Jan. 31--Days remaining in session: 44
GMO food bill: Proposed legislation calling for labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients will next be heard by the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee.
Senate Bill 18, introduced by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, went through the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday with a divided vote to make "no recommendation." When that report was presented on the Senate Floor on Wednesday, senators voted not to accept the report. Then Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, asked that the bill next be sent to the Corporations and Transportation Committee, which deals with business issues. It was originally slated to go to Senate Judiciary Committee.
Leanne Leith, political director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, said the move appeared to be a "procedural stunt."
"This was intended to kill the bill instead of respecting the committee process," said Leith, who said it appears the bill will get voted down one way or another, since Senate members who voted not to accept the Public Affairs report also sit on the Corporations and Transportation Committee.
Fracking fracas: HB 136, which would require a greater level of transparency from oil and gas drillers concerning the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, will get a second round of discussion at the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee later this week. Sponsored by the committee's chairman, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, the bill was heavily debated Wednesday by committee members, industry representatives and environmental advocates.
Hydraulic fracturing, popularly called fracking, uses pressurized liquids in drilling operations to force cracks in geologic formations, releasing oil and gas. The state Oil Conservation Division has a rule requiring oil and gas companies to report the contents of their fracking fluids on the online FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry. But it allows companies not to divulge the specific chemicals by claiming the mixtures are trade secrets. Egolf said HB 136 is meant to close that loophole.
The state attorney general and several environmental groups support the measure, along with some lawmakers.
"Right now [under the Oil Conservation Division rule], companies can be pretty spectacular about what they call a trade secret, and there's no way to challenge that," said Rep. Stephen Easley, D-Santa Fe.
Representatives from the oil and gas industry said the Oil Conservation Division rule is good enough.
John Bemis, secretary of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, also opposes the bill, saying 99 percent of fracking fluid contents are disclosed under the rule.
Another fracking bill (HB 335), introduced Tuesday by Egolf, specifies actions that drillers would need to take to protect groundwater before beginning any hydraulic fracturing. It, too, is likely to generate heated discussions.
Energy-efficiency tax credit: A 6-5 do-pass vote on a tax credit for energy-efficient houses is an example of how critical it can be for committee members to be present. A first vote on HB 135 in the House Energy and Natural Resources had tied along party lines.
The bill provides a one-time, $4,000 to $8,000 tax credit through 2016 for new homes that are certified energy efficient. Foreclosed energy-efficient homes were added to the bill. The state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department would be in charge of the program, if the bill becomes law.
Horse slaughter facility: HB 90, authorizing $20,000 to New Mexico State University to study the viability of a horse slaughter facility, was unanimously endorsed by the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. The committee also gave a "do pass" to a concurrent joint memorial to study the need for such a facility.
Both measures are sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec.
Some horse owners believe a licensed slaughter facility provides a necessary and humane service, while others call it "murder."
PRC opposes measure: The five-member state Public Regulation Commission gave a unanimous thumbs down to HB 45, which would enable creation of an independent Office of the Superintendent of Insurance.
Lawmakers have to approve some kind of enabling measure for the new insurance office by the end of the session because voters in November approved a constitutional amendment requiring it. Currently, the elected PRC oversees the Insurance Division and its superintendent.
Commissioners said they support an independent office but worry the legislation makes it even harder for consumers to seek redress if they don't agree with an insurance superintendent's decision. Right now, a consumer who doesn't like an insurance superintendent's decision on something like a health insurance rate increase can seek redress from the PRC. Under the legislation, a consumer would take complaints to the state Court of Appeals.
--Nearly 60 business leaders from across the state are expected to announce their support for a proposed constitutional amendment at a news conference Thursday. Senate Joint Resolution 3 would allow voters to decide whether to use a small portion of the state's $11.5 billionLand Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood care and learning programs in order to better prepare children for success in school. The news conference will be in Room 311 at 10 a.m.
--Two Farmington Republicans will unveil a proposed overhaul in the state's tax system. Sen. Bill Sharer and Rep. Tom Taylor on Thursday will present a plan they say will wipe out hundreds of taxes in the state and replace them with a 2 percent across-the-board consumption tax. This tax would apply to everything that is sold, purchased and rented in New Mexico and would eliminate the personal and corporate income tax and nearly all of the "special sales taxes," such as the vehicle excise tax and taxes on insurance premiums. Sharer and Taylor will discuss their plan at 10:15 a.m. in the Senate Minority Leadership office.
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