favor of House Bill 465, sponsored by Rep. Emily Kane, D-Albuquerque. The bill would reduce penalities for possession of up to 4 ounces to a civil penalty with increasing fines while eliminating the potential for jail time for any amount up to 8 ounces.

Two Republicans, House GOP Whip Nate Gentry and Rep. Terry McMillan of Las Cruces, joined 35 Democrats to vote in favor of the bill. Three Democrats, Debbie Rodella of Espanola, Donna Irwin of Deming and Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, voted with 31 Republicans against it.

But, as the governor of Colorado said last November when voters decided to legalize marijuana, don't break out the Cheetos yet. The bill now goes to the Senate, which has only four and a half more days to act on it. And even if it passes the Senate, Gov. Susana Martinez is opposed to it and likely would veto.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican.

UPDATED: 540 p.m. The first version of this post said only two Dems voted no. I failed to include Rep. Debbie Rodella of Espanola. That's been corrected in the text.

Garcia-Richard: "My vote will no longer be manipulated"

Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard
The House Appropriations & Finance Committee probably put the final stake in the heart of the driver's license repeal on Saturday when supporters of Rep. Paul Pacheco's House Bill 606 didn't have enough votes to pass it out of the committee.

Few lawmakers on either side of the issue thought such a bill -- which would repeal the 2003 law that allows the state to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants -- had much of a chance in this session.

But the bill, which was pushed by Gov. Susana Martinez,  has been troubling to one freshman lawmaker, Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard, D-Los Alamos.

During last year's campaign, in which she unseated Republican Jim Hall, Garcia-Richard said she would vote to repeal the law.

Last week when House Republican Whip Nate Gentry led the unsuccessful effort to blast HB 606 to the House floor, Garcia joined Republicans in voting to remove the bill from the House Labor Committee, which had tabled it. But she voted with the majority of Democrats in subsequent votes. The bill stayed in House Appropriations.

Soon after the vote, Republican operative Adam Feldman tweeted, "Stephanie Garcia Richard is on Appropriations. No `procedural vote' to hide behind there."

And the next morning, the governor herself in an interview on KRSN accused Garcia-Richard of breaking her campaign promise by not voting to move the bill out of all the committees to the House floor, the Los Alamos Daily Post reported.

On Saturday Garcia-Richard voted with Republicans to give the bill a do-pass. But after the vote, she released the following statement:

“I have been deeply concerned by Gov. Martinez’s persistent actions to politicize this issue. I believed the bill deserved another opportunity to be heard in order to allow additional time for a real compromise, which is why I initially voted to blast the bill out of committee. I spent the last three days drafting amendments that would satisfy the needs of all New Mexicans, but received no support from Republican leadership in the process. After today’s vote, it is apparent that HB 606 is just another tactic used by the Republican leadership to attack vulnerable Democratic members.  For this reason, I am taking a stand and saying enough.  My vote will no longer be manipulated  or held hostage by Gov. Martinez and until she is willing to come to the table and compromise, I will vote against any attempt by Republicans to once again blast HB 606. It is my hope that the governor and House members will be able to come together and work out a compromise that can actually pass and resolve this important issue once and for all.”
It's rare when a politician admits to being vulnerable. I'm not sure how important this issue is to voters in Garcia-Richard's district is. But you can bet the Martinez political operation won't let it rest in 2014.

Roundhouse Roundup: Would You Want to Work For These Guys?

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

There are many legislators on both sides of the aisle of whom I’m personally fond. Many who I sincerely respect. In fact, I have to admit that there are surprisingly few outright jerks in the House or Senate. Most are pretty decent folks.

But based on a couple of recent votes at the Roundhouse, there are some lawmakers who, even though I like them, I wouldn’t want to be my boss.

Listening to the debates on the bills in question, it almost seemed like some of these guys think that employers should be able to demand just about anything they want from their employees.

First there was Sen. Jacob Candelaria’s Senate Bill 371, which would prohibit prospective employers from asking job applicants for passwords to their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social-media sites.

The bill was introduced in response to a bunch of national news stories last year about employers demanding passwords to Facebook and other sites from prospective employees at job interviews.

