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Cigarette tax hike tabled; ban on ‘conversion therapy’ heads to gov.

SANTA FE – A proposed $1.50-per-pack increase in New Mexico’s cigarette tax rate was snuffed out Thursday in a House committee.

Members of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee voted 9-5 to table the measure, which would have also increased the tax rate on cigars and electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes.

Backers of the bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month, said it would generate an estimated $89 million annually and funnel the revenue to public schools.

“Anytime that we invest in education and children is always good policy,” said Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, the measure’s sponsor.

But critics of Senate Bill 231 pointed out the proposed increase would mark the state’s second significant tobacco tax increase in seven years.

Two Democratic lawmakers – Reps. Carl Trujillo of Santa Fe and Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales of Taos – ultimately joined with the House committee’s GOP members in voting to table the legislation.

GAY ‘CONVERSION’: A bill headed to Gov. Susana Martinez would prohibit therapists and other licensed professionals from providing “conversion therapy” aimed at changing a young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposal, Senate Bill 121, was approved 44-23 in the House late Wednesday, and the Senate agreed to the House version Thursday.

It was co-sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria and Rep. G. Andres Romero, both Albuquerque Democrats.

They said children shouldn’t have to go through harmful attempts to change who they are.

“The broad medical and psychological consensus is that it’s junk science, it’s abuse and it hurts kids,” Candelaria said of conversion therapy.

Opponents said the proposal would have unintended consequences, perhaps discouraging a therapist from helping someone for fear of running afoul of the law.

In the end, however, the House vote wasn’t close, as some Republicans joined Democrats in favor.

INFRASTRUCTURE: A pared-back plan to review New Mexico public infrastructure spending is headed to the House.

The bill, which would create an interim legislative committee to review state spending on bridges, buildings and other public works projects, was approved 29-10 Thursday in the Senate.

It’s been scaled back significantly from its original form, which had called for the new committee to evaluate and rank potential projects.

But backers said the legislation, Senate Bill 262, could still lead to improvements in the state’s capital outlay system, which has come under fire for being wasteful and ineffective.

“The perception we don’t spend infrastructure funding the way we should is a consideration for businesses coming here,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, the measure’s sponsor.