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Thursday, March 13, 2003

Around the Roundhouse

Staff and Wire Reports
    SENATE BACKS STATE BUSINESS BILL
    SANTA FE The Senate on Wednesday endorsed a bill allowing the state to invest more heavily in New Mexico businesses under Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's economic development strategy.
    The legislation went to the House with bipartisan backing on a 28-6 vote.
    The legislation raises the limit on investments in New Mexico private equity funds from 3 percent to 8 percent of the market value of the Severance Tax Permanent Fund, which is now about $3.2 billion.
    It also authorizes co-investment directly in New Mexico businesses.
    Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, objected that the changes presented an "opportunity for cronyism" for example, paying back campaign contributions by investing in the donor's business.
    And it could put the state in the position of helping one business at the expense of another.
    "This seems to me to be a really, really risky way to go about investing money," Payne said.
    It was the second floor debate in as many days on Richardson's proposals to loosen the restrictions on the investment of the state's permanent funds, which are the repository of money earned on trust lands given to New Mexico at statehood.
    On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill giving the state investment officer more latitude in investing the Severance Tax Permanent Fund and the Land Grant Permanent Fund.
   

    DNA DEADLINE EXTENDS FOR FELONS
    SANTA FE Convicted felons could once again try to prove their innocence with DNA evidence under a measure the Legislature sent Gov. Bill Richardson.
    A state law enacted in 2001 gave prisoners only one year, until July 2002, to petition district courts to reopen their cases and order DNA testing.
    The bill that got final approval Wednesday would extend the deadline for three years, until July 2006.
   

    PIPELINE SAFETY MAY LEAVE PRC
    SANTA FE A proposal to transfer state oversight of pipelines out of the Public Regulation Commission was approved unanimously by the House and sent to the Senate.
    The Oil Conservation Division in the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department would assume the state's pipeline safety responsibilities, including inspection of intrastate pipelines.
    Personnel from the PRC that currently handle pipeline safety matters will be transferred to the Oil Conservation Division, which regulates the oil and natural gas industry.
    Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, said the legislation, approved Tuesday, also would give the new regulator the option of assuming responsibilities from the federal government for interstate pipeline inspections in New Mexico.
    He reminded lawmakers that a natural gas pipeline explosion near Carlsbad in 2000 killed a dozen members of two extended families, including five children.
   

    SENATE OKS CAR LOCK LICENSE BILL
    SANTA FE The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to allow New Mexico drivers who have their licenses revoked for drunken driving to apply for a license to allow them to drive in vehicles with ignition interlock devices.
    The bill (committee substitute for SB 501), which the Senate approved on a 35-0 vote, goes to the House.
    Under current law, revoked license holders can apply for a temporary, limited permit.
    Sen. Phil Griego, a San Jose Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor, called the bill "cutting-edge legislation."