At this writing we are just over two-thirds of the way of the 2017 Legislature. While literally anything can happen in the next 20 days, it already has been a pretty eventful Session. Like all of them, this has been way different, but it is more glum than any I remember.
In a cruel twist of fate, both the House Agriculture & Water Committee and the Senate Conservation Committee meets at the same time, every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. That spreads the ag contingent pretty thin. The contentious issues that have come up in Conservation have required that we begin filling the seats as early as 7:00 a.m. Then, we still didn’t get all of our people into the room.
We are fortunate to have several members who are on hand on an almost daily basis including President Elect Tom Sidwell, Vice President at Large Jack Chatfield, and Joe Culbertson who are there daily. Phil H. Bidegain and Denton Dowell are there with just a phone call. The trappers have shown up in mass to help with bills that impact them and some folks who hold coyote calling contests have come as well.
There are many bills that we expected to come back including the anti-trapping and the elimination of coyote calling contests. A “wild” horse bill or two was expected. The animal sheltering board has been a problem since its inception and Animal Protection Voters of New Mexico never miss an opportunity to attempt to enhance the animal cruelty bill every other year.
One of the most unexpected attacks is on the New Mexico State Game Commission. There are two measures aimed at substantial change. The first, which is lying on the table, was to change the mission and purpose of the Commission to make it a wildlife agency instead of a game agency.
In a hearing that turned out to be a little amusing, the sponsor had to admit that he hadn’t talked to any of the people who would be impacted including the hunters, anglers and trappers who currently pay for the Commission and the Department of Game & Fish.
The same sponsor carried the coyote calling contest elimination bill, which did get out of its first committee and will likely make it through the entire Senate. The bill did two years ago. We had the votes in the House to kill it last time. The jury is still out on what might happen this year.
There was another bill to make coyotes and skunks fur-bearing animals requiring a license to hunt and hunting season. The bill hasn’t cleared its first committee.
Then there is a bill to change the way that the Game Commission is appointed. Under current law the governor makes appointments to the Commission and there are standard terms for Commissioners. However, for the past nearly 15 years, it has been clear that the governor would and could ask for a resignation from the body at any time.
The bill that is moving in the House would allow the governor to appoint one Commissioner from each of the three congressional districts, with the other four appointments to be made by the Legislative Council, an interim bi-partisan leadership committee with the majority party holding a majority of the seats. Those four appointments would cover specific areas, including one from agriculture and one scientist, who are not there as advocates but as information sources. This bill wouldn’t take effect until January 2019, when we will have a new governor and likely some new Game Commissioners.
The measure has one more House Committee and the House Floor before it goes to the Senate. There are also bills to move the majority of appointments to the Interstate Stream Commission and the Water Trust Board outside of the governor.
The anti trapping bill is a long story in and of itself. The measure would outlaw trapping except by government agents and non-governmental group scientific endeavor. It would move trapping violations to the criminal code, not the game department code, and a second offense would lead to a fourth degree felony. The initial measure would have made even trapping a mouse in the house illegal unless it was the only option available. It would be your local district attorney who would determine whether or not if your trapping was the option of last resort. It is worth noting that this language was removed in a committee substitute offered at the bill’s first hearing.
While there are enough red flags here to decorate a Christmas tree, it was the discussion of the need for this measure that was perhaps the most alarming. Some appear to think it is time for traditional New Mexico to move aside for the economic development brought to the state by tourism.
I could go on for some time on this subject, but suffice it to say that it is well past time for economic development to look at who brought them to the dance. Agriculture has been a base element in New Mexico’s economy since before there was a New Mexico. Granted, tourism is a part of the economy today, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the federal government spending and the energy industry contributions. Service industries will never be able to support our state.
Then comes taxes…
Taxes are a hot item in the 2017 Legislature. The state is broke. The first two weeks of the Session were devoted to arriving at solvency for the 2017 physical year. While we are not in the mix of the budget discussions, it is clear that the next few weeks are going to be interesting at best on that front. It appears that there will be additional significant cuts to many of our aides.
There are two tax overhaul bills that have passed the House along with the House budget. It sounds like the Senate and Governor Martinez will have quite a bit to say about these things in the days to come.
