February 8, 2023

Legislative roundup

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Days remaining in session: 37

Prop gun training: Following charges filed recently against Alec Baldwin and others in the 2021 fatal shooting on the set of the Rust film production, a House Republican has introduced a bill to require all people employed by a film company in New Mexico who use prop guns to undergo firearms training.

House Bill 338, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque, requires film employees to have a “certificate of competency in the safe handling of firearms” under the state Regulation and Licensing Department’s Level 3 training for security guards.  

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, pitched a similar proposal last year that went nowhere.

This year, Pirtle introduced Senate Bill 225, which requires all film production workers in New Mexico to have a certificate of competency in the safe handling of firearms under the Hunter Training Act.

The October 2021 shooting on the Rust set claimed the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

Film jobs: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday the introduction of legislation she says will further foster the film industry.

Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, would increase the yearly cap on film credit rebates for production companies by an additional $10 million per year, bringing the cap to $210 million from $110 million in the next decade, according to a news release issued Wednesday by Lujan Grisham’s office.

The bill also would double an extra incentive for productions outside Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Lujan Grisham and Rodriquez touted the film industry’s growth in the news release and noted the potential for more jobs.

Ethics dispute: After the New Mexico Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion that left lawmakers wondering whether they could represent their constituents before state agencies, the Senate passed a bill Wednesday to settle the matter.

Senate Bill 364 amends a provision in the Governmental Conduct Act to clarify that legislators may represent constituents in their official capacity. Although the bill received unanimous approval, some senators said such a bill was unnecessary because the advisory opinion was erroneous.

“Our Legislative Ethics Committee has looked at this for years and looked at that statute and allowed us to do exactly what we all should be doing up here, which is representing our constituents,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

Some senators had harsh words for the commission and its opinion, which stated that when a legislator is “acting for the benefit of a constituent,” the legislator “may not make reference to his or her legislative capacity outside matters of scheduling” or “communicate on legislative stationary.”

Wirth said he was particularly unhappy with a Wednesday tweet from the commission, which stated: “A legislator should not be able to demand payment for constituent services, and the Commission supports closing the current loophole that allows this.”

“To imply somehow that any member of this body is demanding payment for constituent services, I mean, there’s a point here where basic common sense needs to be followed,” Wirth said.

Wildfire aid: A bill that would provide funds for cities, counties and small towns struggling to pay for replacements or repairs to infrastructure damaged in the historic Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire as they await federal aid received unanimous approval Wednesday in the Senate.

Senate Bill 6, which would appropriate $100 million for political subdivisions of the state to obtain no-interest loans, is the first piece of legislation to pass the chamber on third reading in this year’s 60-day legislative session.

“The federal dollars have been promised, and that’s good, but they’re not here and so … this is an important bridge,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe.

“I really commend the Finance Committee for moving a bill out with $100 million this early in the session. That doesn’t happen very often,” he added.

We’re all in debt: Members of the House voted 44-10 to approve House Memorial 32, which recognized Wednesday as National Debt Awareness Day.

The national debt is the accumulation over time of the yearly deficit, and Randall T. Pettigrew, R-Lovington, who introduced the measure on the House floor, said it’s time to acknowledge this is a bipartisan problem.

“If the national debt gets too high, it could impact Americans because spending on government programs may be cut or people may have to pay higher taxes,” the memorial reads. 

The national debt, as of January, was well over $31 trillion — which adds up to about $94,000 in debt for each American, Pettigrew said. 

The House Republican-led push to pass the memorial came a day after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address touched on the ongoing battle to raise the country’s debt limit.

“No president added more to the national debt than my predecessor,” Biden said, referring to former President Donald Trump. “Nearly 25 percent of the entire national debt that took over 200 years to accumulate was added by just one administration alone.”

Deadly force: Lawmakers, civil rights advocates and family members of people shot and killed by law enforcement gathered for a news conference and vigil just before dusk Wednesday to announce the introduction of a bill that would limit police use of deadly force.

Senate Bill 252, which will be heard first by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would establish statewide guidelines for officers to ensure they do everything they can to deescalate encounters before using deadly force. 

Among the provisions in the bill is a requirement for officers to provide clear verbal warning of their intent to use force, a prohibition on transporting any person in a prone position and a prohibition on using chokeholds unless a suspect poses a threat to an officer or another person.

Nayomi Valdez, a policy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said organizers lit 200 farolitos outside the state Capitol in honor of people who have been killed by police officers in the past 10 years.

The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Harold Pope, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, were present for the event. 

Elaine Maestas, who said her sister Elisha Lucero was shot 21 times by Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies in 2019, said people who have never lost loved ones to police killings will never feel “the lasting ripples of heartbreak these families endure.”

Quote of the day: “I’m just in the cheap seats in the back row enjoying life.” — Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, the former House minority leader, who now generally sits quietly in the back row of the chamber. 

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