1-28 Legislative tidbits

Days remaining in session: 21

Restaurant tax would fund promos

A measure (HB 189) carried by Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, would generate between $6 and $6.5 million for the state’s Department of Tourism advertising budget.

The 1/4 of one percent tax would be imposed “on the gross receipts of a prepared food or alcoholic beverage retailer from the sale of prepared food and beverages (including alcoholic beverages),” according to the department.#

The department says the money would double its current advertising budget and eliminate the need for the department to ask for cash from the state’s general fund.

“Tourism is New Mexico’s largest private-sector employer and second-largest private-sector industry, generating $739 million in tax revenues while employing more than 110,000 New Mexicans in 2007,” Tourism Secretary Mike Cerletti said in a statement. “Without continued hard work, creative thinking and a dedicated source of funding, however, it will be difficult for New Mexico to remain the popular destination it is today. If that should happen, then all New Mexicans would suffer financially.”

The department says a consumer would pay an extra 12.5 cents on a $50 dinner bill.

Richardson puts consolidation bills on agenda

Gov. Bill Richardson said he’ll let several measures that would consolidate several state agencies be considered by lawmakers this session. Several of the measures would undo changes Richardson made after he took office and broke out several state agencies into new Cabinet departments.

Among the ideas to be considered:

• Merging the Department of Aging and Long Term Services Department with the Human Services Department;

• Merging the Department of Homeland Security with the Department of Public Safety;

• Merging the Public Education Department with the Higher Education Department;

• Merging the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department with the Environment Department and the Office of the Natural Resources Trustee;

“These are recommendations from the Task Force that I believe should be given a hearing, particularly in light of the current budget streamlining process,” Richardson said in a statement. “They represent opportunities to combine naturally allied functions, reduce redundancies and inefficiencies, and eliminate boards and commissions that are no longer functional or necessary.”

Same-day voter registration

Once again Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, is carrying a bill that would allow a voter to register right before casting a ballot at early voting sites.

HB123 also would allow voters to register at the county clerk’s office when in-person absentee voting is allowed. The registration would be allowed starting 28 days before an election, running the Saturday before Election Day. Currently, if you don’t get registered about a month before the election, you’re out of luck.

Last year, a similar bill carried by Trujillo passed the House but died in the Senate.

The bill is designed to encourage people to vote, Trujillo said. Many people don’t get to vote because they miss the registration cut off.

Trujillo said Wednesday that his bill has been endorsed by several groups including the League of Women Voters, the American Association of Retired People, the All Indian Pueblo Council, county clerks around the state and the Secretary of State.

HB123 has been assigned to the House Voters and Elections and the House Consumer & Public Affairs committees.

House passes border security measure: The House on Wednesday approved a measure (HJM 9) that asks for officials from four state agencies to work with federal officials to coordinate safety and other efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The state officials would come from the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Transportation and the Border Authority.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Nate Cote, D-Las Cruces, said the legislation aims to keep residents safe.

“We must address the overwhelming criminal activity occurring across our border and take measures to prevent it from spilling over into New Mexico,” he said. “We need to keep our citizens who live or travel along the border safe from criminal drug and cartel activity. The fact that this legislation was met with no opposition reflects the importance of the initiative.”

The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Looking ahead

• Residents can learn more about human trafficking and slavery at an informational booth today hosted by Attorney General Gary King’s Border Violence Division. The booth will be in the Rotunda all day in recognition of President Obama’s proclamation designating January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Staff from the AG’s office will be on hand to discuss the problem in New Mexico.

• New Mexico Baptists for the ninth year will host a breakfast for lawmakers Friday morning at the Santa Fe Hilton, 7 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. The meal is sponsored by the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Christian Life Committee, and is to “remind state legislators that Baptists across the state appreciate them, are supporting them in prayer and care about moral issues facing the state,” according to a news release. The New Mexico Singing Churchmen will sing during this year’s breakfast while Virginia pastor Will Dodson, a former judge and public policy director and legal counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, will speak at the event.

• Gov. Richardson today is scheduled to head over to the Santa Fe Motor Vehicle Division office at 2544 Camino Edward Ortiz for an 11 a.m. press conference with other state officials where he will issue the very first license plate commemorating the upcoming centennial of New Mexico’s statehood in 2012.

• On Friday, the governor plans to hold office hours from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in his office on the 4th floor of the Capitol. Those who want a meeting with Richardson must have a valid New Mexico driver’s license. Meetings are on a first-come, first-serve basis.