Budget fights stall legislative progress

Rep. Jim Trujillo
Sen. Peter Wirth

By Dan Lorimier, Chapter Conservation coordinator 03/24/14
New Mexico in February finished its “short” 30-day session of the Legislature, and as usual, budget battles between the executive branch and the legislative branch bogged down the process.
By the time resolution was reached on the budget, so many bills were being held in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, waiting for a settled and final budget, that there was little time to consider this backlog before the session ended Feb. 20.
Your participation helped the Rio Grande Chapter team and allies work for environmentally positive legislation and against anti-environmental bills and memorials in areas including energy, water, public lands, agriculture and transportation.
Here is a list of a few of our key legislative efforts:
• House Bill 136, Electric Vehicle Income Tax Credit
Sponsored by Rep. Jim Trujillo, this bill would give a tax credit to purchasers of plug-in electric vehicles and commercial charging units. After a bumpy but successful journey through the House, HB136 was sent to the Senate Finance Committee two days before the end of the session but not heard by that committee.
• Senate Bill 191, Renewable Energy Tax Changes
Sponsored by Sen. Phil Griego, this bill would refinance the New Mexico renewable-energy tax credit, extend the sunset and clear up some reporting language for companies installing utility-size generation projects. This bill died in the Senate Finance Committee.
• HB233 Renewable Energy Tax Credit Eligibility
Sponsored by Rep. George Dodge, this was the House version of SB191. It died in the House Tax and Revenue Committee.
• SB89, Unit Fund for Certain Water Supply Needs
Sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, this bill was an attempt to direct the Interstate Stream Commission to use federal funds for water-conservation projects before attempting to build a diversion project on the Gila River. While this bill did not pass the Senate Conservation Committee, it provided a potent forum for nondiversion proponents.
• HB102 Transfer of Public Lands Task Force
Sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, this bill would establish a task force to find the best way to grab federal public lands from all Americans, allow those lands to be used by the state and counties to exploit any resources and even sell those lands into private ownership. While HB102 didn’t get out of its first committee, the sponsor began luring key stakeholders who had been in opposition (the tribes) with an eye on the 2015 long session.
• SB229 Right to Farm Act Nuisance Lawsuits
Sponsored by Sen. Phil Griego, this bill would make the immunity-from-nuisance lawsuit provided in New Mexico’s Right To Farm Act absolute and without exception. No legal recourse for neighbors of industrial-scale dairies or other agricultural projects or operations. This bill died without a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
• HB51 Right to Farm Nuisance Changes
Sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, this bill removes one of the three exceptions to agricultural immunity for nuisance lawsuits. After intense consultation with environmental and trial lawyers here and in other states, we adopted a neutral but wary position on HB51. It passed both chambers unanimously and is likely to be signed by the governor.
• SB221 Create Southwest Chief Rail Service Fund Sponsored by Sen. Pete Campos, SB221 would establish a fund for New Mexico’s share of costs to bring the northern route of the Southwest Chief up to needed levels of readiness.
$4 million now and for the next nine years matched by BNSF, Amtrak, Colorado and Kansas. This bill was never heard by the Senate Finance Committee.
• HB241 Create Southwest Chief Rail Service Fund
Sponsored by Rep. Bobby Gonzales, this was a duplicate of SB221. It passed the House and died without a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
• HB2 (General Appropriations):
The budget bill included $50,000 for an analysis of statutory requirements of the Southwest Chief investment agreements, including a $30,000 contract with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at UNM. The governor signed the appropriation. Additionally, the Department of Transportation agreed to do a study on the issue of maintaining the current historical route of the Southwest Chief.
• Confirmation Hearing for Environment Department Secretary-designate Ryan Flynn:
We opposed this confirmation because of Mr. Flynn’s dismal record of protecting New Mexico’s groundwater. This failure includes the new copper rule that permits pollution, the assault on our current, comprehensive dairy groundwater rule, and his failure to move the Kirtland fuel spill cleanup forward. After listening to these concerns, the Senate Rules Committee and the full Senate confirmed the governor’s designee.
The 51st Legislature has completed its work. November elections will decide the 52nd Legislature, but some changes are already known. Democratic Rep. Nate Cote, one of the environment’s best friends in the House of Representatives, will not run again in November.
Other Democratic retirements include House Tax and Revenue Committee Chair Rep. Ed Sandoval, Rep. Ernest Chavez, Rep. Kiki Saavedra and Majority Floor Leader Rep. Rick Miera. On the Republican side, retirement has been announced by Minority Floor Leader Rep. Don Bratton, Rep. Anna Crook, Rep. Tom Taylor, Rep. Bill Gray and Rep. James White.
Anti-environment Democrats joined Republicans to block movement on many issues critical to everyday New Mexicans this session. Some “house” cleaning is needed if we want our land, air and water protected over time to any reasonable degree.