The bill did not restrict potential employers from checking out an applicant’s Web presence. Nothing prevented any boss from not hiring some stupid job seeker who has naked pictures of himself smoking dope plastered all over his Facebook page. All the bill would do would be to make it illegal to demand passwords. I can only see two reasons why an employer would want to use your Facebook password:

1) To look at posts you have made “private” — available to only friends or family.

2) To look at your private messages.

Both reasons strike me as downright creepy.

To be fair, opponents said they worry the proposal could inhibit law-enforcement agencies and the military from performing background checks on potential recruits. But, as Candelaria pointed out, nobody in the state Public Safety Department who analyzed the bill expressed concern about that.

The measure passed the Senate by a healthy, bipartisan 28-9 margin. Still, there were nine senators, all Republicans, who are OK with employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords.

And, after a House floor vote on Thursday, I’m betting there will be even more votes from people who believe bosses have a right to snoop through your private stuff.

I’m talking about House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque. This bill, which was voted down, would have prohibited employers from requiring their workers to attend meetings that have the main purpose of touting the employer’s opinions on religion or politics.

Under Trujillo’s bill, it would have been against the law to threaten or penalize employees for not attending such meetings or for not participating in communications regarding political or religious matters. (Political and religious organizations would have been exempted from this bill.)

Stories of bosses forcing their politics on their workers were seen widely last year. There were reports from Ohio of coal companies making their workers go to Romney rallies. Then there was another story last year about a state agency in Illinois whose workers were forced to go to a rally involving U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Should your boss be allowed to punish you if you’d rather just do your job than listen to a bunch of political jabber or religious proselytizing?

Apparently 36 members of the House think so. That includes all Republicans and four Democrats, including two from the Santa Fe area — Reps. Jim Trujillo and Carl Trujillo.

Some opponents of the bill said it would infringe on the free speech rights of the bosses.

I wonder whether they will be as concerned about free speech — the right to write Facebook messages to your friends without your prospective boss reading them — when they consider Candelaria’s social media bill.

(After this column was written, the House Labor Committee voted unanimously for a do-pass recommendation for Canderlaria's SB 371.)

UPDATE: 7:27 pm 3-12-13 I just got an email from Rep. Jim Trujillo who sent a section of the fiscal impact report  on the billas an explanation why he voted against HB 277.

From that report: "HB 277, if enacted, could face First Amendment challenges from employers asserting violations of free speech rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

House Passes Ethics Commission Bill

By a 64-1 vote, the House this afternoon approved a bill that would establish an independent Ethics Commission that would investigate allegations of ethical violations by legislators and other elected state officials, state workers, lobbyists and government contractors.

New Mexico is one of nine states that doesn't have an independent ethics commission.

House Bill 190, sponsored by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, would create an 11-member commission appointed by legislative leaders, the governor and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

The panel would oversee New Mexico laws governing campaign finances and lobbyist spending, as well as the Government Conduct Act.

If the commission finds an ethics violation, it would issue a report and that could include a public reprimand or censure of a state official or state employee. If the commission found criminal violations, the evidence would be turned over to law enforcement.

However, the executive director of New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says she has problems with certain aspects of the bill.

“We applaud Rep. Egolf’s effort, but we can’t support a proposal that allows the commission to keep almost all of its work secret — while threatening whistleblowers with fines and jail time for speaking out,” Gwyneth Doland said. “Without all the secrecy — and with more fairness — we could get behind it.”

Under the bill, anyone who discloses any confidential complaint, report, file, record or communication could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and be sentenced to up to a year in jail or a $1,000. In addition to the criminal penalties, someone who breaks confidentiality could be fined up to $25,000 in civil court.

These penalties would apply to commission members and employees as well as the person bringing the complaint.

This is better, at least from a journalist's perspective, than a previous bill the Legislature considered in 2010. Under that bill, anyone, including reporters, who disclosed confidential material could be jailed and fined. Under this bill, I couldn't go to jail, but my sources could.

Egolf said that the confidentiality part of the bill was modeled after the law that created the Judicial Standards Commission, which conducts investigations of judges in strict secrecy.

Egolf noted that he and other legislators have for several years tried to pass bills creating ethics committees.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Enlightened Facebook Testimony

Ah, the Internet is such an enlightened place ...

