Minimum wage fight continues as session nears end

The state House of Representatives and the Senate may be on a collision course when it comes to how best to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law, a priority issue for Democrats in this year’s legislative session. That’s because the House on Wednesday night refused to budge on its proposal to the raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hours by Jan. 1, 2022 and then increase it in future years with a cost-of-living bump. The Senate, however, has approved a more modest proposal designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022, without any further cost-of-living increases.

House panel votes down abortion bills

A legislative committee on Tuesday blocked a bill that would have restricted late-term abortions in New Mexico and ensured that minors seeking an abortion obtain parental support. The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee also voted to stop a bill that would allow hospitals and medical professionals to opt out of performing an abortion for moral or religious reasons stalled in the committee. The 3-2 votes fell along party lines in both cases, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans. The action came as no surprise, given the House of Representatives’ recent support for House Bill 51, which would repeal an unenforceable 50-year-old law that made it a fourth-degree felony to perform an abortion in New Mexico. That measure cleared the House on a 40-29 vote, with six Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.

House GOP budget calls for rebates, fewer raises

Republicans in the House of Representatives want to use some of the state’s budget surplus to give every New Mexican $200. These rebates are part of a $6.6 billion budget that GOP lawmakers are putting forward as an alternative to a spending plan sponsored by Democrats and headed for a vote in the House as soon as Thursday night. The House Republican plan would still increase the state budget, but by 5 percent instead of the 11 percent boost in spending included in House Bill 2 and related legislation. New Mexico is in the midst of a windfall from an oil and gas boom, but GOP lawmakers caution that using too much of that money will only lead to tax increases or cuts in future years when the boom goes bust. The Republican proposal is a long shot in the House, where the party holds only 24 of 70 seats.

House Republicans, pushed further into the minority, feel frustration at lack of input

After a midterm election in which Democrats wrested back control of the Governor’s Office and expanded their majority in the state House of Representatives, Kelly Fajardo feels almost invisible at the Roundhouse this year. Fajardo, you see, is a Republican representative in a Democrat-dominated House, where members of the GOP are now outnumbered by the largest margin in two decades. “It just feels like we don’t matter,” said Fajardo, R-Los Lunas. “Our job is to create good policy, and when you’re going, ‘I don’t need you. I don’t need to listen to you,’ that creates a problem,” she said.

Slate of domestic violence measures on governor’s desk

If Gov. Susana Martinez signs a Senate bill into law, New Mexico will become the 46th state to specifically define strangulation as a serious violent crime. State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored Senate Bill 61, called the Legislature’s unanimous support of the measure “a monumental achievement.” A former prosecutor, Ivey-Soto said he became aware of what he called the “insidiousness” of strangulation. It’s a powerful type of violence that signals to a victim “I have your very life in my hands,” he said. He credited the success of SB 61 to an aggressive, yearslong effort by victims advocates to educate lawmakers, attorneys, law enforcement officers and medical professionals about the prevalence of this potentially deadly act, which affects thousands of people in the state — sometimes with lifelong symptoms of brain trauma.

Dems push to end cap on film industry rebates, GOP wary

Gov. Susana Martinez stood on a sound stage in Albuquerque last summer crediting the film and television industry with injecting a record $505 million into the New Mexico economy over the previous fiscal year. But will the governor who sought to cut tax rebates for filmmakers when she first took office go along with a bill to lift the current cap on incentives, a measure that some say would provide an additional boost as the industry continues to prove a particularly busy part the state’s economy? Democratic legislators are pushing a bill that would eliminate the $50 million cap on the annual total of tax rebates the state provides film and television producers working in New Mexico. In an unusual inversion of the Legislature’s typical partisan dynamics, Democrats argue it would be a boon for business but Republicans contend it could strain the state’s budget and amount to a giveaway for out-of-state businesses. So even though the proposal, House Bill 113, passed its first committee on Wednesday, it only did so on party lines, casting doubt on whether the Republican governor would support it.

Minimum-wage hike to $9 heads to governor

The state minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour from $7.50 by April 2018 if Gov. Susana Martinez signs a bill that has been passed by both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 41-27 to pass Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. The bill would increase New Mexico’s hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018. It also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October. The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.

State lawmaker settles lawsuit for $260,000

A New Mexico lawmaker from Truth or Consequences agreed to settle a civil lawsuit alleging her negligence as an employer for $260,000. Republican state Rep. Rebecca Dow, who was elected last November, was accused of negligence when she hired and then promoted Alejandro Hernandez to work with children. Dow owns and operates both the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County and AppleTree Educational Center. While working for the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County, Hernandez had unlawful sexual conduct with two boys under his care. Hernandez is currently in jail for those crimes.

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.

House committee advances bill banning ‘conversion therapy’ for minors

A House panel approved a bill, along party lines, that would ban the use of therapy aimed at changing a minor’s sexuality or gender identity. The practice is often referred to as conversion therapy. Senate Bill 121 sponsor Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who is openly gay, told the House Health and Human Services Committee a personal story about influence from those in power. He said as a child he was “blessed” to have leaders of faith in his life that engaged in conversations of personal identity. “But I also had priest when I was nine-years-old who told me that if I did not become straight, I was going to hell,” Candelaria said.