February 2, 2023

Legislative Roundup

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

Days remaining in session: 43

Solar power: A bill that would require all new residential construction to include photovoltaic systems and receptacles for electric vehicles eked out of the Senate Conservation Committee on a 4-3 vote Thursday.

“As we’re moving toward electrifying everything, we ought to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 77. “This does not require retrofitting.”

Under the bill, the photovoltaic system would have to provide at least one watt per square foot of heated area, which Soules called a “reasonable balance.”

“That’s probably not enough, but it’s enough to make a significant difference in someone’s electric bill and to reduce some of the concerns and problems on the grid as there’s more construction going in,” he said.

The bill drew support from the Sierra Club and Conservation Voters New Mexico and opposition from the New Mexico Home Builders Association.

Randy Traynor, a lobbyist for the homebuilders, said he appreciated what Soules was trying to accomplish and was correct in saying homeowners would save on their electricity bills.

“The problem is, as we see it, you’ll never get in the house because you can’t afford it,” said Traynor, who suggested the bill require a conduit rather than an entire photovoltaic system.

Prescribed burns: A revised bill that would prohibit federal, state, local or tribal governments from conducting prescribed burns in the spring received another hearing before the Senate Conservation Committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 21 passed the committee 5-2 in its second go-round.

The sponsor, Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, said the substitute bill is the work of a group that met last week and made the prohibition more specific to when a red flag warning has been issued.

“In essence, it just says a prescribed burn will not be conducted in the months of March, April and May when a red flag warning has been issued by the National Weather Service for the date and time the burn is scheduled to occur,” he said. “If the individuals or entity that wants to do the burn does those particular things, we protect the public better than we have in the past.”

The committee previously tabled the bill before committee members even discussed it. Griggs thanked committee Chairwoman Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, for removing the bill from the table for discussion.

Special education: A recently introduced bill backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham would create an Office of Special Education within the state Public Education Department.

House Bill 285 would increase training and professional development for special education educators; expand oversight of special education programs through data collection and reporting; ensure timely access to special education for students with disabilities; and initiate an educator-informed process to determine appropriate salary levels for school employees supporting students with disabilities.

Lujan Grisham’s executive budget recommendation includes a $33 million increase for special education.

“With more comprehensive, data-driven services for students with disabilities, support for their families, and expanded training for educators, we can strengthen special education throughout the state and ensure that New Mexico students and families receive the tools and programs they need to learn and thrive,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release issued Thursday.

DWI testing: Members of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Projects Committee got their first look at House Bill 158, which would allow police officers to bring in lab analysts to conduct blood draws on motorists suspected of driving under the influence. The idea, said Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis, is to give officers a chance to test motorists for cannabis, which is now legal under state law.

“Obviously, we have issues with drivers under the influence of marijuana or other controlled substances,” Reeb told the committee. 

The bill’s fiscal impact report notes, “In New Mexico, law enforcement can only obtain a warrant for a blood draw on DUI and driving under the influence of drug (DUID) arrests when there is probable cause the person caused the death or great bodily injury of another person, or committed a felony.”

HB 158 would allow officers to pursue blood draws if they have probable cause to suspect a driver is impaired by cannabis.

Some lawmakers and law enforcement officials have raised concerns about reliable testing of motorists who might be under the influence of cannabis, and they don’t have testing tools to determine this.

One woman who spoke against the bill said she thought it was “insane” because cannabis can remain in a person’s system for a long period of time, making it difficult to prove they are impaired

Committee members voiced concerns about  confusing or contradictory language in the bill, including what constitutes “probable cause.” They asked Reeb to rework it and bring it back for another hearing, which she agreed to do.

Quotes of the day

“I know I can be — I can’t remember the word — it has to deal with donkeys, I think. But I’ve not been that way this session. I don’t want to be that way this session.” — Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, during a pointed discussion on the Senate floor about bipartisanship.

“Senator Stewart, you’re one of the toughest broads I know, so they’re just scared of you down there.” — Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, to Democratic Sen. Mimi Stewart, who said she’s lived and worked in Albuquerque for 44 years and continues her travels throughout the city, as it’s no more dangerous than it ever was. Moores made the remark late Wednesday during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.