- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico Legislature wrapped up its work Thursday with major political compromises in place to revise driver’s licenses for immigrants, overhaul the state’s bail bond system and trim spending next year to offset plunging state revenue linked to oil income.

Lawmakers approved a $6.2 billion budget deal in the final stretch that shaves overall spending but shifts more money to Medicaid, state prisons, police, teachers and child protective services.

Those are nearly the same priorities favored by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, making major line-item vetoes unlikely. Lawmakers avoided tax increases by scouring agency accounts for $88 million in one-time funding.

Martinez praised cooperation among Republican allies and Democrats that control the state Senate on reaching a compromise that will allow New Mexico to bring driver’s licenses into compliance with federal REAL ID Act requirements.

“It’s been a hard, five-year fight but I’m proud that we came together, ensured that New Mexicans have a secure ID and that our citizens will not have to buy a passport,” Martinez said.

Under the plan, immigrants in the country illegally must submit fingerprints to the FBI before getting new driving authorization cards, though immigrants that already have licenses can skip the requirement.

Martinez said she would seek a waiver from the U.S. Homeland Security Department that allows access to federal facilities for state license holders while revisions are made. Sandia Labs, White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, have announced they would stop accepting New Mexico IDs.

The governor and Republican allies ushered dozens of tough-on-crime bills through the House of Representatives. Of those, the Democratic-controlled Senate endorsed a heavily redrafted bill for tougher child pornography sentences and stiffer, new sentences for repeat DWI offenses and related vehicular homicide charges and a bill that allows judges to access juvenile records for violent-crime suspects.

Tough-on-crime initiatives that failed to gain traction included an expanded three-strikes law, new mandatory minimum sentences, an expansion of New Mexico’s hate crimes law to shelter law enforcement officers and a bill to allow local youth curfews.

Democrats questioned the effectiveness and costs of increasing prison terms amid a staffing crisis at state prisons and a weak state economy.

Republican Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry said public safety issues trump other concerns in the wake of spate of high profile shootings in the Albuquerque area.

“At the end of the day not much we do up here matters if people are not safe in their homes,” Gentry said.

The legislative session laid the groundwork for political campaigning ahead of November elections. All legislative seats are up for re-elections. Republicans won control of the House in 2014 for the first time in 60 years.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez said Democrats successfully negotiated pay raises for veteran teachers, and blamed Republicans for a lagging state economy. New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

“It was disappointing that the governor and House Republican majority failed to assist Senate Democrats’ numerous efforts to create jobs and revive economic activity in New Mexico,” Sanchez said. “It was a missed opportunity.”

Martinez touted appropriations in next year’s budget that reimburse employee training for businesses that expand or relocate to New Mexico, and the approval of business-friendly legislation, including new regulations for ride-service businesses like Uber.

Voters will decide in November on a proposed constitutional amendment allowing judges to deny bail to defendants considered exceptionally dangerous. The amendment also would grant pretrial release to those who aren’t considered a danger but remain in jail because they can’t afford bail. Gov. Martinez urged voters to adopt the reforms.

A raft of ethics and campaign finance reform proposals were introduced in response to the resignation and jailing of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran for embezzling campaign donations to fuel a gambling spree. Most fizzled, including a plan for an independent ethics commission.

The governor plans to sign legislation that would overhaul New Mexico’s online clearinghouse for political contributions and lobbying expenditures.

Legislation failed to clear the Republican-controlled House that would raise more money for public schools by tapping the state’s largest permanent fund - a bitter disappointment for Senate Democrats.

Public schools will receive an additional $7 million in operating funds next year, a far cry from the initial $100 million increase recommended by the Legislature and governor.

Martinez described new austerity measures at state agencies designed to offset declining revenues linked to low oil prices and weaker-than-expected tax receipts.

“Our agencies will work diligently to cut costs - curbing hiring, looking at contracts, dramatically reducing travel,” she said.

The governor has through March 8 to sign legislation, and made no mention of vetoes beyond possible line-item changes to the state budget.


Associated Press Writer Mary Hudetz contributed to this report.

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