More money to help: A pandemic relief bill that would provide $600 tax rebates to New Mexicans who earn less than $15 an hour and a four-month gross receipts tax holiday to restaurants, bars and other food and beverage establishments sailed through the House of Representatives without discussion or debate Wednesday.

This story also appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican

Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate unanimously, will soon be heading to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has made economic recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic one of her top legislative priorities.

Under the bill, food and beverage establishments squeezed by business restrictions under the state’s public health orders would receive a one-time GRT tax break for four months, from March to June. The bill also would provide a one-time tax rebate to New Mexicans who earn less than $31,200 annually.

Though the bill has been approved by both chambers, the governor’s press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, said the legislation doesn’t immediately go to the governor’s desk for her signature. Bills have to go through “enrolling” and “engrossing” beforehand, she wrote on Twitter.

An engrossed bill is one that includes all approved amendments. An enrolled bill is a final version approved by both chambers and prepared for the governor’s signature.

Still smokin’: One of several bills that would legalize the use of recreational cannabis cleared another hurdle when members of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee voted 8-4 to move it forward to the House floor for consideration.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of the bill, said gross receipts tax revenue on recreational cannabis could bring between $50 million and $100 million per year. Beyond that, he told committee members, the goal is to create a culture of responsibility of cannabis use. “This should be the goal verses prohibition, which I think, clearly has not worked,” he said.

The bill, which also would create an oversight division to develop licensing criteria and procedures for growers and sellers, would go into effect at the start of 2022.

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Albuquerque, who joined the three other Republicans on the committee in opposing the measure, told committee members he believes lawmakers will look back in 10 years and “all deeply regret doing this.”

Secretary confirmed: The Senate voted 27-11 to confirm Bianca Ortiz Wertheim as secretary of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management on Wednesday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Ortiz Wertheim, who grew up in Nambé, in May, but a full vote of the Senate body is necessary to confirm Cabinet secretary appointees.

Several Democrats rose to speak in support of the confirmation, saying she had a strong résumé in management.

Sen. Mark Moores R-Albuquerque, was one of the only senators to speak against Wertheim, saying nothing in her background indicated she had “high-profile” experience in overseeing security or emergency departments or personnel. Ten Republicans sided with Moores in opposing her confirmation. 

Ortiz Wertheim previously served as chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Tom Udall. Before that she had decades of experience working for different organizations, including the American Cancer Society. She was also director of Cabinet affairs for former Gov. Bill Richardson and chief of staff for former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez.

Quote of the day: “Do you know what I had for breakfast today? Chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream.” — Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras. He explained during Wednesday’s Senate floor session he started his day off with the sugary meal because it was his daughter’s eighth birthday.

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