Lawmakers rush to complete work by noon

By Deborah Baker and Barry Massey

SANTA FE — Lawmakers neared the finishing line of their 30-day session with many of Gov. Bill Richardson’s legislative proposals unresolved.

The Legislature adjourns at noon on Thursday and the closing hours of the session resembled a high-wire act as the House and Senate rushed to complete work on a long list of bills.

Among the pending items on Richardson’s legislative agenda: phasing in an increase in the state minimum wage to $7.50 an hour; a package of tax cuts for individuals and businesses; state financing and local taxing authority for a proposed spaceport in southern New Mexico; and a five-year, $250 million highway construction program.

For lawmakers and the governor, financing of capital improvement projects — a package of several hundred million dollars — remained a must-do piece of business before they adjourned.

Although time was running out on the session, the Legislature can fast-track measures when necessary to try to beat the adjournment deadline.

“You can actually pass a bill through the House and the Senate in less than 12 hours or whatever we have left,” observed Sen. Shannon Robinson, an Albuquerque Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 1989.

On Thursday, lawmakers gave final approval to a host of bills. Sent to the governor were proposals to:

—Require DNA samples to be taken from adults when they’re arrested for certain felonies. The proposal has been dubbed “Katie’s Law,” in memory of New Mexico State University student Kathryn “Katie” Sepich, whose rape and murder in 2003 is still unsolved.

—Provide a tax credit for individuals and businesses to install solar power systems. The measure is among Richardson’s legislative priorities. Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said a new generation of New Mexicans is “sold on” renewable energy and such a credit would encourage the push for alternative energy sources.

—Allow the Richardson administration to help pay for health insurance for children of the working poor who are not eligible for Medicaid coverage. “The main goal is to hopefully enroll 5,000 more children in our health care system,” said House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants.

—Crack down on poaching of trophy animals such as elk. The bill will allow the State Game Commission to establish higher civil penalties for hunters who illegally kill trophy animals.

Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.