Senate passes minimum wage bill, heads to House next

Shooting ourselves in the employment foot
From Capitol Report New Mexico - A bill that would raise New Mexico’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour  which would make it the fourth-highest in the country, passed through the state Senate Monday (March 4) on a party-line vote with all 25 Democrats voting for the $1-an-hour increase and all 17 Republicans opposed.
“It is the absolute moral and right thing to do,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said while Republicans warned that the raise would endanger small businesses already struggling in tough economic times and could well lead to increased prices for consumers.
The bill – Senate Bill 416 – had been amended before coming to the Senate floor to exempt businesses with fewer than 11 employees, which is estimated to include about 75 percent of New Mexico employers. The amended bill also exempts agricultural workers and “trainees” for one year.
The debate on the Senate floor sometimes got passionate and the bill survived a couple of floor amendments, including one from Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, who called for raising the minimum wage all the way to $21.87 an hour. Sharer said if raising the wage improves the economy as its supporters say, then it would logically follow that raising the wage to an even higher figure would improve economic fortunes even more. “Let’s quit piddling around,” Sen. Sharer said.
But the amendment was voted down and in the end, SB416 passed 25-17. “It’s real hard to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you were born with no boots,” said one of the bill’s supporters, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. The bill now heads to the House where Democrats hold a 38-32 edge. But even if it gets through that chamber, there is doubt whether Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will sign the increase into law. Read more

Skandera confirmation hearing still not done — and why all this may not matter much

From Capitol Report New Mexico - After a couple of hours on Friday and five more on Saturday, the confirmation hearing for Hanna Skandera still hasn’t wrapped up. In fact, the members of the Senate Rules Committee haven’t even begun to ask questions of the Public Education Department Secretary-designate who has been on the job for two years and waiting for an up or down vote.
On Saturday (March 2), committee chairwoman and Skandera critic Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, allowed one and all to come before the committee to voice their support or opposition to the 39-year-old who has been the face of the public education reforms that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed since coming into office.
The crowd was so large that the committee moved its hearing to the full Senate chamber and the testimony ran so long that Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez cancelled all legislation to be debated on the Senate floor. By the end of the exhausting day, Sen. Lopez gaveled meeting to a close and told reporters the hearing may resume on Monday and could be delayed until later next week.
Ironically, it’s become evident all the debate over Skandera may not amount to much in a practical sense. Here’s why: First, if the Senate Rules Committee — made up of six Democrats and four Republicans — ends in a 5-5 tie to recommend Skandera, the confirmation will not go to the full Senate because in the event of a tie, no committee recommendation can be sent to the Senate. That would mean that Skandera will remain as Secretary-designate.
Second, if the full Senate does conduct a confirmation hearing and even if it rejects Skandera’s nomination, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Gov. Martinez would have to name a new PED secretary. In theory, Martinez could simply name Skandera deputy secretary, not name a replacement and simply assign Skandera all the duties and responsibilities of the job. As John Robertson of the Albuquerque Journal has pointed out, that’s exactly what other governors such as Garrey Carruthers did in similar circumstances. Read more