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Friday, March 7, 2003

Around the Roundhouse

The Associated Press
    VOTE DENIES FUEL-TAX CUT
    SANTA FE The state's gasoline tax will remain unchanged, rather than dropping a penny-a-gallon in July, under legislation approved by the House on Thursday.
    "Keeping this one-cent tax in place will assist in maintaining the highways of this state," said Rep. Dan Silva, D-Albuquerque, chairman of the Transportation Committee.
    Under current law, the state gasoline tax is scheduled to drop from 17 cents a gallon to 16 cents a gallon July 1.
    The reduction is the last step in a 1995 law that repealed a 6-cent tax increase enacted in 1993 when Democratic Gov. Bruce King was in office.
    The gasoline tax increase became a campaign issue when King sought re-election and Republican Gary Johnson, who championed repeal of the tax increase, defeated King in the 1994 general election.
    The 1-cent levy wasn't repealed immediately in 1995 because it was going to repay bonds for highway construction. Those bonds will be paid off in July, however.
    The bill sponsored by Silva would keep that 1-cent levy in place and use the estimated $6.4 million a year to pay for state road construction and maintenance. Cities and counties would keep almost $2 million in revenues for their roads if the tax remains in place.
    Silva said the state needed additional financing for roads. The state depends on the fuel tax for highway maintenance and construction, and there's been little revenue growth recently.
   

    WHISTLEBLOWER HELP FAILS
    SANTA FE Legislation to protect whistleblowers from employer retaliation was rejected by the House on Thursday.
    Opponents said the proposal would have hurt businesses.
    The measure, rejected 35-31, would have applied to public and private employers with four or more workers.
    "It's just good public policy to protect those people who report violations of the law. That's what the bill is designed to do," said Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe, who sponsored the measure.
    The legislation would have prohibited retaliation, such as blacklisting, firing or demotion, against an employee who disclosed wrongdoing by an employer.
    An employee could have gone to the Human Rights Division of the state Labor Department and later to district court with a complaint about alleged retaliation.
    Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said the legislation was "very anti-business" and could hamper economic development efforts. Critics also said it could lead to more lawsuits against employers.
    Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington, said, "It does nothing to protect those good employers from bad employees."
    However, Coll said the measure had safeguards for unfounded employee complaints. The Human Rights Division director could have dismissed a complaint if it lacked probable cause, a provision Coll said would filter out frivolous claims.
    Coll has introduced similar legislation in the past without success. In 2001, the House rejected a whistleblower protection proposal on a 41-28 vote.
   

    SENATE REJECTS UNPAID LEAVE
    SANTA FE The Senate has turned down legislation requiring employers to provide two hours of unpaid leave a month to workers for their children's school activities or doctors' visits.
    The bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, was rejected 20-11 on Wednesday.
    Opponents said it was unnecessary because employers already try to accommodate such requests.
    "It's really a slap in the face of businesses," said Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces.
    And they said it would burden small businesses, which might have difficulty finding workers to substitute for absent employees.