Legislative Notebook: Smith confirmed as veterans secretary

Walter Rubel
Southern New Mexico Journalism Collaborative
Sonya L. Smith, unanimously confirmed as the state’s secretary of Veterans Services on Feb. 17, 2021, is the first African-American woman to hold the position.

LAS CRUCES - Sonya Smith was confirmed as the state’s secretary of Veterans Services on a unanimous vote Wednesday, Feb. 17, becoming the first African-American woman to hold the position.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, had questioned Smith’s ability to serve and lead in a state with a large Hispanic population during her hearing in the Senate Rules Committee. But on Wednesday he said he had a chance to meet with Smith and discovered they had a lot in common.

“We were in the Persian Gulf at the same time, her on the land and me on the sea,” Baca said. Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said Smith has been leading the department since October, and has already implemented changes to improve services for veterans. John Salazar was also confirmed Wednesday as secretary for Information Technology.

Student loan help

Legislation designed to help those burdened by student loan debt passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 7-2 vote Wednesday.

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House Bill 218, the Student Loan Bill of Rights, would create a new license requirement for student-loan servicers and penalties for noncompliance. Banks and credit unions would be exempt. It would also establish an ombudsman position to review complaints, educate borrowers and monitor trends in state and federal laws.

More than 200,000 New Mexicans hold student-loan debt of roughly $7 billion, according to a press release by House Democrats. “This bill is about leveling the playing field with powerful out-of-state loan servicers and ensuring that New Mexicans have the same level of protection they do for home-mortgage loans or credit cards,” said sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. The bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

Chop shops

Legislation to crack down on so-called chop shops passed unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 145 makes it a third-degree felony to illegally dismantle stolen cars and trucks, and to own, operate or maintain a facility used for those purposes.

“New Mexico has a rampant auto-theft problem,” said sponsor Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque. “As these crimes continue to increase, more New Mexicans will suffer from stolen vehicles, and every New Mexican will be affected by increased insurance costs. House Bill 145 makes owning and operating chop shops illegal, and cuts out this critical link in the auto theft chain.”

The bill now goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

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