February 10, 2023

Legislative Roundup

Days remaining in session: 35

Senate confirmations: The state Senate on Friday confirmed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s appointees to lead the Department of Health and the Department of Workforce Solutions and a board member for the New Mexico Border Authority. 

The Senate unanimously approved Christie Ann Harvey as a Border Authority board member and Sarita Nair as secretary of the labor department.

Harvey previously worked as executive director of MainStreet Deming and also oversaw economic development programs for Luna County.

The governor appointed Nair to oversee the Department of Workforce Solutions in August. Previously, she worked as a chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque.

The Senate voted 26-5 to approve Patrick Allen as the new health secretary.

Five Republican senators opposed his appointment, with Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, saying he had issues with Allen’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon, where Allen served as head of the Oregon Health Authority for five years.

African American Day: Friday was African American Day at the Roundhouse, with presentations, celebrations and a joint session of the House and Senate to honor the contributions of Black Americans.

Keynote speaker Lenell Walton, a longtime special-education teacher with Albuquerque Public Schools, spoke about the “power of Black study … and the relevance of the Black experience” as she told her own story of barely graduating from high school with a D-minus average and going on to build her life through education, reading and teaching.

A U.S. Army veteran, Walton said reading books about the Black experience gave her purpose. She said the education system has to do more to connect with Black students and instill them with the “belief that they, too, can achieve anything in this world.” 

Shoplifter-busting bill fails: One of two bills imposing stricter and new criminal charges for people accused of engaging in repeat shoplifting or organized retail crime failed Friday on a 5-4 vote in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

House Bill 55’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque, was not pleased with the outcome. 

“The people of Albuquerque should be outraged at what is going on in Santa Fe. These progressives simply do not care about crime in our city,” Rehm said in a news release issued Friday by the House Republican caucus.

“Republican crime bills are repeatedly voted down by Democrats and then reintroduced under a Democratic sponsor. New Mexicans are tired of politicians playing games when it comes to addressing New Mexico’s ongoing crime problems,” he continued.

A separate bill targeting shoplifting and organized retail crimes, House Bill 234, sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, is expected to be considered by the House Judiciary Committee.

Equality New Mexico: The Senate on Friday commemorated the 30th anniversary of the founding of Equality New Mexico, a statewide organization that champions equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community.

Senators unanimously passed a memorial celebrating the organization’s accomplishments, including its instrumental role in passing the Safe Schools for All Students Act, which requires school districts to develop and implement bullying prevention policies and procedures.

“If I could sing … I would sing Lady Gaga’s song, ‘Born this Way.’ Because you know what? That’s what we are. We are born this way,” said Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales.

Spotted: Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a former state senator and state auditor, returned to his old stomping grounds Friday.

Keller traveled to the Roundhouse to check on his city’s capital outlay requests and a team working full-time in Santa Fe during the session, among other business.

“I loved my time up here in the Legislature and for one month or two months here being part of Santa Fe,” he said. “Very special. I’ll never forget it.”

Around the lunch hour, Keller went to Kaune’s Neighborhood Market to pick up not one but two breakfast burritos.

“One for lunch, one for dinner on the way home,” he said.

“Mayor, what are you doing here?” a Kaune’s employee jokingly asked Keller. “Stay in your own city.”

Quote of the day: “I’m afraid if you buck the system you may not be around long.” — Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, to Patrick Allen, who was confirmed Friday as secretary of the state Department of Health. Pirtle was referring to a recent string of Cabinet secretaries who recently resigned from their posts.