House Passes Sweeping Tax Changes, State Senate Backs Study On Native Deaths, Disappearances

Mar 2, 2019

New Mexico House Passes Sweeping Tax Changes– Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has approved changes to the state tax code that would increase personal income tax rates and impose new taxes on e-cigarettes, nonprofit hospitals and online sales.

The Democrat-sponsored bill was approved on a 40-25 vote after an hours-long debate late Friday. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The sweeping proposal is designed to trim the state government's dependence on income from the oil sector by increasing taxes to protect against another downturn.

Democrat Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque says bill is about diversifying the state's economy, broadening the tax base and making the annual budget process more predictable.

Republican Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho says at roughly $580 million, the changes would represent the largest tax increase in state history and would affect all New Mexico families, not just the affluent.

State Senate Backs Study On Native Deaths, Disappearances– Associated Press

The New Mexico Senate has voted unanimously in support of creating a task force to study how the state should address the deaths and disappearances of Native American women.

Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat, is co-sponsoring the measure and introduced it in the House. He previously said part of its purpose is to shed light on the number of indigenous people who have gone missing.

The bill is one of numerous measures in state legislatures, mostly in the West and Midwest, drafted to address the issue this year.

Some bills, like New Mexico's, call for state-funded task forces. Others aim to establish positions within state law enforcement dedicated to logging and tracking the cases.

The Senate approved the bill Friday.

The Indian Affairs Department secretary would be responsible for leading the task force.

Albuquerque Weather Radar To Be Shut Down During Upgrades Changes– Associated Press

The National Weather Service's Albuquerque weather radar will be shut down for up to three weeks starting Monday while technicians make hardware upgrades and perform other work that include replacing its pedestal.

Meteorologist in Charge Kerry Jones says the radar was installed at Double Eagle II Airport on Albuquerque's western outskirts in 1994 and that the work should keep functioning in good shape for at least another 20 years.

The radar monitors central and western New Mexico and Jones says the work was scheduled for March because the area typically has few severe thunderstorms this time of year.

Forecasters will use satellite and ground station data to monitor late-season storms while the radar is turned off for the work.

Previous upgrades installed a new signal processor and refurbished the transmitter.

New Mexico Governor Praises Industrial Hemp Proposal– Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the hemp industry would be a natural fit for the state, already known for its prowess when it comes to growing green chile and tending to some of the most productive pecan orchards in the United States.

The Democrat on Friday praised the state House of Representative's endorsement of a measure that would expand hemp production in New Mexico.

The bill must be approved by the Senate before heading to the governor.

Lujan Grisham said the legislation will help establish the framework needed to grow the industry in New Mexico, a state that has long history with agriculture.

The federal government gave the legal nod to hemp in December, clearing the way for hemp farmers to buy crop insurance and apply for loans and grants like any other farmer.

Judge Won't Dismiss Suit Against EPA Over Mine Waste Spill– Associated Press

A judge has denied the U.S. government's request to dismiss a lawsuit that New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation filed against the Environmental Protection Agency over a mine spill that polluted streams in three states.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson issued his decision Thursday.

The lawsuit stems from the 2015 spill of 3 million gallons (11 million liters) of wastewater from the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado. An EPA crew inadvertently triggered the spill, releasing nearly 540 U.S. tons (490 metric tons) of metals. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted.

New Mexico, Utah, the Navajos and about 300 individuals filed lawsuits seeking more than $2 billion in damages. The suits were consolidated, and Johnson is presiding over the case in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

New Mexico Sheriffs' Gun Laws Protest Follows Other States– Associated Press

Dispute over a slate of New Mexico gun-control measures has raised questions over the local law enforcement officials' legal standing in refusing to enforce the proposals should they become law.

More than 20 county commissions in New Mexico have passed sheriff-backed resolutions that express support for sheriffs in deciding not to enforce gun laws that they find violate gun-owners' rights under the constitution. In the resolutions, the counties declare themselves sanctuaries for the Second Amendment.

The legislation includes a proposal to expand required background checks on private person-to-person gun sales.

The sheriffs and their supporters say the bills infringe upon gun-owners' rights and are unenforceable, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, disputes.

Bills to expand background checks and additional gun-control proposals in other states have routinely sparked outcry from the county-level law enforcement officials.

This story corrects a previous version to say sheriffs argue the gun laws are unenforceable.

New Mexico Supreme Court Delays Power Plant Proceedings– Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has granted a request from the state's largest electric provider, delaying regulatory proceedings related to the closure of a coal-fired power plant that provides electricity to customers throughout the region.

The court on Friday granted a petition filed earlier this week by Public Service Co. of New Mexico. The utility was facing a deadline to turn in its application for abandoning the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

The state Public Regulation Commission had previously ordered PNM to file by Friday a plan that included details on costs, effects and plans associated with the San Juan shutdown.

The utility argued that initiatives pending before the Legislature could affect the state's energy landscape and what resources will be used to replace the San Juan plant.

Education Overhaul Puts School Districts In Hot Seat– Associated Press

Far-reaching reforms to New Mexico's public education system that are poised for votes by the House and Senate would put school districts in new command of their own fates with major budget and salary increases.

Struggling school districts also can say no to money that extends the school year and risk a backlash and litigation from parents and student advocates.

Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque warned Thursday that school districts that languish could be the next focus of lawsuits similar to the one that has spurred lawmakers to seek a half-billion dollar increase in annual school funding.

House and Senate bills for to overhaul public education funding and accountability measures differ slightly on minimum salary increases for teachers but both boost spending on students from low-income and minority students.