Apr 03 2017

The Year of the Critter

by Caren Cowan, Executive Director,
New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association
Read this article & more in New Mexico Stockman Magazine

Lots of people worked their socks off making sure that many bills that would have negatively impacted agriculture, wildlife, and all of New Mexico didn’t get to Governor Susana Martinez’ desk. They also worked on a few bills that would make life easier for some folks including one to add a second dollar to the Beef Checkoff in New Mexico. That second dollar would be VOLUNTARY with a detailed provision on how cattle and dairy men opt out of the collection of a second dollar. The first dollar is the federal dollar that is mandatory and remains the same.

Another proactive bill that is currently on the Governor’s desk is one that would clarify that the mere fact that livestock sets foot within a municipality isn’t a crime. Over recent years there have been at least three New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) members who have been charged with this crime. One was convicted. If the Governor signs the bill, the new standard will be whether or not the livestock trespass was willful. The measure also makes clear that it is the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) that is in charge of livestock running at large.

A bill that the Governor has scheduled for signing in early April clarifies that a person who had been compensated under workers’ compensation laws may be fired for cause. While that principle seems to be only common sense, a court had ruled that if a worker had received workers’ comp payments they could not be let go.

Perhaps the livestock community’s biggest priority died in the House Judiciary Committee without hearing on the next to last day of the Session. The bill had passed two Senate committees, the Senate Floor, and one House Committee before its untimely death.

The measure was initially intended to clarify that the NMLB had authority of feral horses running on private land. This clarification became necessary late last summer when a Lincoln County District Court judge who was up for re-election ruled in a temporary restraining order that said that “wild” horses could run anywhere at will.

The bill sponsored by agriculture champion Senator Pat Woods was introduced early in the Legislature but was immediately hi-jacked by an animal rights group. The changes that were made in the bill included one that would require the NMLB to euthanize horses that were not claimed by a horse rescue or an individual within a certain time frame. That was not ideal but the decision was made that the need for the clarification was the greater.

Unfortunately the bill was vehemently opposed by another animal rights group which lead to interesting hearings and confrontations in the halls as the bill moved through the process. Security had to intervene at least twice in the hall after the measure passed out of a committee.

In the meantime several other horse bills were introduced including a memorial that would have required the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (NMDGF) to do a study on wild horses. That, of course, would have taken years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another bill would have required the Department to take control of “wild” horses.

Yet another bill that would change the definition of horses and like animals to “equine” which in no way addresses the current problems with horses running at large also had the NMLB putting horses down did make it to the Governor’s desk but NMCGA leaders and staff were able to get that bill amended to include an auction option for horses as well as clarification that the Board would not responsible for the costs associated with euthanization. It remains to be seen if the bill will be signed.

Other Critters…

The bi-annual bill to eliminate coyote calling contests was back again. It got through the Senate and House Judiciary but never was heard on the House Floor. The bill would have put prosecution of coyote calling contests in the criminal code rather than the game code and make holding a calling contest a misdemeanor. Participation in a contest would have become a petty misdemeanor.

There was a bill to make coyotes and skunks game animals requiring regulations, a license to hunt and maybe even a season. There was a bill to change the mission of the Game Department to one of wildlife, rather than an hunting and fishing agency. There was one to outlaw trapping making a second offense a felony, putting the language into the criminal code rather than the wildlife code.

All of these died in their first committee but not without contentious hearings resulting in a packed room with overflow to another hearing room. The trapping hearing was really entertaining had the subject matter not been so serious.

One proponent of eliminating trapping brought a trap to show the committee and the audience just how terrible traps looked. It is highly likely that the trap was not one registered with the NMDGF and thus illegal.

Shortly a trapper had his legal trap and set it off on his arm to demonstrate the how the trapped worked and the lack of harm he suffered from it. You can only imagine the gasps from the other side.

There was a bill to charge an additional tax on pet foods to fund a state-wide spaying and neutering program. This bill got through the House but died in a Senate committee.

There was another to move the Animal Sheltering Board, a board that has yet to be fully appointed after several years in existence to the Veterinary Board. That bill was substituted with one that would make the Animal Sheltering Board a sub-committee of the Veterinary Board that can make recommendations to the Vet Board. This measure is on the Governor’s desk.

And more bills…

There were gun control bills introduced in both the House and the Senate. The Senate bill never moved. The House bill got out of two committees but died in a third.

