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NM legislative session ends without 11th-hour deal

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, talk as the 2017 Legislative Session ends and talk of a special session spreads at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, Saturday March 18, 2017. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, talk as the 2017 Legislative Session ends and talk of a special session spreads at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, Saturday March 18, 2017. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE — A 60-day legislative session highlighted by debate over the state’s budget woes and a long-awaited breakthrough on ethics legislation has reached its finish line.

The Senate approved dozens of bills in rapid-fire succession before today’s noon adjournment, but a revised budget plan and a high-profile tax code overhaul bill were not among them.

That could mean a special session will be called — by as soon as early next week — by Gov. Susana Martinez, who has blasted spending and tax increase bills approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature as ill-conceived.

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Top-ranking Democratic lawmakers have countered they have submitted a balanced budget plan that avoids additional spending cuts to most state agencies and programs.

“New Mexico is in trouble,” said Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, on the Senate floor just minutes before adjournment. “We can no longer depend on oil and gas to keep us whole. We need to diversify our economy.”

On the House side, there was little appetite for anything that would lead to a lengthy debate — which would kill the bill anyway once the session ended.

That meant the House didn’t take up Senate-approved measures to reduce marijuana penalties and ban coyote-killing contests.

But House members did pass a bill that would allow judges to consider — during the sentencing process — an inmate’s pregnancy or need to nurse a child. The House also agreed to carve a new exemption into the state public records law for witnesses and victims in certain criminal cases, such as rape.

Those measures now go to the governor.

House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, thanked the new House speaker, Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, for honoring his commitments and keeping communication open with Republicans during the session.

Egolf, in turn, thanked the House for working together on much legislation, despite their differences.

“We came up here under incredibly difficult and challenging times,” he said.

Meanwhile, a high-profile proposal approved Friday calls for the creation of an independent ethics commission, which will go before statewide voters in 2018 and is not subject to gubernatorial veto.

New Mexico is one of only eight states without an independent ethics commission, and backers of the idea had been pushing it for years at the Roundhouse.

 

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