Crunch time for three excellent but endangered bills | Legislature | New Mexico Legislative Session

The Statehouse shouldn’t be a madhouse this week, but it is.

New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session ends Thursday at noon. The 112 part-time legislators are prone to mismanage the clock, often on purpose.

Lawmakers trying to appease campaign donors will strangle good bills by killing time. Indifference to the oppressed and disregard for deadlines bury other important laws.

As a result, three excellent bills that should have already been approved are in danger of failing.

It would be a blow to justice to eliminate the time limit for the state to prosecute second degree murder.

Another would allow many residents to keep more of the money they earned from lowering Social Security income taxes.

The third bill would smash the state’s predatory lending industry by banning its outrageous 175% annual interest rate.

Members of the House of Representatives just voted 66 to 0 to eliminate the six-year statute of limitations for second-degree murder. This margin does seem impressive. History tells us that the measure, House Bill 79, could be in trouble.

Members of the House at the same stage of the 2018 session approved a similar second-degree murder bill. The vote was 64-0.

This proposal died in the Senate, keeping a bad law on the books.

DNA technology helps solve many more unsolved murders. If prosecutors can’t prove premeditation, the first-degree murder charges are dropped. The six-year limit also prohibits second-degree murder charges.

Bills to end the time restriction on prosecuting second-degree murders have been introduced in each of the past 11 years. All have failed.

Senators are more to blame than the House, offering the flimsy excuse that they ran out of time.

When they wanted to, state legislators approved bills within hours or even minutes. Senators have 3.5 days to end the shady system of a six-year window to prosecute second-degree murders.

This brings us to Social Security, a government program that invests in people. Too many politicians believe they should be spending money that rightfully belongs to their constituents.

The Legislature resorted to a late-night cash grab in 1990 when it voted to tax Social Security income. The federal government was already taxing many people’s Social Security benefits, so state politicians felt encouraged to do the same.

Many sitting state lawmakers have introduced bills this year to reduce or eliminate taxes on Social Security income. Senate Bill 108 was the best of them.

It was to eliminate the tax. This measure has been weakened a bit and accompanied by bills to reduce tax on gross receipts and to extend a tax credit for the use of solar energy.

The revised bill would eliminate the Social Security benefit tax for people with incomes under $100,000 and married couples with incomes under $150,000.

Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said his finance committee has $400 million available for tax credits. A legislative staff analysis estimated that eliminating the Social Security tax for everyone would cost the state government $118 million a year.

Supporters — and, in many cases, children or grandchildren — will do more good with increased Social Security revenues than the legislature ever did.

Social Security recipients have to shout to be heard on Capitol Hill. In contrast, predatory lenders remain a political power. These loan companies charge an annual interest rate of 175%, an amount sanctioned by lawmakers.

The House recently voted 51 to 18 to cut the interest rate to 36% plus a 5% fee on loans of $500 or less.

Sixteen Republicans opposed the measure, House Bill 132, but eight voted in favor. It’s as bipartisan as it gets to predatory lenders, who have an army of lobbyists and a bushel of money for political campaigns.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, assigned HB 132 to two committees in his chamber. Wirth’s decision slowed the bill’s progress.

Eleven months ago, senators overwhelmingly approved a bill to cap interest rates at 36%, only to see it destroyed in the House. Senators know every comma and every semicolon in the proposition.

HB 132 authorized its first Senate committee by an 8-0 vote. For the bill to make it to the governor, it still has to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee, all 42 members of the Senate and likely another vote in the House.

The bill was amended in the Senate to eliminate an unnecessary amendment by Rep. Micaela Cadena, D-Mesilla, who has been an enemy of reasonable loan rates. Cadena in 2021 backed an industry-backed 99% rate on many small loans, and it introduced a similar bill this year.

If the Senate amendment stands, HB 132 will have to go back to the House for passage. It’s the kind of entanglement that appeals to predatory lenders. Create enough diversions, waste enough time, and the 175% interest rate will endure.

Senators need to fast-track the bill, even if they have to reinsert Cadena’s Demonstration Amendment for additional reporting requirements on loans made by small state credit unions. Credit unions are the good guys in this story. They charge a maximum annual interest rate of 28%.

New Mexico lawmakers in 1984 created legal loan sharking. Elected officials now have until Thursday to get on the right side of history.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and current affairs. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.