June 26, 2020

Guv signs civil rights commission, election, budget solvency bills

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On Friday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three pieces of legislation from the special session which ended earlier this week: a bill to create a state civil rights commission, a bill to aid in voting amid a pandemic and a solvency bill related to the budget.

Other pieces of legislation, including the revised budget, remain on her desk. The governor can issue line-item vetoes of bills that include an appropriation, including the budget. She has until July 12 to decide on those, though the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

The civil rights commission bill was one of the pieces of legislation aimed at police reform that passed the Legislature this year. The bill establishes a state Civil Rights Commission that would give the Legislature recommendations on police reform, review the use of qualified immunity and more. 

“Our communities are marching to demand changes that rethink policing,” said Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, a sponsor of the bill. “With the creation of a New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, we’ll begin making real steps toward a future when violations of civil rights result in swift and certain consequences. I thank Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for seeing the need to take action, and the bipartisan support this common-sense legislation brought forward.”

The bill, also cosponsored by Rep. Karen Bash, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque,passed both chambers on wide, bipartisan votes.

Election efforts

One of the more controversial bills to pass the Legislature during the special session was an elections bill. The initial bill was solely aimed at preparing for the general elections by allowing vote by mail and other efforts to protect voters and election workers from COVID-19.

The vote by mail portion was amended to instead only allow county clerks to send out absentee ballot applications, as happened during this year’s primary elections.

The bill also said that polling locations on pueblos, tribal nations and other indigenous land will not be closed or consolidated unless the tribal government agreed in writing.

The bill would also offer flexibility for county clerks to begin processing absentee ballots earlier than usual.

While it will not apply until 2022, an amendment in the Senate allowed those who are not members of major parties to change their party registration while at the polls to vote in a primary election of their choice. Egolf said he believed this controversial change would be reversed during next year’s regular legislative session.

“As we prepare for the 2020 general election and given the current public health uncertainties, the purpose of this bill is to ensure that all voters will be able to cast their ballots safely, timely, and securely — whether voting in person or by mail,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. “I’d like to thank Governor Lujan Grisham for including this on the call for the special session and thank the overwhelming majority of senators from both parties who voted to pass this legislation.”

Ivey-Soto cosponsored the legislation with Sen. Gabe Ramos, D-Silver City, Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Rehoboth. 

The other bill sought to move unspent money in capital projects as well as from some state funds to help fill the state’s budget gap. The main purpose of the special session was to address the pending budget deficit; the state is not allowed to run a deficit.

“Righting the budget in the midst of unprecedented hardship stemming from this pandemic meant we had to make hard choices,” said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. “The measures in SB5 will help put existing money where it is most needed today without having to make more painful cuts to critical programs, and help us bridge the deep fiscal gap facing us in the months and years ahead.”

Muñoz sponsored the bill along with Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.

Ingle said the efforts on the budget would continue in next year’s regular session.

“We came together to modify the budget during the special session,” he said. “We need to continue working together come January when we expect to face continued uncertainty that will need a lasting solution to help the economy.”