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Friday, February 7, 2003

Around the Roundhouse

Staff and Wire Reports
    HOMANS, MALDONADO OK'D
    SANTA FE The Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Rick Homans as Economic Development secretary in Gov. Bill Richardson's Cabinet.
    "I really believe the governor's hit a home run here in a very key position in government," Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, said of Homans' appointment by Richardson.
    Homans was deputy director of Richardson's 2002 gubernatorial campaign and transition team. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Albuquerque in 2001.
    Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, and Sen. Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint, urged Homans to remember rural communities in working to bring new jobs and business to New Mexico.
    The Senate also voted unanimously Thursday to confirm Carlos Maldonado as State Police chief and Alan Varela as Workers' Compensation Department director.
    Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, told his Senate colleagues that Varela, a lawyer, was supported by both labor and employers to head the Workers' Compensation Department.
    "Alan has one of the toughest jobs in New Mexico," Leavell said. "I commend the governor on this appointment."
    In urging the Senate to confirm Maldonado, Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, noted that he had worked his way up through the ranks at the State Police to the rank of captain.
    "He's got wonderful credentials," Garcia said of Maldonado. "He worked for the governor's security (detail) under Gov. Toney Anaya. He's a UNM grad."
   

    CELL-PHONE BILL ON HOLD
    SANTA FE A bill to ban the use of hand-held cellular telephones while driving on New Mexico highways was tabled Thursday by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.
    Rep. Al Park, an Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored the bill (HB 224), requested the action so that an interim legislative committee could study the matter later this year.
    Park said there is conflicting evidence about whether using hand-held cell phones while driving is more dangerous than using hands-free cell phones.
    Under the bill, drivers who used a hand-held cell phone while driving would be subject to a $30 fine.
    Driving while using a hand-held cell phone has been banned in the city of Santa Fe since last year.
   

    MARIJUANA BILL ADVANCES
    SANTA FE A bill to legalize the possession of marijuana for medical uses on Thursday cleared its first legislative hurdle.
    The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee advanced the bill (HB 242) without a recommendation. The bill now goes to the House Business and Industry Committee.
    Under the bill, New Mexicans who are HIV-positive or diagnosed with cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy or AIDS would be exempt from criminal and civil penalties for possessing up to a three-month supply of marijuana.
   

    HOUSE OKS BLOOD PROPOSAL
    SANTA FE A proposal to make it easier for some minors to donate blood was approved by the House on Thursday.
    The legislation would permit 17-year-olds to give blood to a licensed or accredited blood bank or hospital without parental consent. No payment can be made for the blood donation, however.
    The bill passed the House 47-20. It goes to the Senate for consideration.
    Rep. Gail Beam, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the measure, said that, currently, a 17-year-old can donate blood with written permission of a parent.
    The legislation, she said, could help encourage more blood donations.
    "If we allow for a new generation to be able to give blood, it would be very helpful," she said.
    Opponents argued against eliminating the parental consent requirement for a minor.
    "I think the next thing we'll be doing is saying the parents have no responsibility over their children at any age," said Rep. W.C. "Dub" Williams, R-Glencoe.
   

    TOBACCO FUND BILL TABLED
    SANTA FE A bill to abolish the state's tobacco settlement permanent fund and transfer its estimated $57 million into the state's general fund was tabled Thursday by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.
    The committee could reconsider the bill at a later date.
    The measure (HB 244) was requested by Gov. Bill Richardson to help pay for rising Medicaid costs.
    House Majority Whip James Taylor, an Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored the bill, said he would continue to work with Richardson's administration and legislative leaders to find ways to use the state's share of tobacco settlement revenues.
    "This piece of the puzzle is part of the governor's balancing act with his budget proposal," Taylor said.
    Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, objected to Richardson's proposal to use the tobacco settlement permanent fund.