Legislative roundup — Feb. 7

Days remaining in session: 13

No-show at racino hearing: Gov. Susana Martinez will not be attending a hearing dealing with The Downs Racetrack & Casino contract scheduled in the Senate Rules Committee on Monday, a spokesman says.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who chairs the committee, had invited Martinez, her political adviser, Jay McCleskey, and others to testify at the hearing. But when asked if the governor planned to be there, Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in an email, “Of course not.”

He followed that with basically the same statement he gave The New Mexican last month for a story on The Downs deal, calling the hearing a “petty political sideshow” and pointing out that Lopez is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Opponents of Martinez have said the administration gave an unfair advantage to The Downs — whose owners include large campaign contributors to the governor — when awarding the multi-million dollar contract in 2011. Martinez has denied that. Proponents of the deal have said a competitive bid wasn’t even required for the contract, which The Downs has held since the 1980s.

The hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday.

CYFD under scrutiny: The Senate passed legislation Thursday to study the state agency in charge of protecting children in hopes of avoiding tragedies such as the suspected abuse death of an Albuquerque boy in December.

Senate Joint Memorial 3, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, encountered opposition from a handful of Republicans who consider it to be redundant to existing reviews and couldn’t justify its $60,000 cost.

The memorial passed on a vote of 32-5, with Sens. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho, John Ryan of Albuquerque, Pat Woods of Broadview, William Sharer of Farmington and Steven Neville of Aztec opposed. Next, it moves to the committee process in the House.

Padilla’s proposal would require the Children, Youth and Families Department to report to the Legislature on three years worth of child abuse or neglect cases and would include workers’ average caseloads and salaries and seek to identify any obstacles to protecting children.

Padilla said he was frustrated that CYFD returned $6 million in unspent funds last year while failing to complete its mission in some areas. The death of 9-year-old Omaree Varela, who previously had been the subject of a CYFD case and was allegedly kicked to death by his mother, was noted several times by supporters of Padilla’s proposal.

“The department has simply had no answers to this point,” said Padilla, who, along with his sisters, grew up in the state’s foster care system.

“We always said if there was ever anything we could do about this, that we would,” he said.

In another piece of legislation sparked by Varela’s death, House Speaker Kenny Martinez introduced House Bill 333, which would require the CYFD to immediately take custody of children showing specific injuries from abuse. The bill also would require the parents, guardians or custodians to complete counseling before taking custody of a child in certain circumstances. The bill first will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee.

Game poachers: People who kill big game for horns or antlers, wasting the carcass, and those who hunt outside of the legal season or without a valid license would be guilty of a fourth-degree felony under a bill by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas.

HB 128 specifically includes bighorn sheep, ibex, oryx, Barbary sheep, elk, deer and pronghorn antelope. The state Department of Game and Fish has said that at least 100 such animals are killed for their heads, horns or antlers every year.

“The waste of these beautiful animals is unacceptable,” Baldonado said in a news release. “We need to protect our wildlife from those who will not respect it. My hope is that stricter penalties will decrease the amount of big game killed for waste.”

A fourth-degree felony carries a prison sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of up to $5,000 for those who are convicted.

The House Health, Government and Indian Affairs committee gave the bill a unanimous do-pass recommendation Thursday. It goes now to the House Judiciary Committee.

Egolf shaves: Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, admitted to his first mistake of the legislative session on Thursday.

Egolf, who said he intended to grow his beard indefinitely, arrived at the Capitol clean-shaven. He said that, in the haze of being half-awake, he inadvertently chopped a swath of hair from his face while trying to trim his beard. After that, Egolf said, he had no choice but to take it all off.

Land-grant fund grows: Executives of the State Investment Council on Thursday told a House committee that New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund is now worth $13.1 billion. The endowment grows through investments and royalties for use of state land, notably for oil drilling. The fund benefits public schools, and proposed legislation would tap more of the money for early childhood education programs.

Looking ahead: Gov. Susana Martinez is scheduled to visit Presbyterian Española Hospital at 10:30 a.m. Friday to talk about the shortage of health care professionals in Northern New Mexico, as well as discuss the various proposals she has put forward to expand the health care workforce.

• The annual House-Senate basketball game is scheduled to tip off around 7 p.m. Friday at the Capital High School gymnasium. Admission to “Hoops for Hope,” a fundraiser for The University of New Mexico Cancer Center, is $5 at the door. Retired New Mexico State University basketball coach Lou Henson will coach the House squad, while UNM baseball coach Ray Birmingham guides the Senate team.

• On KNME-TV’s Report from Santa Fe, Sens. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, and Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, will discuss last year’s shake-up of the state’s mental health system and how it has affected the mentally ill. The show airs at 8 a.m. Sunday on KNME, Channel 5.1

Quote of the day: “This is wild and free, baby. What are you talking about?” — Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, to Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. The curly-haired O’Neil had suggested that Sapien, who sports a “slicked-back” look, switch hairstyles with him so Sapien’s hair would be “wild and free.”

— Santa Fe New Mexican

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