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Cheers, New Mexico!: A bill that would allow home delivery of alcohol chugged its way through the Senate Taxation, Business and Transportation Committee, passing on an 8-2 vote. “I think of all the industries that have been hit the hardest, it’s our restaurants, it’s our bars, it’s our hospitality industry,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, one of the lead sponsors. “This is an effort to give them new tools to actually expand the hospitality market … and we believe and feel very strongly that these changes are an important step in that direction.” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who vetoed a similar proposal in 2019 because she said it didn’t comply with the Liquor Control Act — a total buzzkill, right? — raised a virtual toast to the revamped legislation on Twitter. “This legislation will expand economic opportunities for New Mexico restaurants and hospitality businesses, particularly as we continue to make our way through the pandemic,” the governor tweeted.

Solar bill powers forward: A bill designed to increase access to solar energy in New Mexico cleared the Senate Conservation Committee on a 6-3 party line vote. Senate Bill 84 would direct the Public Regulation Commission to adopt rules to implement a community solar program, among other things. “The intent here is to provide community solar opportunities for small businesses and residents who cannot afford or include solar on their property or are renting, and for low-income individuals to participate,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, one of the primary sponsors. The bill drew opposition from the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and Public Service Company of New Mexico. “This community solar bill as written inherently favors out-of-state solar corporations over local New Mexico solar providers,” said Ashley Wagner, director of public policy and communications for the state’s Chamber of Commerce. “The bill harms struggling communities and families because the true cost of community solar for the average family or business has not been established. How can any one of us push policy through without knowing the true costs and financial toll it will have on our most vulnerable communities?” The bill drew the support of Conservation Voters New Mexico and the cities of Santa Fe and Las Cruces, among others.

Tax relief: In yet another effort to help New Mexico businesses, legislation that would provide a temporary waiver of penalties and interest on certain unpaid taxes, including gross receipts, made it out of the Senate Taxation, Business and Transportation Committee on a unanimous vote. The waiver would apply to taxes that became outstanding March 13, when the state’s first public health order went into effect, and ends two months after the public order is rescinded or expires. The unpaid taxes would still have to be paid in full “on or before the twenty-fifth day of the third month” after the public health order is lifted or expires. “Really, I feel like this is the least that we can do for businesses,” Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 25, said after the vote. “A lot of our small businesses are having to make the choice between paying the gross receipts tax and paying their mortgage or buying groceries, and this gives them that little bit of relief that they will be able to reopen at the end of the health order and be given two months to have income to help with the taxes that they owe.”

So how’s it going? Thursday marked the 10th day of this year’s 60-day legislative session, most of which has been run virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asked how it’s playing out so far, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said committee hearings in the House of Representatives have been going “incredibly smooth.” Among other benefits, he said, there has been “excellent attendance” by committee members. “I prefer virtual committee meetings,” he said. “It’s easier to focus on presentations when they are on the computer screens in front of us.” Plus, he said, members of the public can see those same documents online during the hearing. Noting the pace of the hearings may “be slower than in a regular session,” he said he’s also seeing a “dramatic improvement in terms of decorum and respect” among” legislators, even when they disagree over controversial issues. 

Quote of the day: “I was just waving goodbye. I really like all of you.” — Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said after Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, chairman of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee, was adjourning the meeting and thought Padilla was raising his hand because he had something to say.

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