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Legislative roundup, Jan. 30, 2019

January 30, 2019

Days remaining in session: 45

Tax talk: Raising taxes remains on the table this session. It is just a question of who would pay.

Former Gov. Susana Martinez touted her record of vetoing tax increases. But Democrats say that has only left state government strapped for resources except for when the oil industry is booming, as it is now.

So, while lawmakers want to hire more teachers and give educators a raise, they will have to pay for those costs year after year, even after the oil boom goes bust.

“We want to be in a position where our major education reform and education investments we’re calling a moonshot are substantial but also sustainable,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told reporters Tuesday. “We don’t want to be in the position of giving teacher pay increases and hiring more teachers and then come back and have to reduce their paychecks or reduce the number of teachers in the state.”

The speaker said lawmakers are eyeing raising the long-dormant gas tax, but the tax could be designed to rise or fall with fuel prices. Lawmakers are also considering how to collect tax on internet sales. And Democrats have argued for raising personal income taxes on higher earners.

A version of this tax package, House Bill 6, aimed to cut the gross receipts tax, too.

Lawmakers are re-crafting that bill. But Egolf cautioned against quickly cutting taxes. “We may make the revenue changes and see what we can afford,” he said.

Open primaries: When legislative leaders assign a bill to three different committees, it’s usually a sign they are not eager for it to pass.

That’s what happened to a bill that would allow independent voters to cast ballots in primary elections.

But House Bill 93 is on its way after getting the backing of a sharply divided House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The measure would somewhat open New Mexico’s closed primaries, in which voters must be affiliated with a political party to vote on which candidates that party should put on the general election ballot.

Sponsored by four House Democrats, the bill would not create a totally open primary system. Republicans could only vote in Republican primaries, for example. But the growing share of voters who are not affiliated with a major political party could choose to vote in the Republican, Democratic or Libertarian primaries.

Plenty of Democrats oppose the idea, though, arguing people who are not affiliated with the party should not help pick its candidates.

The state’s association of county clerks also opposes to the bill.

The committee voted Tuesday along party lines to advance the bill, sending it to the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day: New Mexico is one step closer to taking Columbus out of Columbus Day.

A House committee voted unanimously to advance a bill renaming the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Well, unanimously except for one lawmaker, who left the room shortly after raising concerns about the bill and missed the committee’s vote.

“We are seeing what has happened in the last year within our nation, with monuments being torn down,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell. “… We can’t keep changing our past history.”

But others on the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee praised the bill, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo.

Governments around the country have scrapped the name of Columbus Day as new generations have grappled with the history of a man who represents to many the arrival of colonialism in the Americas. In turn, many places have decided to celebrate the communities and cultures that predate Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic.

“I think it’s important that we do recognize our history, as challenging as it may be,” said Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, adding the measure is a step toward “recognizing the true history of our nation and our previous colonial histories, as well.”

The bill heads next to the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee.

Peanuts: Chile gets most of the attention when state legislators brag about foods grown in New Mexico.

Tuesday was a bit different. Legislators were treated to bags of an Eastern New Mexico delicacy — Valencia peanuts. Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said these nuts, salted in the shell, are one of the state’s signature products.

“They are still the best peanut in the nation, and they’re grown exclusively in our part of the country,” Ingle said.

Quote of the day: “I forgot my skirt today, so I don’t get to go,” —Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, after Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, announced that women lawmakers from the House of Representatives would meet at the Rio Chama steakhouse for an all-female caucus.

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