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Capital Notebook: House votes to set up boardinghouse licensing system

SANTA FE – A proposal aimed at improving conditions inside boardinghouses – like the kind that accept ex-psychiatric patients – won overwhelming support in the House and now heads to the Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would impose a licensing system to identify boardinghouses and allow local governments to adopt standards for living conditions.

The bill won approval 65-0 late Monday. A Journal investigation last year found crowded conditions, amid other concerns, in some boardinghouses.

GUN SENSE: Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is coming to Santa Fe this week to launch a new state-level coalition aimed at curbing gun violence.

The group, to be called “New Mexicans for Common Sense,” will feature prosecutors, educators and more, though few details were released Monday about how it will function.

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head in January 2011 at a constituent event. She survived the shooting but did not seek re-election in 2012.

Since then, Giffords and her husband have founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a nonprofit group that supports expanding background checks for firearm purchases.

New Mexico lawmakers have been engaged in a fierce debate over background check legislation during the ongoing 60-day session. House and Senate bills to expand background check requirements have been met by opposition from the National Rifle Association and most sheriffs around the state.

CONFIRMED: Two Cabinet-level appointees were confirmed Monday by the Senate without dissent.

Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate was confirmed 41-0. He was appointed to the job by Gov. Susana Martinez in September, after former agency head Ryan Flynn stepped down.

A longtime Environment Department employee, Tongate has also worked as a division director and deputy secretary.

Also on Monday, Public Safety Secretary Scott Weaver was confirmed by the Senate 40-0.

Weaver is a former New Mexico State Police officer who was appointed in March to succeed former DPS Secretary Greg Fouratt. Both Weaver and Tongate are making annual salaries of $125,000 as Cabinet secretaries.

ELECTIONS: A proposal heading to the House floor would require cities, school districts and other nonpartisan local entities to hold their elections on the same day – in November of odd-numbered years.

The goal is to boost voter turnout by avoiding a series of smaller elections over the course of the year.

Under the bill, Albuquerque, for example, would move its traditional October municipal election to November, and voters that day would also pick school board members and handle other nonpartisan offices.

If no one gets a majority of the vote for, say, mayor, then a runoff election with the top two candidates would follow in December. The new officials would take office in January.

The bill would go into effect for the 2019 elections.

House Bill 174 is sponsored by Republican Reps. James Smith of Albuquerque and Paul Bandy of Aztec and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque.

TESTING: The House approved two education bills Monday.

Members voted 41-28 in favor of limiting the amount of time students spend taking statewide standardized tests and 64-3 in favor of a bill allowing teachers to take up to 10 days of sick leave without affecting their annual evaluations.