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Senate shuffles committee chairs as 30-day session gets underway


Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, shakes hands Tuesday morning after both were recommended for committee chairmanships. Cervantes was tabbed to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee and Stafanics was poised to take over the reins of the Senate Conservation Committee, under the recommendations from a group of leading senators. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Senate shuffled several committee leadership posts Tuesday, potentially tweaking the political calculus on high-profile issues under consideration during this year’s 30-day session.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, was selected as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a key clearinghouse for bills dealing with criminal penalties and the state’s court system.

“It’s a good opportunity to go back to a position I held in the House,” Cervantes told reporters, referring to his previous stint as House Judiciary Committee chairman.

Cervantes takes over the Senate Judiciary Committee’s reins from Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, who relinquished the post last month after being convicted of aggravated drunken driving.

An attorney and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Cervantes said that New Mexico’s DWI laws are “probably some of the best in the country” but that funding shortages in the judicial branch sometimes makes enforcing them difficult.

He also said Martinez’s five-day jail sentence – which he served this month – was “pretty rare” for its severity, given that Martinez was a first-time offender.

Martinez, who has ignored calls to resign from the Legislature, will remain a committee member under the new assignments.

Meanwhile, Cervantes’ promotion could also affect the debate over whether New Mexico should become the nation’s 12th state to legalize recreational cannabis use and tax its sales.

Cervantes has in the past opposed pot legalization efforts, although he sponsored a bill last year that decriminalized possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana.

“The challenge that other states are having is the regulation of legal marijuana,” Cervantes said Tuesday.

In other changes, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, will take over as chairwoman of the Senate Conservation Committee, a post that Cervantes previously held.

And Sen. Gabriel Ramos, D-Silver City, was selected to lead the Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee. The panel’s previous chairman, former Sen. John Pinto of Gallup, died last year at age 94.

His granddaughter Shannon Pinto, a Democrat from Tohatchi, was appointed by Lujan Grisham to fill his Senate seat.

The influential Senate Finance Committee also got a mild shake-up, as Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, was chosen as the panel’s vice chairman.

That position had been held by late Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, who also died last year.

The new assignments were recommended by the Senate Committees’ Committee, an 11-member group that consists of top-ranking senators from both political parties. They were then approved by the full Senate without any debate or opposition.

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