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Open primaries bill clears first committee

SANTA FE – A proposal to open New Mexico’s primary elections to independent voters cleared its first House committee Tuesday.

The measure, House Bill 206, would allow voters who aren’t affiliated with a major party to participate in the June elections that determine who the Republican and Democratic nominees will be each year.

Supporters say the bill would boost turnout and encourage candidates to appeal to a broader cross-section of people, not just their party’s base of liberals or conservatives. It’s also important, supporters say, because many New Mexico races are decided in the primaries, leaving unaffiliated voters with no choice at all in the fall general elections.

A bipartisan pair of legislators, Republican Jim Dines of Albuquerque and Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos, are sponsoring the bill.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver also supports the idea. Some voters show up every year in the primary election hoping to vote, she said, only to learn they’re not eligible because they aren’t registered as a Democrat or Republican.

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before the House floor.

A similar proposal is pending in the Senate, though it’s already run into intense opposition by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and former state elections director. He has described the proposal as unconstitutional, among other objections.

The SUNNY SIDE: Solar powered state-owned buildings?

That could happen under a Senate bill that was approved without dissent Tuesday in its first assigned panel.

The legislation, Senate Bill 227, would require the state agency that oversees state-owned buildings – there are more than 700 such buildings – to adopt rules and examine ways to implement renewable energy improvements. It does not mandate such improvements actually be made.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, the bill’s sponsor, said the state should take advantage of purchase agreements under which retrofit costs are paid for by green energy companies.

“The state is woefully underutilizing an opportunity to save money,” Steinborn said.

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