Bill establishing protections for pregnant workers heads to Senate

The House approved a bill to establish workplace protections for pregnant workers Tuesday afternoon on a 51-14 vote. The bill would require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers who ask for them. Sponsors and proponents of the bill have given examples of reasonable accommodations such as allowing pregnant women breaks to walk or to or drink water at their desks. Some of the legislators who raised concerns about the proposal during debate, such as state Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, ultimately voted for the measure. Dow said she worried about businesses being held liable to new damages.

Bill seeks oversight of private boarding homes

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — The Loving Care Shelter Home, one of several private homes in Las Vegas that has provided room and board for people with mental illness, is a ramshackle place between a mobile home and a burned-out house in an old neighborhood near downtown. Inside the home, according to a recent state inspection report, residents lived in filth, with paint chipping off walls, stained and threadbare rugs, torn window screens, electrical hazards, a rickety wooden front porch with an old couch with cigarette burns and piles of debris in the backyard. The medical care of the five residents at the Loving Care Shelter Home was shoddy, as well, according to the 96-page report by the state Department of Health on the home’s deficiencies. Among other problems, residents didn’t get required medical checks, and there were no plans to manage their illnesses, the report says. The home’s two staff workers weren’t trained in how to store drugs and assist residents with their medications.

Bill to require ‘reasonable accommodations’ for working pregnant women advances

A bill to require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers passed a state House committee on party lines Friday morning. During debate, Southwest Women’s Law Center attorney Sarah Coffey provided examples of “reasonable accommodations,” which included allowing pregnant workers to have a bottle of water at their desks, giving them more bathroom breaks and allowing them to walk around the office when needed. “We’re trying to alert women and employers that women don’t need to necessarily quit their jobs or stay home if there’s a small accommodation made to keep working,” state Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque and sponsor of the legislation, said at the hearing. Three Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Committee—state Reps. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, Gail Armstrong of Magdalena and James Townsend of Artesia—voted against the measure.

Lawmakers introduce bills to expand reproductive health access, protections

Advocates and supporters of reproductive health access and rights unveiled three bills in the state Legislature they say will improve and protect access. This includes measures to preserve birth control access under the federal Affordable Care Act and allow women on the birth control pill to obtain one year’s worth of refills at a time, penalize medical providers that refuse to offer certain reproductive health services and procedures and require workplaces to make “reasonable accommodations” to employees who are pregnant. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill to expand access to birth control. At a Tuesday press conference for the bills, Armstrong said her measure is in anticipation of contraception access through the ACA “that may be on the chopping block.”

“We’re going to ensure that regardless of what they do federally, in New Mexico we take care of women and families and let them choose what’s best for them in deciding if and when and how often to have children,” Armstrong said. Her bill would guarantee patients access to any type of federally-approved contraception without “having to prove that something else doesn’t work” before obtaining the kind “most appropriate for you,” she said.

Egolf, Dems make changes after taking control of House

Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.

House sends death penalty reinstatement to the Senate

After a three hour debate before the sun rose on Thursday morning, the House voted to bring the death penalty back to New Mexico on a narrow vote. The 36-30 party-line vote came after emotional testimony and debate, largely from Democrats. The proposal now heads to the Senate, though it appears very unlikely that the chamber will take up the effort before the end of the special session. Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, introduced her bill by listing the five police officers who were killed while on duty in the last 18 months, then listing some of the children who were murdered in recent months. Her proposal would only apply, Youngblood said, “When a child is murdered, when a law enforcement officer is murdered or a corrections officer is murdered.”

The debate came after two hours of debate on an appeal by Democrats that the public was not given enough time ahead of time to be told the House would consider the bill.

House committee passes three high-profile crime bills

A House committee spent about nine hours Friday from the early afternoon deep into the evening debating and listening to public testimony regarding three bills aimed at toughening violent crime sentences. All three bills passed the committee and two will head to the House floor next. The debate turned most heated when the committee discussed a bill to reinstate the death penalty. Sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, the bill focuses on those convicted of killing law enforcement officers or children. The legislation passed on a party-line vote.

House votes to archive webcasts

Archiving is finally coming to the webcasts of the New Mexico State Legislature. Well, archiving of House proceedings, anyway. A House rule change proposed by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, passed unanimously on Tuesday night. The proposal called for archiving of the House proceedings beginning in the next legislative session and keep those archives for five years. “I think this is just such a big step for us to increase the transparency of this body,” Steinborn said.

Advocates, Dems say no to driver’s license fingerprints

Domestic abuse victim advocate groups and Democratic lawmakers met on Thursday to speak out against fingerprints and background checks in driver’s license legislation preferred by the House. Sheila Lewis, director of  the victim advocacy group Santa Fe Safe, said background checks and fingerprinting for driver’s licenses may affect how some undocumented immigrants decide to report domestic abuse. “As we work to eliminate violence in the home we should not institute policies that restrict survivors’ ability to obtain a license that can help them get an order of protection against an abuser,” Lewis said. Lewis went on to say that background checks and fingerprint requirements would create “an additional barrier, and an unnecessary barrier” for some immigrants. Democratic legislators also testified against the fingerprinting provision.

Sometimes, bills in NM take years to finally pass

The issue of driver’s licenses and who in New Mexico should be able to have them is a long-running topic in the New Mexico Legislature. Indications say, an agreement should happen this year thanks to pressure from the federal government. However, it is only one such issue with a long and winding road towards passage. Many lawmakers in the Roundhouse agree that it is common for bills to see years of debates, years of committee assignments and years of failure before they make it to the fourth floor and the Governor can sign them into law. A number of current laws have spent years being fine-tuned and changed in order to gain more traction.