Lawmaker pensions in bill going to governor

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Just in time for Valentine’s Day, lawmakers sent the governor something to sweeten their pensions.

Tucked into a bill dealing with mileage rates for state workers is a provision that would change the formula for calculating the pensions of members of the Legislature.

The measure went to Gov. Bill Richardson after getting final approval from the Senate late Monday.

A similar provision also reached the governor’s desk last year as part of a bill related to earnings caps on government retirees who return to work. Richardson vetoed that bill.

Under current law, the pension formula is based on the per diem rate in effect on Dec. 31 of the year the lawmaker retires.

The per diem rate — the amount that legislators are paid daily during sessions and for meetings between sessions — is pegged to the Internal Revenue Service’s expense rate for Santa Fe. Typically, the rate is higher in the summer.

Last year, for example, the rate in effect on Dec. 31 was $144. But on July 1, it was $181.

Under the legislation, the formula would be based on the average of the three highest per diem rates on July 1 of each year the lawmaker served.

A lawmaker who retired last year after 20 years of service, for example, would have been eligible for an annual pension of $19,008, based on the per diem rate of $144 in effect then.

House approves scholarship bill
SANTA FE — The House unanimously approved a measure on Tuesday to allow American Indian students in New Mexico who attend tribal colleges in the state to receive a lottery-financed tuition scholarship.

The bill also will expand scholarship eligibility to children of New Mexico residents temporarily living outside of the state because of a military posting.

Currently, a New Mexican who graduates from a high school outside of the state doesn’t qualify for the scholarship.

Under the program, a high school student must enroll in a public college or university in New Mexico the semester after graduation, attend full time and maintain a 2.5 point grade point average to receive a scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition.

Senate rejects treasurer controls
SANTA FE — The Senate on Tuesday rebuffed an administration-backed bill aimed at tightening controls over the office of state treasurer, which the bill’s sponsor called “a historic trouble spot in state government.”

The bill was gutted on a vote of 23-16, then withdrawn by its sponsor, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.

The gutting amendment removed the phrase that enacts the bill, leaving it with the legal force of “a fortune cookie,” in Ortiz y Pino’s words.

Tighter controls were sought by Gov. Bill Richardson and were prompted by the recent kickback scandal in which former Treasurer Robert Vigil and his predecessor, Michael Montoya, were indicted.

Ortiz y Pino said voters “expect us to do something to clean up the mess and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Bill to curb meth heads to governor
SANTA FE — The Legislature has sent Gov. Bill Richardson a bill that would put a popular decongestant behind pharmacy counters in an effort to curb the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Cold and allergy sufferers would have to show identification and sign a log in order to buy pseudoephedrine-based medications in pill form — Sudafed, for example, or Tylenol Cold — at pharmacies.

The remedies would no longer be available on open shelves in retail stores.

Pseudoephedrine can be extracted from cold medicines in makeshift labs to prepare meth, a highly addictive drug that law enforcement officials say has spread rapidly across the country.

Buyers wouldn’t need a prescription, but they would be required to show a driver’s license or other photo ID.

And they would be restricted to 300 30-milligram pills in a 30-day period.

Critics of the legislation, which was sought by the governor, said it penalized residents of rural areas who live far from pharmacies.