This week in the Legislature may see some debate regarding abortions and whether or not doctors should have a role in family discussions. Earlier this month, Gov. Susana Martinez outlined her legislative priorities in her State of the State address. In addition to presenting her six-point-plan to bolster the state’s economy, she also called for legislators to tackle certain issues during the 30-day legislative session. She encouraged them to pass bills related to education reform and expanded criminal penalties. Legislators have introduced a handful of bills related to abortion, but she skirted the issue in her speech.
A complex tax overhaul bill failed to clear its committee, and that’s going to further complicate the special session in which legislators are supposed to address the budget in New Mexico. Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, presented his 430-page tax overhaul bill Thursday morning. It took him nearly an hour to describe the bill to the House Labor and Economic Development Department. “That in very high-level, broad terms is what is in this bill,” Harper said when he finished describing the bill and how it differed from a similar bill legislators already passed in March. After public comment and questions from the panel, the committee voted 6-5, on party lines, to table the bill.
After a contentious, hours-long debate, the state House of Representatives voted by a wide margin for a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors — the widely discredited practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation. The measure cleared the House late Wednesday on a 44-23 vote. Nine Republicans joined 35 Democrats in backing it. Only one Democrat, Rep. Patricio Ruiloba of Albuquerque, sided with a bloc of mostly rural Republicans who opposed the initiative. That group of Republicans dragged debate on the measure deep into the night, raising concerns that it would trample freedom of religion and suggesting that homosexuality is a choice or even a mental illness.
New Mexico will not become the nation’s 29th “right-to-work” state, at least not this year. After testimony Saturday from a long line of union members and nearly two hours of debate, Democrats on a committee of the state House of Representatives killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited unions from imposing mandatory fees on workers. Republicans argue such policies take money from workers who do not wish to join a union. Republican lawmakers also say banning compulsory union fees would create a better business environment, drawing investors and boosting employment. Opponents counter that such a law would push down wages and unfairly require labor unions to represent workers for free.
A bill aimed at classifying nuclear power as a renewable energy source in New Mexico stalled Thursday afternoon in committee on a tie vote. House Bill 406, sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, would have amended the state’s Renewable Energy Act, which requires energy companies provide a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources. Brown told the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee she didn’t know of any definite plans to bring nuclear power plants to the state, but that she wanted to broaden the options for a “baseload power” to replace coal or gas. Currently, Brown argued, wind and solar energy can only serve as “intermittent” power. “Unless we can get the wind to blow 24 hours a day and the sun to shine day and night, we’re still going to have those intermittent sources,” Brown said.
No issue in the 2017 New Mexico Legislature has drawn citizens to the Roundhouse like the push to expand mandatory background checks on gun sales. People on both sides of the issue have shown up in droves to committee hearings in both the House and Senate to testify about two bills that would require more gun buyers to go through background checks. And lobbyists for out-of-state organizations on both sides of the issue have spent thousands of dollars to push their positions. In fact, according to lobbyist expense reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, the biggest expenditure since the session began in mid-January was $44,377 spent by Tara Reilly-Mica, the Texas-based lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Reilly-Mica’s report, filed Feb.
After a long committee meeting and often-times emotional testimony from the public on a controversial bill to ban abortions on pregnancies of 20 or more weeks of gestation, lawmakers on the Senate Public Affairs Committee quickly tabled the legislation on a party line vote. Neither the committee chair nor vice chair—Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino or Bill O’Neill, both Democrats from Albuquerque—nor any of the three Republican members actually spoke about the issue during debate. And the three remaining Democrats—Sens. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces—kept their comments on the issue succinct before joining their other Democratic colleagues to table the bill.
Adults over 21 would be able to legally buy, possess and smoke marijuana under a bill that survived its first hearing Saturday in the state House of Representatives. The Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-1 to advance the bill without a recommendation. Sponsored by Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, House Bill 89 moves ahead to the House Judiciary Committee. His proposal would tax and regulate recreational marijuana, as is done in eight other states, including neighboring Colorado. It would earmark 40 percent of taxes from cannabis sales for education and designate other proceeds to government programs.
A House committee on Saturday advanced a bill that would expand required background checks to include most gun purchases in New Mexico. After a hearing that lasted more than three hours, the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-1 along party lines in favor of House Bill 50, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos. The committee’s action mirrored that of a Senate panel that last week approved an identical proposal, Senate Bill 48. While the New Mexico Legislature is moving toward expanding mandatory background checks, Congress is heading in the other direction. The U.S. House of Representatives last week voted 235-180 to scuttle an Obama-era rule requiring background checks for gun purchases by some Social Security recipients with mental disabilities.
State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said Monday she will push for legislation to reduce the amount of weight that student test scores play in teacher evaluations. Skandera’s announcement represents a step back — albeit a small one — from her long-running push to tie teacher effectiveness to student test scores. It received a mixed response from leaders of one state teachers’ union. Skandera said she is responding to input that the Public Education Department received during a statewide listening tour to solicit feedback on what the state can do to prepare for implementing the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act guidelines, which go into effect next summer. “We wanted to be responsive.