Legislative roundup, Feb. 8, 2023
Feb. 7—Days remaining in session: 38
Royalty rates: The Senate Conservation Committee advanced a bill that would increase New Mexico's royalty rate on oil and gas leases on state trust land to 25% from 20%.
"New Mexico last updated this rate 50 years ago — hard to imagine — whereas Texas has had the 25% [rate] since the 1990s," the sponsor of Senate Bill 164, Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, told the committee.
Tallman said the state land commissioner has a fiduciary duty to earn money for public schools and other government institutions.
"It just doesn't make sense to prohibit the state from charging a market rate for what is essentially a sale of a public resource," he said.
Sunalei Stewart, deputy commissioner of operations for the State Land Office, said the increase would keep New Mexico competitive with Texas.
"This isn't a tax bill; this is a royalty bill," he said. "Basically what we're saying is, if an oil company leases from the land office, the oil company gets 75% of that public resource. We just want the school kids to get 25% rather than 20%."
The bill would also require royalty payments on wasted oil and gas.
Cabinet secretary concerns: Environment Secretary James Kenney warned lawmakers Tuesday about his department's ability to administer funds coming to New Mexico from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act due to lack of staffing.
"I'm very concerned that with the flood of money coming to the state of New Mexico in terms of formula grants under BIL and IRA that ... we're not going to be able to rise to the occasion of getting that money," he told the Senate Conservation Committee.
Matthew Maez, a department spokesman, said afterward he's not aware of the department missing a funding opportunity.
"But our concern is that could happen in the future if we don't have the resources from a staffing and from an operational side to be able to do so," he said.
Kenney told lawmakers his department is one of the state agencies that will be administering "significant amounts" of money from the two pieces of legislation passed under President Joe Biden.
"We have to have the capacity internally, not only staffing but our business operations, to support the quick pass-through of that money to communities," he said. "A lot of that gets hung up with the fact that STEM-type [science, technology, engineering and math] jobs are hard for the state to recruit."
Kenney said the department's vacancy rate is down to 19% after it instituted various recruitment and retention incentives.
At the end of Kenney's presentation, which touched on various aspects of the department, committee Chairwoman Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said she hoped committee members would advocate to "fully fund" it.
"We'd appreciate that," Kenney responded.
Sergeant-at-arms: Paula Ulibarri, sergeant-at-arms for the New Mexico Senate, returned to the Roundhouse this week after being out with COVID-19.
Ulibarri had been self-isolating and absent from the chamber since last week.
"Thankfully she did not experience any severe upper respiratory symptoms and is continuing to follow the safety precautions outlined by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]," Chris Nordstrum, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Office, wrote in an email.
Political field trip: Middle school students from Santa Fe Preparatory School took a tour of the state Capitol on Tuesday and spoke with Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, in the gallery of the Senate chamber.
Sarah Stark, who teaches English, said the Capitol visit is "part of our program to help kids understand their possible roles in our community, how to be contributing citizens."
Wirth explained the way the Legislature works. "You take ideas, put them into law and fix things, things that need to be fixed in this state," he said.
André Hersom, 13, asked Wirth, "Of all the decisions you made, which one was the hardest?"
Wirth said it was his vote to abolish the death penalty in 2009. "That was a very emotional decision," he said, adding he considered how sometimes you discover someone who was executed may have been innocent of the crime.
Hersom said it's important for youth to understand the political process and what role they play in it. "We're the future," he said. "And for the rest of our lives we could be making decisions for our state."
Got 16 of 'em: A multi-agency law enforcement sting operation against shoplifters at stores in Bernalillo County last week netted 16 arrests, according to a news release.
Nine arrests took place outside two Kohl's stores.
The suspects ranged in age from 19 to 45, and at least four had warrants out for arrests on other charges — including shoplifting.
Law enforcement officers recovered $3,740 worth of stolen property during the sting.
The operation came as legislators have introduced bills to impose harsher penalties on repeat shoplifters or those who engage in organized retail crime, like targeting a number of stores at one time.
One of those bills, House Bill 234, has already passed through one committee and is headed to the House Judiciary Committee for a second hearing.
Quote of the day: "After 19 years I can still get lost — you can go around in circles." — Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, speaking to students about finding your way around the state Capitol, known as the Roundhouse.