February 15, 2022

House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions

The House Judiciary Committee passed an omnibus voting bill, SB 144, that includes provisions of two other voting bills, SB 8 and SB 6, on a party line vote of 9-3 Tuesday evening.

After Senate Republicans blocked a Senate floor debate and vote on SB 8 over the weekend, House Democrats moved the provisions from that bill into another voting bill, SB 144. SB 144, sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, initially aimed to protect election workers from intimidation, threat or use of force or violence, damage or harm while carrying out their duties during an election. The penalty for the crime is a fourth degree felony.

The bill also has already passed the Senate, removing a barrier with less than two days left in the session.

SB 8 would expand voting rights to groups who face disenfranchisement, such as Native Americans and formerly incarcerated individuals who are disproportionately people of color. Senate Republicans blocked SB 8 from being heard in the state Senate over the weekend by forcing a procedure that requires all members of the Senate to be present and accounted for. Two members, a Republican and a decline-to-state member, were absent and the bill has been held up in the Senate chamber since.

Many members of the public expressed anger over SB 8 and SB 6 being added to SB 144. Complaints from the public centered primarily around the fact that the public did not have time to look at the 160-page amendment added to what was initially a two-page bill. House Republicans on the committee called amending SB 144 to include the amended provisions of SB 6 and SB 8 “log rolling,” which state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, called “unconstitutional.” Log rolling is a term used to describe putting two unrelated bills together in one piece of legislation.

“This amendment goes so well beyond the very few pages of the original bill SB 144, I believe it crosses the line,” Nibert said.

State House Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who co-sponsored the amendments along with Duhigg, said it is not log rolling while Committee Chair Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said she’s been in the legislature for 25 years and “this happens at the end of session every time.”

Duhigg called putting the three bills together more “transparent” because, she said, doing so makes the process more “comprehensive.”

Provisions struck from SB 8 in previous committees were excluded from the amended SB 144. Those include allowing 16-year-old individuals to vote; back end automatic voter registration and making election day a general holiday.

What remains are provisions such as expanding voting rights for Native Americans, allowing formerly incarcerated to gain the right to vote upon release, creating a permanent absentee voter list and making election day a school holiday because most polling locations take place at public schools.

Nibert asked several questions about ballot security with repeated assurances from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and the amendment’s sponsors on the layers of security already in place.

“I’m concerned about ballot security measures not in the amendment. I hope some of those measures are addressed before it goes to a House vote,” he said.

The committee discussed and debated the bill for nearly four hours before Chasey cut off debate, saying SB 8 had six hours of public debate in an earlier committee hearing.  

SB 6, sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, would clean up the election code to eliminate language pertaining to the Public Regulation Commission as an elected office, as well as creates an elections security program and clarifies how public records requests are congruent with election code.

The bill now heads to the House floor. The Senate would need to agree with the changes to send it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.