2018 State Legislature: Legislative roundup, Feb. 11, 2018

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The New Mexican

Days remaining in session: 5

Fender bender: Legislators hear from constituents on all manner of issues.

But several lawmakers said Saturday they had gotten more emails about a proposal to require two license plates on each vehicle than about any other piece of legislation this year.

The inconvenience seemed to outweigh the potential public safety benefits as the House voted down the idea by a vote of 27-38.

Sponsored by Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, a Democrat and former Albuquerque Police Department officer, House Bill 158 would have raised the vehicle registration fee by $2 a year starting in 2018 and require a front-end license plate starting in 2022.

New Mexico is one of 19 states that require only a single license plate on each vehicle. And as crime has risen, Ruiloba has argued the bill is a commonsense measure to address crime.

Backers, including the New Mexico State Police, argue the requirement would help law enforcement identify vehicles involved in crimes.

Still, others questioned the merits of raising the fee and about the hassle for New Mexicans who do not currently have a place on their vehicles for a front license plate.

And there is no accounting for taste, as they say.

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Río Rancho, said his own father was among the many who had asked him to oppose the bill.

"He said, 'please don't make me mess up the front of my car.' "

Vote early, vote less often: A measure to consolidate New Mexico's myriad local elections into a single day heads next to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 to approve House Bill 98, which would largely do away with the practice of local governments holding elections at pretty much any time of year.

Instead, local governments would mostly hold elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November during odd-numbered years.

That would include school boards, soil and water conservation districts, community college districts and hospital districts.

It would automatically include town governments, too, except for home-rule municipalities such as Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Clovis.

The Secretary of State, League of Women Voters and county clerks have supported the measure, contending it would boost participation in elections on important topics such as educational policy and raising taxes.

School districts oppose the bill, saying it might lead to less support for boards and bond issues.

Bill on teacher raises dies: The House Education Committee in a party-line vote Saturday blocked a bill calling for substantial teacher raises.

Democrats voted down the measure 7-6. That prompted Republican Rep. Dennis Roch, a school superintendent from Logan, to complain that the rival party stopped a bill to strengthen the teaching profession.

Democrats said they found many flaws with the proposal, House Bill 310, most notably the annual additional costs of $71 million.

"How are you going to pay for it?" asked Rep. Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque.

The House of Representatives moved its budget proposal to the Senate more than a week ago.

Others questioned whether $5 million proposed for teacher recruitment would be distributed equitably to districts by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration.

The bill called for raising minimum salaries of teachers at all experience levels. A less expensive bill for teacher raises is alive in the Senate. And the budget approved by the House of Representatives already contains a proposed raise of 2.5 percent for teachers.

Give foster youth a chance: A Senate bill that would provide an incentive for New Mexico employers to hire a teen living in a foster home or a young adult who has aged out of the state foster care system is making its way through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 231, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, stalled temporarily in the Senate Finance Committee on Saturday because the state budget has not yet passed both chambers.

But committee members heard testimony from some youth who said the $1,000 income tax and corporate tax credit for people who hire foster youth would help launch them into adulthood and independence. Employers are often reluctant to hire such young people because they lack prior work experience, have a long list of past addresses and don't have family support.

"They look down on us," a young man told lawmakers.

"They shy away from us because we don't have stability," a young woman said.