Feb. 12, 2009 Legislative tidbits

Days remaining in session: 37

Vehicle taxes: A bill (HB649) sponsored by Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos, would increase the state’s motor vehicle excise tax from 3 to 4 percent. Raising the tax by 1 percent is expected to create $40 million in revenue in the 2010 fiscal year.

Most of the money, 60 percent, would go to public transportation providers in regional transit districts or qualifying areas where those districts are not set up. About 15 percent would go to park-and-ride programs while another roughly 15 percent specifically to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District for commuter rail services. Ten percent of the money would go to special needs transportation for the elderly and disabled passengers.

The bill, which is pending in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee and could be heard today, would take effect July 1, 2009 if passed. A similar measure (HB636) would add surcharges to motor vehicle registrations ranging from $15 to $400 depending on the size of the vehicle.

Elk hunt auction: Hunters may be able to bid in an auction for the right to hunt elk in one of the prime locations in New Mexico under a bill that has passed the House.

The legislation will allow the Valles Caldera National Preserve to auction off a certain number of permits to hunt bull elk on the 89,000-acre former ranch in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico.

The money would go to the preserve for operations and improvements.

Currently, at least 78 percent of elk permits on the federally owned preserve must go to New Mexico residents. That would not be the case under the legislation.

The bill passed the House on Wednesday and goes to the Senate.

Budget online: A measure pending in the House would create an online, searchable database of the state budget.

The bill (HB452) says that the Department of Finance and Administration should post the state budget for every fiscal year after 2011 within 45 days of being adopted.

It also calls for the budgets for the 2001 through 2010 fiscal year to be posted no later than July of 2012.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, is before the House Health and Government Affairs Committee.

Domestic violence: The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure (SB4) that would create a new criminal offense known as “damage to and deprivation of the property of a household member.” The crime would be a misdemeanor if the damage is $1,000 or less, while it would be a fourth-degree felony if the damage is more than $1,000.

“Perpetrators have been increasingly using the destruction of property tactic to intimidate spouses into staying in a violent relationship,” Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, the bill’s sponsor said in a statement. “We have to take that power of violence and intimidation away from these offenders.”

The bill heads to the House for consideration.

Don’t text and drive: A measure pending in the House would specify that texting while driving is illegal.

The proposal (HB301) would fine violators $100 for sending text messages while operating a motor vehicle unless they are summoning help or reporting illegal activity.

Rep. Antonio Lujan, D-Las Cruces, is carrying the measure, which is before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Several cities across the country ban texting while driving.

Looking ahead: House Bill 403, sponsored by Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, would regulate the growing, processing, licensing and selling of industrial hemp farming in the state. The House Business and Industry Committee is scheduled to hear the bill at 1:30 p.m. today in Room 309. Senate Bill 377 is a duplicate.

Quote of the day: “The horse is out of the barn and it’s going to gallop away on the spending levels.”

— Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, during Senate floor debate.