First, I want to thank my peers for having the confidence to choose me as President-elect of NMCGA. I consider this to be an honor and will do my level best to exceed your expectations of me.
As President-elect, I was sentenced to 30 days in Santa Fe for the legislative session and with good behavior, I get to do 60 days next year!
The main focus of the Legislature this year is the constitutional mandate for a balanced budget in a time of declining revenues. HB 2 was sent to the Governor for her signature. The prevailing thought is that a Special Session may be called later due to revenues continuing to decline. Scuttlebutt is that the legislature may look at adding a gas tax to low gasoline prices and/or rescinding some of the tax exemptions to increase revenues to state coffers. We will keep an eye on these developments.
Another big issue this year was the requirement to be compliant with the federal Real ID Act and allow drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. Under HB 99, U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status have the option to get a Real ID-compliant license. The Real ID-compliant licenses are needed to enter secure federal facilities and to board a commercial plane, flying domestically. Those who don’t want a Real ID license and undocumented immigrants who can’t qualify for one could get a driving-authorization card, but it would not be recognized as identification by some federal agencies.
We followed a number of bills important to agriculture. One was SB 244 which provided a rational basis for farm and ranch laborers exemption from the Workers Compensation Act. SB 244 was necessary to comply with the NM Court of Appeals opinion that current exemption in statute is unconstitutional. SB 244 passed the Senate Conservation Committee and was referred to Senate Judiciary Committee where it wasn’t heard. Companion bills SB 283 and SM 110 did not make it to committee. The good news is the New Mexico Supreme Court has granted a stay to the Court of Appeals opinion which is now suspended. Oral arguments will be heard by the Supreme Court late this Spring or maybe next summer.
Another bill important to producers was SB 294 exempting from gross receipts tax the sale of access to private land for hunting or fishing purposes. Many producers receive elk and antelope authorizations or authorizations from the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish as compensation for damages to private property and Taxation and Revenue Department has determined landowners should pay gross receipts taxes on the sale of these authorizations. SB 294 passed the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee and referred to the Finance Committee where it was tabled.
Some good news! SB 72 amending the Right to Farm Act to protect agricultural operations or facilities from nuisance claims passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk for her signature. However, some groups are misinforming the public about what constitutes a substantial change in the nature and scope of agricultural operations or facilities in the hopes of generating public backlash against the Governor signing this legislature. We in agriculture need to counter the misinformed public with calls to the Governor’s office urging her to sign SB 72 into law.
Lastly, I want to thank the bill readers for the work they do in vetting introduced legislation. I have been a bill reader since the inception of this concept and now I have a greater appreciation of what it means to those in Santa Fe.
Hasta luego y espero que obtiene gran cantidad de lluvia!