Local legislators to focus on budget, water and parental rights


There are just days before the 51st session of the New Mexico Legislature convenes, and local representatives are preparing themselves for 60 days of bill wrangling and budget decisions.

The most important part of this session is to pass a budget that is good for all New Mexicans, said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-29, Belen).

The Legislative Finance Committee released its proposed budget earlier this week and Gov. Susana Martinez presented hers on Thursday.

Sanchez said the major difference between the two was the 1 percent raises for state employees and teachers.

"She does want to give the 1 percent," Sanchez said. "In my opinion, it should be higher since they haven't had a raise in four or five years."

One piece of legislation Sanchez will carry this session is a bill that "helps people have a shot at keeping their homes in foreclosure." This is the third time he has sponsored the bill.

He is also bringing back an aviation bill that would benefit the local Belen Alexander Municipal Airport.

"That was stalled at the last minute in the House filibuster thanks to our Republicans," Sanchez said.

The senator is also sponsoring a bill for a constitutional amendment that will allow some land grant permanent fund to be used for early childhood eduction.

Sanchez is also working on legislation that he hopes will encourage people to move back to small towns.

"The bill would allow a family or person to purchase a home in a small municipality, and this would be similar to the tax increment districts we did for developers," he said.

The homeowner would have to sign a contract with the municipality and the state that they would live in the home for a period of time — four or five years — and during that time, they would get a break on their property taxes.

"If they don't stay, they will pay what they owe," Sanchez said. "This is something to try to get people to move back into smaller communities."

He said he might try it as a pilot project, using Belen, or try the program statewide.

"When I was campaigning and knocking on doors, there were a lot of houses sitting empty," Sanchez said. "Some were foreclosures that the banks should be kept up and aren't. Others were where people had died, and their family isn't in the area."

And while you can't legislate the weather, Sanchez said the drought is one of the most important things in the valley, and called it the "sleeper issue of this session.

"Texas just filed a suit and if we continue to send them more water, this valley is in for a tough time this summer."

Sanchez said he is hoping to work with the Office of the State Engineer, the state's attorney generals office and the governors office to work through the litigation.

He also said the state could expect a number of bills to come out to the Democratically controlled Senate that focused on economic growth and jobs.

Sanchez said the combined reporting bill that was vetoed by the governor last session will also make a reappearance.

"And as always, if people want to come to Santa Fe to watch the process, they are welcome any time," he said. "I think it's great for everybody."

Rep. Don Tripp (R-49 Socorro) sits on the LFC, the body that introduces a version of the state budget each year.

Because of that recent water litigation brought by Texas over the water compacts, Tripp said the LFC would most likely request a budget increase for the Office of the State Engineer to fight the lawsuit.

"The ramifications from that are going to be extensive," Tripp said.

The suit filed earlier this week by lawyers for the state of Texas claim that New Mexico has illegally allowed farmers to pump out groundwater in the Rio Grande basin, diverting water that should be allocated to Texas.

Tripp said there is about $280 million in new recurring money in this year's budget.

"The LFC is proposing a 1 percent increase on salaries for state employees and teachers, and department increases ranging from 1 to 3 percent, depending on needs," he said.

There is also a recommendation of a one-time transfer of $25 million out of the general fund into the state highway fund.

"And myself and others from Valencia County will be pushing for capital outlay," he said.

For example, Tripp said the city of Belen has asked for funding for its flood ponding issues on Camino del Llano, and for him to possibly sponsor a request for hospital construction funds.

So far, Tripp has pre-filed one bill, House Bill 33. The bill would allocate $1.1 million in funding for community health councils around state.

"These are essential, especially in rural communities," the representative said. "During budget cuts, funding for the councils was cut out."

A new face at the Roundhouse this session will be Rep. Kelly Farjardo (R-7, Belen).

One of her main focuses during the session will be economic development, Farjardo said.

"I know it's kind of a catch phrase and everybody says it and has their own idea," Farjardo said. "I want to focus on bills that will help Valencia County."

In this, her first term, Farjardo said she has taken the words of a friend of hers, a Democratic senator, to heart.

"He told me, 'I don't care where bill comes from. If it's a good bill and help will help my community, I will vote for it.' I have to look at what's best for my community," she said.

To prepare for the session, Farjardo has been meeting with governing bodies around the county, asking them for their priorities and needs.

"As a representative, I have to be able be in position to hear from people," she said. "What they think and their frustrations are. Some are beyond my control. Others are doable."

Farjardo is working on a draft bill right now that she is excited about.

"It's a simple bill. It is changing some language in the Amber Alert legislation," she said.

Currently, if a non custodial family member has a child without the custodial parent's permission, an Amber Alert cannot be issued, Farjardo said.

"With the changes, an alert could be issued for a non custodial parent. We had situation like that last year in New Mexico," she said.

With the "huge learning curve" to get her arms around, Farjardo said she will be mostly watching and learning in her first days in Santa Fe.

"I'm excited and as ready as I'll ever be," she said.

Alonzo Baldonado (R-8, Los Lunas) has pre-filed two bills — House Bill 38 and House Bill 39. HB 38 would terminate parental rights of individuals convicted of criminal sexual penetration, and HB 39 clarifies whose consent is not required for adoptions to include those convicted of criminal sexual penetration.

Baldonado is also co-sponsoring Senate Bill 30, which provides for the formation and management of homeowner associations, the disclosure of records and HOA information to buyers and requiring HOAs file as nonprofit corporation bylaws with the Public Regulation Commission.

The bill is sponsored By Sen. Timothy M. Keller (D-17, Albuquerque).

All proposed legislation must be introduced by both House and Senate members by Thursday, Feb. 14. Filed bills and the full LFC budget proposal can be found on the legislative website, www.nmlegis.gov.

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.