January 25, 2023

Legislative Roundup: 1/26

Laura Paskus

Days remaining in session: 52

Legislature wants a say: The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to support House Bill 80, sponsored by three Republicans, including Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell.

The bill would limit a governor’s call for a state of emergency to 90 days — unless the governor convened a special session of the Legislature, which would then have the power to restrict, suspend or end the state of emergency.

Many members of the House and Senate, as well as members of the public, complained when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued and extended public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic that essentially shut down much of the state..

Nibert said the Legislature needs to play a role in extending such orders beyond 90 days to ensure a “separation of power” between the executive and legislative branches.

Similar legislative efforts to curb a governor’s power during a state of emergency have failed in the past.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, unsuccessfully attempted to win enough votes to table the legislation, arguing things worked well under the governor’s executive order.

The committee then voted 8-1 in favor of the bill, with Chasey in opposition. It next goes to the House Judiciary Committee. 

A similar bill, Senate Bill 65 sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen, was scheduled to be considered by the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee but was rolled over to Friday.

Secrecy in hiring: The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would shield the names of applicants of high-level government jobs, including city managers, school superintendents and police chiefs.

The committee voted 7-2 to endorse Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque. The bill, which Tallman contends would attract a better pool of candidates, failed to pass in 2019 and again in 2021.

“Some people criticize this bill, and they say that we’re hiding something and that there’s going to be cronyism involved,” Tallman said. “Well, that’s not true. … If the press are doing their job, they can ferret out this information.”

Under Tallman’s bill, which drew opposition from open government advocates, only the names of “no fewer than three finalists” would be made public.

“Secrecy is not necessary to get excellent candidates,” Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, told legislators.

“New Mexicans should not have to rely on the word of public officials that are choosing the best finalist,” she added. “The public should get to see the pool for themselves to make sure that old-fashioned cronyism and even discrimination are not part of the process.”

The bill heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sidewalk repair moves forward: Members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would move the burden of paying for public sidewalk repairs from property owners to municipalities.

House Bill 24, introduced by Rep. Miguel García, D-Albuquerque, would repeal part of a provision that requires homeowners to pay for any repairs or upgrades to sidewalks abutting their property. García said this can cost homeowners up to $7,000. 

“We’re talking about public property here, we’re not talking about private property,” García told committee members.

Rep. Chasey said she was “kind of shocked” at the news.

Some lawmakers expressed concern about shifting the costs to local governments. The bill’s fiscal impact report says it is unclear how much this could cost local governments but that the costs likely would be “substantial.”

Yes means yes: The House Education Committee voted 8-2 Wednesday to move forward a bill requiring affirmative consent to be taught in public middle school and high school sexual education classes as the standard to engage in sexual activity.

House Bill 43 defines affirmative consent as “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement.”

In addition to requiring trauma-informed policies to investigate and respond to reports of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, harassment and stalking, the bill would require that students be taught “not saying no doesn’t mean yes. … Being passed out doesn’t mean yes. Being unable to speak doesn’t mean yes. Only yes means yes,” said Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson, D-Albuquerque.

Dozens of advocates, students and survivors of sexual violence filled the committee room in support of the bill.

“I think it’s a shame that we even have to have this discussion, but I also think it’s really necessary that we have this bill,” said Bill Jordan, a lobbyist for New Mexico Voices for Children.

Dignity not detention: Two Albuquerque Democrats have introduced a bill seeking to end federal civil detention of immigrants in New Mexico.

Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Moe Maestas, would prohibit the housing or detention of individuals on federal civil immigration violations. Known as the “Dignity Not Detention” bill, it would also prohibit agreements with privately owned immigration detention facilities.

“If enacted, New Mexican local governments would no longer be permitted to contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the purposes of immigration detention,” the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center wrote in a news release.

“This bill offers an opportunity for New Mexicans to join communities of conscience across the continent who have chosen not to participate in the unnecessary, xenophobic, and cruel separation of families and torture of immigrants,” Ariel Prado of the Innovation Law Lab said in a statement.

Free school meals: A governor-backed bill to provide free, healthy meals to all students in New Mexico stalled Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed support for Senate Bill 4 but said the proposal needs fine-tuning, including a provision that would require schools to provide students in kindergarten through fifth grade at least 20 minutes of seated lunchtime each school day.

“Please understand, I am hugely in support of doing this, but we’ve got to make sure we’re writing laws that make sense,” said committee Chairman Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.

“This is a great program; we want to get it right,” he added. “I know that’s frustrating to get it kind of rolled over, but we want to work on it and make sure we get it right.”

Support for special education providers: A bill that would create a three-tier licensing system for educators who aid disabled students in public schools cleared the House Education Committee in a unanimous vote.

Instructional support providers are licensed by both professional boards and the state Public Education Department. They range from psychologists to sign-language interpreters, physical therapists and orientation and mobility specialists for the blind.

The three-tier system proposed in House Bill 39, similar to one in place for teachers, essentially would create a salary floor for those professionals, said Rep. Thomson, a former school physical therapist who sponsored the bill.

Thomson said districts would still be able to offer salaries above the three-tiered system’s floor to recruit school-based professionals.

Several advocacy organizations for people with disabilities urged the committee to vote in favor of the measure.

Access to instructional support is essential for students with disabilities, and the bill would help school districts hire and retain these professionals, said Alisa Diehl, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Quote of the day: “I feel a little naked without my sidekick,” — Rep. Greg Nibert, speaking of former lawmaker Daymon Ely, a Democrat from Corrales who used to support Nibert on bills to limit a governor’s emergency powers.