White House move to end ‘birth tourism’ discriminatory and misleading, say advocates

The White House announced Thursday it is halting the practice of what it calls “birth tourism” but New Mexico reproductive justice advocates call the new rule discriminatory and say it puts migrants at risk. As of Friday the State Department stopped issuing temporary visitor visas to nonresidents who enter in order to give birth on American soil. The practice enables the baby to be a U.S. citizen. Although it’s not known how many people engage in birth tourism, some conservatives consider it a “loophole” in immigration policy. But reproductive justice advocates call foul and say it’s another tool to demonize immigrants in general, and women immigrants and pregnant immigrants in particular.

Long-term fixes for PERA could be tough sell

A Senate Democrat stood outside a Roundhouse committee room Thursday with the head of New Mexico’s retirement system, expressing her concerns about a proposal to reform it. Wayne Propst, head of the Public Employees Retirement Association, tried to alleviate her worries. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez isn’t alone. Several members of her caucus, as well as retirees, are expressing unease about the bill, aimed at putting the pension system on a path to solvency. “It is a concern that I’ve been raising,” Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque said in an interview later, adding she’s getting questions from worried constituents.

Supreme Court action on abortion could prompt special session

Democrats in the state Senate say they still don’t have enough votes to repeal an old, unenforceable abortion ban that remains in New Mexico law. They believe a failed effort in the 2019 legislative session — when a handful of conservative Democrats joined Republicans to block it — could see the same results in this year’s 30-day session. But with the U.S. Supreme Court poised to hear a Louisiana case that is expected to test the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, Senate Democrats and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham say they are prepared to hold a special legislative session to protect abortion rights in the state if the ruling is overturned. “I think we’d be back in a heartbeat,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Wednesday, the 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling. While some Democratic senators remain staunchly opposed to repealing the state’s old ban, Wirth said some of those votes might change if the state actually criminalized abortion.

GOP: Governor’s address was ‘love fest’ with no love for oil and gas

Republicans in the state House and Senate had a common criticism of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s address to the Legislature on Tuesday: She didn’t give credit where credit is due. In her second State of the State address, the governor made the case for increasing education funding and other legislative priorities, including the creation of an early childhood education trust fund and her proposed Opportunity Scholarship, which would cover all remaining college tuition costs for qualifying New Mexicans at in-state schools after other aid is applied, regardless of their income. Lujan Grisham also touted 15,000 new jobs and a better economy after a “lost decade of job growth … stagnation and forced austerity” under former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican. But Republicans are hammering the governor for not thanking the industry that has provided the jobs and economic growth that is fueling the governor’s political vision: The oil and gas industry.

Clean energy top of mind in 2020 legislative session

As the legislative session gets underway in Santa Fe this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham selected a handful of bills aimed at expanding the state’s clean energy economy to be considered during the short session this year. Here’s a preview of the clean energy bills that made it on to the governor’s call this session. Reinstating the solar tax credit

Sen. Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, prefiled SB 29, the Solar Market Development Income Tax. It’s the fifth time legislators will consider the bill, which would reinstate a solar tax credit that expired in 2016. Fellow Democrat Rep. Matthew McQueen, who represents parts of Bernalillo and Santa Fe county, is the House sponsor of the bill.

Governor, staff gear up for State of the State address

On the roughly eight-hour flight from Chicago to Dublin, Ireland, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s speechwriter and top communications staffer started a draft of what will be her second annual address to the Legislature. Six hours and 6,000 words later, Tripp Stelnicki closed his laptop and braced himself to meet his sister’s fiancé in Ireland. Since then, Stelnicki said, the document has run the gauntlet, viewed and honed by the governor’s chief of staff, John Bingaman, senior adviser Dominic Gabello and the governor herself. She made some suggestions — a joke here, a little more emphasis here, a cut there. Over time, 2,000 words were shaved off and Lujan Grisham has gone through a dry run of the address, with microphones on, in the House chamber.