Then there was the bill to create a new tax valuation for open lands. This bill went through nine versions before it got to the Senate Floor where it was amended twice. The bill only got referred to the House Tax Committee. It died there the evening before the Legislature ended.

The bill started out being promoted as a measure to allow the elderly to keep their ag lands in the face of a tax valuation increase because they could no longer maintain production agriculture. Over the numerous renditions, the bill turned into a land management measure requiring anyone applying for the envisioned new special valuation to submit a land management plan to the county assessor’s office. This requirement would have applied to any parcel over five acres and would have to be submitted annually. The plan was to be developed under rules to be developed by the Soil Conservation Commission.

According to the bill: “The value of unimproved land used primarily to conserve the unimproved land pursuant to a qualified conservation management plan shall be valued at twenty-five percent of the current and correct value.”

Specific requirements would have included:

  (1) Ensure(ing) that management practices are appropriate to conserve and maintain the unimproved land; and

  (2) require that qualified conservation management plans shall: (a) at a minimum, maintain or increase the productivity of the land, rangeland, watershed and forest health, wildlife habitat or soil and water conservation; and (b) include an annual implementation plan and progress report.

Additionally, if the land receiving the new special valuation was ever changed to a different use in the future, the landowner would be required to pay a claw-back for five years at the new valuation.

Clearly, the final rendition of the bill would not be of great assistance to the elderly no longer able to maintain agriculture on their land. It would also undermine rural communities and agriculture by undermining or eliminating the infrastructure necessary for agriculture to survive.

The bill was opposed by the NMCGA, the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, and numerous county assessors across the state. However, it is clear that the proponents of the bill will be back with it in future Legislatures and they will continue to lobby anyone and everyone between now and its next introduction.

Budget & Taxes

While a budget and a tax package went to the Governor, she stated immediately after the end of the Legislature that she would be vetoing these bills and calling a Special Session in the near future. A date hasn’t been set, but the Governor has said they furloughs in state agencies are a strong possibility if a budget compromise isn’t reached quickly.

Along with the budget itself, the tax measures will be up for discussion as well. One tax measure that didn’t make it through the Session is House Bill 412. This bill is over 350 pages and affects every gross receipts tax exemption and deduction that New Mexicans now operate under.

For agriculture, we were assured that although the exemptions would go away, many of them could be taken under a deduction or the use of Non-Taxable Tax Certificates (NTTC) forms via the New Mexico Department of Tax & Revenue. Near the end of the Session an amendment was produced that would more clearly explain how agriculture would be treated in words we can understand, but it was never attached to the bill because the bill didn’t move out of the Senate Finance Committee.

It is highly likely that this measure will come back into play during a Special Session.

Thank you to those who helped

It is only because the NMCGA has a great team of leadership, staff, bill readers and members on call to come to Santa Fe that the 2017 Legislature turned out to be a winning one. There were many days when three committees were meeting at the same time. If we hadn’t had Tom Sidwell, NMCGA President-Elect, along with the dedication of Joe Culbertson and Jack Chatfield and the hours that Michelle Frost and Jessica Decker put in, the outcome could have been very different.

When you see these folks, please tell them thank you. If you would like to write them a note, please contact the NMCGA office for addresses.

There were also countless legislators who were looking out for agriculture and private property rights. I know I will leave lots of people out, and for that I apologize up front. But House freshmen Candy Sweetzer, Dirreck Lente and Greg Nibert were baptized by fire and did yeoman work for agriculture.

The House Ag & Water Committee was once again a homogenous and bi-partisan group working together in the best interest of all. Chairman Bill Gomez made a hand many times.

There are legislators who helped that we will probably never know about. We made some new allies and founding working relationships in surprising corners. Thanks to all of you.

We cannot forget the partnership that benefited all concern. Alexa Sandoval and her staff at the NMDGF stood shoulder to shoulder with us every time they were called. We did the same for them.

The New Mexico Trappers Association and their members were outstanding showing up with a big crowd every time there was a wildlife issue. Some coyote calling contest folks showed up as well.

We worked closely with the Tara Riley and the National Rifle Associations on the guns bills and some others. The Association of Counties and their assessors affiliate were excellent partners. Again I am probably forgetting some and I apologize in advance.      


Source: New Mexico Stockman, April 2017