Margaret Wright is a freelance writer and editor born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. She has also worked as a teacher, social worker and waitress. She was promoted from contributor to managing editor of Albuquerque’s alt.weekly Alibi before going on to co-found the New Mexico Compass (R.I.P.), a digital news and culture outlet with an emphasis on mentoring fledgling journalists. Find her on Twitter: @MargaretWrite
Two bills drafted to impede access to certain abortion procedures were set aside on Sunday by Democrats in the state Senate Public Affairs Committee, a move that likely signals the end of both measures during this session. Party-line votes tabled both HB 390, sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, and HB 391, which was carried by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas. While the drafters worked in close collaboration, the bills would impact the provision of abortion services in markedly different ways. HB 390 proposed a ban on abortions of pregnancies at 20 or more weeks gestation and included language Herrell said made exceptions for “physical harm if the woman’s health is in jeopardy” or if a woman asserts the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest or sexual abuse. Described by some supporters as a “parents’ rights” measure, HB 391 would require the formal notification of a parent or legal guardian of any minor female seeking an abortion.
Since Phil Griego, D-San Jose, stepped down from his position as a member of the state Senate, it will be up to county commissioners throughout his sprawling former district to send recommendations for his replacement to Gov. Susana Martinez. District 39, which Griego represented until Saturday morning, contains parts of Bernalillo, Lincoln, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia counties. Each of the county commissions will choose a candidate, at which point Martinez will decide which candidate will replace Griego for the remainder of the term. The governor will likely prefer to see someone from her own party take Griego’s seat. Currently, 17 Republicans serve in the Senate.
A panel with a Republican majority split along party lines on Friday to approve a bill requiring voters to present photo identification before casting election ballots. Similar requirements enacted in other states have ignited controversy and costly court battles; critics contend voter ID laws disenfranchise eligible voters from low-income and minority communities. The legislation now heads to the House floor. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, said HB 340 was drafted to safeguard the integrity of the elections process while also passing constitutional muster. “I like to think of this more as voter authentication,” Brown told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
President Theodore Roosevelt declared Chaco Canyon to be an historical monument on March 11, 1907, and 108 years later to the day, a coalition of environmental groups leveled a lawsuit against the federal government alleging inadequate protection of the area. John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe, said on Wednesday that the timing was coincidental but appropriate, representing “another important milestone in the effort to protect Greater Chaco.” The primary threat to Chaco Canyon in Roosevelt’s time was looting of archaeologically and culturally precious sites, said Horning. “Today the threat is oil and gas development and fracking in particular.” Horning said the groups who brought the lawsuit hope to not only halt industry activity in the Chaco area, but to set “the foundation for a much better movement.”
A bill uncontroversial on its face about payday loans became the focal point of yet another drawn-out skirmish in the House. Members of the two political parties argued pros and cons of more stringent regulations for entities that offer payday and other high-interest small loans. Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, presented HB 356, her proposal to update the state’s Small Loan Act to include additional rules for lenders who offer increasingly common tax refund anticipation checks. The bill ultimately passed on a 38-25 vote. Powdrell-Culbert said she proposed the legislation after hearing concerns expressed in committee meetings about the high interest rates charged by tax refund lenders, the majority of whom provide services to low-income people.
Nearly two years after a Medicaid funding freeze sent New Mexico’s behavioral healthcare system into a tailspin, the full Senate on Tuesday lent bipartisan support to a bill meant to stave off such crises in the future. Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, sponsored HB 55, which she said will improve the way the state deals with healthcare providers. Responding to questions from Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, Papen said the primary differences between her proposal and the paradigm in which the state’s been operating boil down to a few key words: transparency and due process. Current law, said Papen, “is tilted in favor of state, and it’s calculated to make providers’ responses onerous.”
For example, when the state Human Services Department conducted an audit of 15 behavioral health providers back in February 2013, the results pointed to problems including Medicaid overbilling and possible fraud. The state’s response was to immediately freeze payments to all 15 affected agencies.
A Republican Senator made a series of moves this afternoon to transfer two controversial House bills related to abortion out of their assigned committees. All of his efforts failed. Senator William Sharer, R-Farmington, first requested that HB 391, a bill sponsored by House Majority Whip Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, requiring parental notification of minors seeking abortions, be moved to a Committee of the Whole in the Senate. The move incited spirited party divisions as Republican lawmakers rallied behind the motion, saying that the parental notification bill has major public importance and faces the danger of getting lost in committees as the 60-day session narrows in on its final days. Democrats, on the other hand, disparaged the move as contrary to the Senate’s conventional processes.
In a speech centered on New Mexico’s economy and the importance of reducing poverty, Senator Martin Heinrich today emphasized Democratic Party priorities such as increased investment in early childhood programs and sustainable energy technology. [View the story “U.S. Senator Heinrich: “Too many New Mexico families can’t escape poverty.”” on Storify]
More than six hours of bitter debate on the House floor Friday night culminated in the approval of two bills that, if enacted, will place limitations on abortion services and potentially affect the provision of medications such as emergency contraception. Representatives voted 42 to 26 to pass HB 390, the Late-Term Abortion Ban sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, on to the Senate. That bill would bar abortions after 20 weeks except in certain cases, such as if the pregnancy was due to rape or incest. Another Republican-heavy margin, 39 to 28, sent HB 391, a bill from Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, to the Senate for further consideration. Baldonado’s bill requires abortion providers to notify the parent or legal guardian of any minor female seeking a procedure.
Two bills seeking limits on abortion are poised for debate in New Mexico’s House of Representatives. A look back at weeks of charged discussions on the issue indicates that under a superficial veneer of two opposing “sides” lies a spectrum of experiences and beliefs, all of which could all play into the ultimate fate of the proposals. Anti-abortion legislation has been proposed session after session in Santa Fe since the passage of Roe v. Wade, but this year, the momentum feels markedly different. After a new Republican majority took the helm in the House for the first time since the 1950s, anti-abortion activists vowed to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire. Conservative legislators have expressed confidence they can squeeze votes they need from the Democratic-controlled Senate to send abortion restrictions to Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk for her signature.