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Senate panel punts pot penalty

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SANTA FE – A proposal to remove marijuana from New Mexico’s list of illegal Schedule 1 drugs is headed to the full Senate after a committee voted late Saturday to revise a bill intended to toughen drug laws.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee backed the surprise first step toward decriminalized marijuana while debating Senate Bill 127, which would add synthetic marijuana products to the Schedule 1 list of controlled substances.

Republicans on the committee voted against the substitute measure.

“It is a tremendous disappointment that a bill to help save our kids from the devastation of these dangerous drugs was made a mockery of,” said Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, sponsor of the original proposal.

The delisting of marijuana was introduced as a committee substitute bill late Saturday by Sen. Cisco McSorely, D-Albuquerque, after another Senate committee last week rejected a proposed constitutional change to legalize recreational marijuana use.

“This could be an alternative to outright legalization,” McSorely said.

The bill was among those considered on the final weekend of the 30-day legislative session, which ends Thursday.

In other action, a proposal to bring New Mexico into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act by creating a new form of identification advanced through a House committee on Saturday over objections from Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

House Bill 359 passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee with a 3-2, party-line vote. It now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, introduced the legislation in response to Republican efforts to repeal New Mexico’s controversial 2003 law allowing issuance of state driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally. The governor has pointed to REAL ID compliance as a reason the state should repeal the immigrant driver’s license law.

“I think we’ve gotten muddled up in the undocumented driver’s licences and REAL ID compliance because they’re two separate thoughts,” the House speaker said. “You can be REAL ID-compliant and allow the undocumented to have licenses.”

The proposal on Saturday drew opposition from Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who said the proposed new identification cards would put a burden on 1.4 million licensed drivers and legal immigrants in New Mexico who may be required to get a second form of identification to comply with the REAL ID law. She said results of the proposal could also overwhelm her department’s Motor Vehicle Division offices.

“This particular bill does not solve the problem we currently have. It does not solve the policy issues we have regarding the (license) fraud,” Padilla said. “In addition to that … this REAL ID card is not a license.”

Speaker Martinez said he intends for the bill to create a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. Although that language isn’t in the current version of the bill, Martinez said it would be added in a later committee.

Also on Saturday:

  • The House unanimously and without discussion endorsed a revamp of the financially troubled lottery scholarship program. House Bill 254, which went to the Senate, would create flat awards – ranging from $250 to $2,100 a semester – based on the type of institution, the student’s GPA and the student’s “unmet need” after other scholarships and tuition funding sources are taken into account. Recipients would have to keep a 2.5 GPA and would be eligible for only seven semesters, rather than the current eight.
  • The Legislature sent the governor a bill to allow the state to use high school equivalency tests other than the GED. It removes from state law the references to GED, which is a registered trademark that refers to a specific test. Senate Bill 44 passed the House unanimously; it had previously passed the Senate.
  • The Senate voted unanimously to temporarily divert $3.6 million from the Legislature’s healthy pension plan to the ailing judicial retirement system as part of a broader fix. Senate Bill 304, which provides $2.9 million to the magistrate retirement fund and $720,000 to the judicial retirement fund over three years, would take effect only if other, long-term solvency plans for the judicial funds were also enacted. The bill goes to the House.

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