Recently Gov. Susana Martinez posted a link on her Facebook page to an online petition asking people to "Sign the petition if you agree that we need to end the dangerous practice of giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. We will make sure your voice is heard loud and clear in the legislature."

During yesterday's debate in the Senate Public Affairs Committee's debate of Senate Bill 521, the immigrant driver's license compromise sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle and Sen. John Arthur Smith, freshman Sen. Jacob Candelaria did just that. He read some selected comments about the issue posted on Martinez's page.

Loud and clear.

And ugly.

Candelaria was not claiming that the governor or most people who support her on this issue were racists. He was not saying that Martinez endorsed the hateful comments. (I sure don't endorse much of the bad craziness that gets posted in The New Mexican's comments section in the name of free speech and open discussion.)

His point was that the issue is divisive and stirs some dark emotions.

I took a look at the comments myself. At this writing there are more than 1,600 comments on that post. More than 15,000 people "liked" the post about the petition (which does not mean all of them  liked all the comments) and more than 2,600 who "shared" the petition (posted it on their own Facebook page.)

Most of the comments there aren't hateful. Many of those posting disagree with the governor's position (and some of those are over-the-top in blasting Martinez for it). And, as is common in Internet forums, the comments go off topic into other areas, such as gun control.

But indeed some of the comments are disturbing. I've posted some of these below.

Proceed at own risk:

"Mexicans! Hispanics, Wet backs! Watever, jes go back to yur country and continue to pull yur donkey-carts without a D.L. LOL"

"They are Illegal...that makes them criminals....send them back to THEIR country. They can get all the license from Mexico that they want."

"I say register all the Illegals take the liscense and ship them all back to where they came from, then if they want to come back let them apply the legal way, as a New Mexican I voted for her and I'll back her."

"If you are here illegally You are a Criminal! You are breaking an American Law! Any time anyone breaks a law that DOES make them a Criminal! What part of that don't you Understand??? PLEASE don't be ignorant!"

"deport them with no id kitty. Take any money they have to cover damages."

And here's some of the nastier attacks on Martinez among those comments:

"illegal its not the proper word get educated its undocumented.. no doubt about it that theirs still racism in this country..COME ON SUSAN MAKE PEOPLE SUFFER I HOPE THEY DO THE SAME TO YOUR FAMILY SOME DAY LIKE YOUR DOING IT TO ALL DIZ UNDOCUMENTED PEOPLE."

"Too bad Susana's a hypocrit, since her grandparents were "illegal" immigrants. Maybe she should go back to making coffee with her $2300 coffee maker that she just had taxpayers pay for"

"A Mexican republican governer who's against immigration ... Can't believe her people haven't disowned her yet"

Everyone feel uplifted? Have a nice day.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fore! The Latest Round of Lobbyist Expense Reports

I reported earlier in the session that lawmakers got their annual free ski passes from the state's ski industry. Last week the golf industry joined in, giving legislators passes good for five free games of golf at various courses around the state. (The New Mexico Golf Tourism Alliance does this just about every year.)

My story on that and other lobbyist expenses -- dinners for legislators, etc. -- can be found HERE

Previous stories about lobbyist reports from the session can be found HERE, HERE and HERE

I've been criticized for running these stories (which I started doing several years ago.) One senator last year even implied that The New Mexican doesn't like the idea of restaurants, bars and hotels benefiting from parties, receptions and dinners for lawmakers because we always run stories about the lobbyist reports.

Not true. We don't hate golf courses and ski areas either.

It's just that we believe the public has the right to know who is picking up the tab for our decision makers. So don't expect me to stop.

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Extravagant Lifestyles

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

‘‘It’s the lifestyles of the rich and famous … who is this high-class showboat? $5.5 million for a brand-new jet airplane … three personal chefs … travels with a large entourage of bodyguards and staff to places like Europe and Las Vegas … gets front-row seats to all the best events … and isn’t bothered by speed limits … is it P-Diddy? Britney Spears? …”

No, it was then-Gov. Bill Richardson. The state Republican Party was running radio ads ripping him for his “extravagant lifestyle at taxpayer expense.”