Cannabis legalization looms large in session

The 2020 legislative session starts tomorrow and besides the standard 30-day budgetary issues, many eyes are on cannabis and whether this is the year it becomes legal to use recreationally. Last week, two lawmakers filed bills aimed doing just that. 

Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both Albuquerque Democrats, are cosponsors of the Senate version of the Cannabis Regulation Act. Martinez is the sponsor of the House version of the bill. 

The bills are largely based on recommendations from a legalization work group and a legalization bill that failed to get to the governor’s desk last year. Both bills are 175 pages long and prescribe how recreational should be taxed, age limits for possessing or consuming cannabis and which state entities will be involved. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last year that she would support a comprehensive legalization bill and added to “the call” this year. It is nearly unheard of for legislation to make it to the governor’s desk without some amendments, so these two bills will likely change in the next 30 days, but here are some key points of the bills. 

Possible heartburn

Various different lawmakers have tried to pass recreational legalization bills over the years, but 2019 marked the farthest in the process a proposal made it in recent history.

Legislators look to craft budget, buoyed by oil and gas money

Despite the wide variety of topics lawmakers will delve into starting Tuesday, this 30-day legislative session is meant to prioritize one thing: the budget. It can be an intimidating monolith. And while its hundreds of line items representing multitudes of state agencies provide plenty of room for disagreement, there’s actually a fairly close connection between the budget recommendations recently released by the executive and legislative branches. The governor is calling for an 8.4 percent increase to $7.68 billion for the fiscal year 2021 budget, while the committee recommends a 6.5 percent increase to $7.54 billion. Either plan would give New Mexico its second straight year of major budget increases fueled by unprecedented oil production in the southeast corner of the state. 

Still, there will be debate, and it may not just be nibbling around the edges. Tension is likely to center on one key area where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee haven’t seen eye to eye — an Opportunity Scholarship that would provide tuition-free college for New Mexico residents.

New Mexico is trying to refashion its economy—and it isn’t easy

From a numbers perspective, it’s hard to see a downside to the massive amounts of oil revenue flooding the state of New Mexico’s coffers. But there is one: The windfall is enlarging the state’s dependence on the energy industry. That may not be a problem right now. But it will be when the price of oil crashes again. And almost everyone — industry experts, politicians, economists — expect that it will.

DOH set to finalize rules on cannabis consumption areas, new testing standards

New Mexico is one step closer to establishing sanctioned, legal areas for medical cannabis patients to use their medicine. 

The Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program held a public hearing Thursday to hear comments from the public regarding department rule changes. Those changes include higher testing standards for cannabis producers and manufacturers, reciprocity for medical cannabis patients already enrolled in a medical program in another state and consumption areas. 

Most comments from the public were about the testing standards, but some medical cannabis patients said they would like to see more leniency on who can open a consumption area and where they can open it. 

Erica Rowland, a founding member of the Albuquerque-based cannabis producer Seven Clover, said the opportunity to open a consumption area should not be limited to those who already produced the cannabis. 

“Consumption areas should not be limited to [Licensed Non Profit Producers],” Rowland said. 

But because the state’s cannabis law is specifically written and leaves little room for interpretation, the Legislature would need to act to change consumption area requirements. After changes made during the 2019 legislative session, the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act allows for consumption areas, but requires that they are owned and operated by a Licensed Non Profit Producer, effectively barring someone from starting a new business solely for cannabis consumption. 

The statute, not the proposed rule change, also requires that anyone consuming cannabis at a consumption area have a safe ride home. It’s still unclear who would be held liable for someone who leaves a consumption area and drives themselves. Medical Cannabis Program Director Dominick Zurlo said that is more of a legal question and out of the DOH’s purview. 

“One of the big issues of course is New Mexico is one of the states that has a huge issue with DUIs and we want to ensure people are able to get home safely,” Zurlo said.