March 3, 2009 Legislative tidbits

Days remaining in session: 18

Golden parachutes: The House Judiciary Committee will consider a measure (HB538) sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, that would prohibit state agencies from giving extra money to employees who are terminated for cause or who resign. Under the bill, the state still could buy out an employment contract.

During debate on the House floor Monday, the measure was sent to the Judiciary Committee so lawyers on that panel could look it over.

Several public figures have gotten large amounts of compensation in past years after leaving jobs, including former Senate President Manny Aragon, who received $200,000 when he resigned as president of New Mexico Highlands University.

Housing authorities: With virtually no debate Monday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill meant to tighten oversight on troubled regional housing authorities.

Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, would consolidate the current seven Regional Housing authorities into three: a Northern, an Eastern and a Western Regional Housing Authority.

The bill would put conflict-of-interest prohibitions into place for commissioners serving on the regional authority boards. Each of the three authorities would have to submit their operating budgets for each succeeding fiscal year to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority for review. And transactions over $100,000 would have to be approved by MFA.

A scathing report by state Auditor Hector Baldera, released in January, detailed questionable reimbursements and other inappropriately used state bond money. The state Attorney General is investigating Region III, which in 2006 defaulted on $5 million in bonds it sold to the state.

Papen’s bill goes on to the House.

Bridge study: The Senate has approved a measure to study constructing suicide barriers on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos.

The Senate voted 39-0 Friday on Senate Joint Memorial 18, which would authorize the state Transportation Department to study cost and structural issues related to building barriers, such as netting or a fence.

The bridge spans 650 feet above the Rio Grande and is the site of some three suicides a year.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, sponsored the measure, saying the bridge accounts for more than half of suicides in the Taos County area. Rescue workers who support the bill say retrieving bodies in the gorge is dangerous work.

Looking Ahead: The Senate Public Affairs committee today is scheduled to hear a bill (HB285) that would ban the death penalty in New Mexico.

Quote of the day: “Don’t forget those vitamins…we need to take a lot of vitamin C for sure.”

— House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, referring to the many sick people at the Roundhouse.