Days remaining in session: 38

Predatory lending bill advances: Legislation that would cut the maximum annual interest rate on small loans from 175 percent to 36 percent cleared the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on a 7-4 party-line vote, with Democrats voting in favor.

In addition to capping small-loan interest rates at 36 percent, Senate Bill 66 would raise the loan amount regulated by the law from $5,000 to $10,000, a move designed “to prevent lenders from sidestepping the law by lending just over $5,000,” according to Think New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based think tank.

The organization says New Mexicans paid more than $220 million in interest and fees to high-cost lenders in 2019.

Among those who testified in support of the bill was Paul Gibson, co-founder of the advocacy group Retake Our Democracy. “I have personally sat in hearings on small loan reform many, many times, listened to lobbyists and industry representatives misrepresent their business practices over and over and over and over again,” he said.

The measure sparked a philosophical debate among lawmakers.

“So we’re the government, and we’re here to help, and we can save you from your own bad decision. I get it. I understand,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho. “At some point, people have to learn to be responsible for their own actions.”

Asked whether he was willing to negotiate with the opposition, the sponsor, Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said he was open to it. “I’d be happy to negotiate with anyone,” Soules said. “The things that I won’t negotiate away are profits over people. People matter, and it’s time that we as a Legislature stand up for people and the people among us who are most in need that are being taken advantage of.”

Buzz off, pesticides: A bill that would restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, with some exceptions, cleared the Senate Conservation Committee on a 6-3 vote. The sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the legislation is directed at the preservation of pollinators.

“For the past 70 years, we’ve had a lot of issues with our pollinator populations, including native bees,” she said. “I had no idea we had so many native bees in New Mexico” — more than 2,000 species — “but their decline has been pretty dramatic, and it’s accelerated over recent decades.”

The measure drew opposition from the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, among others.

“Although we understand the good intentions behind this bill, we’re concerned that it would force farmers to use older chemistries whose applications are actually much more toxic to insects, fish, mammals and humans,” said said Ashley Wagner, director of public policy and communications for the state’s chamber of commerce.

Stewart said the bill wouldn’t impact some of the state’s major crops. “Most of the people who are against this bill are not understanding what it does,” she said. “This does not impact our chiles. Doesn’t impact our pecans. Doesn’t impact alfalfa.”

But it does impact pollinators and the environment, Stewart said.

“This is a very effective, very cheap [and] very dangerous insecticide that we’re using, and so this effort to rein it in and restrict it, I believe, is the first step to try to keep that out of our waterways, out of our food, etc.,” she said.

Help is on the way — maybe: Members of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee voted 6-3 to approve House Joint Resolution 9, which would allow voters to decide whether to approve an amendment to the state’s anti-donation clause.

The initiative would allow for the use of state funds for personal, rather than pubic, infrastructure when it comes to installing household electric, gas, water, wastewater and internet services.

Such resolutions do not need the approval of the governor. If members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate support the measure, it would be left to voters to decide in the next general election.

Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, one of the sponsors of the resolution, said the legislation would allow the state to use federal funds, among other resources, to help people in impoverished and rural communities — including those living on tribal lands.

“On the Navajo Nation, we are still 100 years behind the times in some areas,” he told the committee.

Some Republican members of the committee expressed concern about allowing any amendment to the state’s anti-donation clause, saying it would open up a Pandora’s box of such initiatives that would weaken the clause. The resolution now goes to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

This is not a drill: All seemed quiet on the House floor Tuesday morning as lawmakers introduced new legislation and listened to committee reports. Then, suddenly, a light in the chamber began flashing and a voice came over a speaker ordering everyone inside the building to evacuate through the nearest exist.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said, “This is not a fire drill,” and everyone hightailed it.

But lawmakers were back to work within minutes.

Two people, who asked that their names not be published, said someone had left food in a microwave too long, creating smoke and sparking concerns of something more serious.

Quote of the day: “We are often a group not to be trusted.” — Rep. Jason Harper, R-Albuquerque, during a House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee meeting Tuesday. Harper was referring to possible unintended consequences of some pieces of legislation.

The New Mexican

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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