The major tax bill is HB 412… a mere 350 plus pages that are pretty much Greek. We are trying to determine what impacts it will have on agriculture, but they could be significant. Stay tuned as we work through this one.
SB 350 is another bill of great concern. It was purported to be a tax fix for small, elderly landowners who are unable to pay their property taxes because they are no longer to able to maintain agricultural production to claim the special use valuation. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Ideally these folks could be matched up with young people who want to get into agriculture, but at the present time, there is nothing in place for that to happen. So, providing some sort of tax break so these people aren’t forced to sell their land is in order, right?
If that was the goal of SB 350 it wouldn’t be a bad idea. The problem is that the bill as it is currently in front of the Senate Finance Committee goes well beyond that.
It provides the tax break for any landowner who chooses to take their land out of ag production for other purposes. There is already a valuation for that. It is called vacant land.
In an effort to garner the support of agricultural groups, the proponents of went so far as to add a provision that those who had been paying livestock taxes would have to continue to pay some times on non-existent livestock. I don’t think that would pass a legal smell test.
While the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) and the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau both oppose the bill, at the request of the sponsors, we did meet with the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance to see if a solution could be reached.
That solution included a cap on the amount of acreage that could take advantage of this special use valuation (two times what the ag valuation would have been). Additionally, it would have eliminated the penalties for selling the land for development including paying all back vacant land taxes due and a civil penalty of up to 25 percent of the taxes due. If we are trying to assist elderly and probably poor people, why would we want to penalize them for a change in life circumstances such as the need to pay for medical expenses or college?
The meeting turned fairly amusing when we were accused of discriminating against large landowners.
We won’t know if this and all the other 1100 plus bills, memorials, and resolutions will make it through both bodies by noon on March 18 and to the Governor’s desk. The Governor will have 20 days to sign or veto them. If she takes no action, bills are deemed pocket vetoed.
In the rest of the country…
Legislature doesn’t leave a lot of time to ponder actions on the federal level, but we do get a whiff of good news every now and then. The President’s Executive Order on Regulatory Reform in late February is welcomed.
We have high hopes that the designees for the US Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior will soon be confirmed by the US Senate in the near future so the real work can start to address the ills Western ranchers have suffered in recent years.
I did find this headline intriguing: The Starbucks Coffee brand has taken a major hit since the company’s announcement that it would hire 10,000 Muslim “refugees” in response to President Donald Trump’s temporary travel moratorium in January. I readily admit that I am not a Starbucks customer. Before I became aware of their political views, I visited a couple and couldn’t even figure out how to order an Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade). The prices were scary, too. I do beg the forgiveness of friends, family and co-workers who appear to be addicted to the place.
According to a Breitbart story by Warner Todd Huston, Starbucks was one of those early to criticize President Trump for putting a temporary hold on immigration from a list of seven terror-torn countries flagged by the Obama administration. In response, the coffee house giant pledged to hire 10,000 Muslim refugees over five years in protest against Trump’s order.
But since the company issued its anti-Trump statement its brand name has lost its luster with customers. Perception levels of the Starbucks brand name fell by an incredible two-thirds since its January announcement, according to a YouGov survey, as reported by Yahoo Finance.
The survey measures how potential customers feel about a company’s brand and asks if they have “heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative.”
In the week before the company’s January refugees announcement, 30 percent of respondents said they would consider spending money at Starbucks. But after the statement that number fell to 24 percent, the survey discovered.
The company’s announcement immediately sparked a #BoycottStarbucks movement on Twitter and brought condemnation from coast to coast.
Not long after Starbucks issued its anti-Trump refugee statement, many Americans began to wonder why Starbucks is slighting the hiring of Americans — especially U.S. military veterans — in favor of refugees.
Watch your mail, email, social media and the NMCGA website at www.nmagriculture.org for news on several “Ranch Days” coming soon. These events will be educational opportunities for members, prospective members, legislators and more sponsored by members of the Allied Industries Committee. If you are interested in hosting an event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Mid Year — It’s not too early to begin planning your trip to Ruidoso for June 19, 20 and 21. This year the meeting will be Monday through Wednesday so that families can be home with their fathers on Father’s Day. The Bud Eppers and Les Davis Memorial Golf Tournament will be held on Monday, the 19th. Registration information will be available by early May. ▫