The ads ran here in New Mexico and, for a few days, on radio stations in New Hampshire, where Richardson had traveled to plant seeds for his 2008 presidential bid. (I was there, too, to report about the governor’s trip.)

It wasn’t the first of such humorous attacks on Richardson for his high-rolling ways, and it wasn’t the last.

Camp Richardson didn’t find it humorous. “This is a desperate, pathetic, partisan attack filled with lies and complete fabrications,” huffed a Richardson spokesman in response to the P-Diddy ad. Indeed, Richardson didn’t really have three chefs, and Bill looked nothing like Britney.

I thought about this ad last week when the story of Gov. Susana Martinez’s kitchen renovations broke. For those who didn’t catch that story, Martinez’s General Services Department spent about $100,000 on kitchen renovations at the governor’s mansion last summer. The makeover included $16,994 for new granite countertops, $10,617 for a granite slab, $9,400 for a new stove, and — most notoriously by now — an eye-popping $2,700 for a coffeemaker.

And this for a governor who made a big deal about firing Richardson’s chefs when she took office, joking about living off her husband’s bologna sandwiches.

And making it even worse, coffeemaker-gate broke just after the story in the Albuquerque Journal about our jet-selling governor flying a couple of Republican legislators in a state plane at state expense to a political rally and federal hearing. (The rally in Roswell was to protest the possibility of adding the lesser prairie chicken to the endangered species list. The chicken also was the subject of the hearing.)

Neither story is devastating. But both are at least smudges on Martinez’s image of fighting Richardson’s excesses.

So it was only natural that Democrats would have a little fun at the governor’s expense.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez took the opportunity to poke the governor over the new coffeemaker. At the start of the Senate floor session, he presented Lt. John Sanchez with a new Mr. Coffee.

“Ours cost less than $2,700,” Sanchez later told reporters. “It was $24.”

But even funnier is a fundraising effort on the website of the anti-Martinez PAC Progress Now New Mexico .

The PAC altered the striking black-background logo from Martinez’s old “Sell the Jet!” website used during her 2010 campaign. It now reads “Sell the Coffeemaker!” Beneath that is the message: “Someone Else for Governor.” This can be yours on a black T-shirt (modeled by a Photoshopped Martinez on the site) for a $50 donation.

I said this was funny. But I suppose if you’re a member of the administration, it’s probably a “desperate, pathetic, partisan attack filled with lies and complete fabrications.”

To be fair, everyone should remember that the kitchen renovations were in the public area of the mansion, not the governor’s private quarters, where, for all we know, first gent Chuck Franco still makes bologna sandwiches for the governor. So it’s not as if this spiffy new kitchen is Martinez’s personal playground, as some of her critics have implied.

Also, as top officials of the General Services Department laid out for me last week, the kitchen and adjoining areas had fallen into fairly serious disrepair — mold, asbestos, uneven floors, etc.

The controversial coffeemaker isn’t at the same level as a $5 million jet. But still, $2,700 for a coffeemaker is pretty steep.

And turnabout is fair play.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sen. Michael Sanchez Hospitalized Again

For the second time in less than a month, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez was taken to the hospital Friday, aides and fellow Senate leaders said.

Toward the end of Friday’s Senate floor session, Sanchez went to the Senate Lounge to lie down after he started feeling ill, his chief of staff Lorraine Montoya-Vigil told reporters.

Senate President Pro-tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces said the doctor on duty thought he should be taken to St. Vincent Hospital for observation. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance, Papen said. The lounge area was blocked off and the Senate floor session was cut short, Papen said.

In mid February Sanchez, 62, underwent an angioplasty stent procedure on the advice of his doctor. He went back to work in the Senate the next week.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a stent is a small mesh tube that's used to treat narrow or weak arteries.

Last summer Sanchez underwent a heart-related emergency procedure after having chest pains.

UPDATE:: I just talked to Montoya-Vigil, who said she just spoke with Sanchez who said he expects to be released from the hospital soon.

Asked whether Sanchez is expected to be at Saturday's Rules Committee hearing for Education Secretary designate Hanna Skandera. "I'd be shocked if he's not," Montoya-Vigil said.