February 14, 2023

Legislative Roundup

Javier Gallegos/The Santa Fe New Mexican

Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, left, tries to get a selfie with civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, center, as she is escorted to the House podium by Speaker Javier Martinez, background, before she gives a speech on Hispanic Culture Day at the Roundhouse on Feb. 14, 2023.

Days remaining in session: 31

Human services overhaul: Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerrillos and Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson of Albuquerque, both Democrats, introduced legislation this week that would revamp and rename the Human Services Department with a goal of expanding state residents’ access to affordable health care.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday touted Senate Bill 16, which calls for establishing the Health Care Authority Department.

“My priority continues to be to deliver high quality health care for New Mexicans at an affordable price,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Consolidating purchasing, oversight and health care policy in one department creates an exceptional opportunity to leverage the state’s purchasing power and other policy tools to make high quality health care affordable and more accessible to all.”

 Under SB 16, the Health Improvement Division and Developmental Disabilities Division would shift to the Health Care Authority Department from the Department of Health and the State Health Benefits Division would be transferred from the General Services Department. 

“The time has come to work on a Health Care Authority for New Mexico,” Stefanics said in the statement. “It is important to cover all New Mexicans with health care and to reduce health care costs in our state.”

 Plastic bag ban: A proposal to prohibit grocers and other retailers across New Mexico from providing single-use plastic carryout bags to customers cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday.

The Senate Conservation Committee endorsed Senate Bill 243 on a 6-1 vote.

“The bill would save about 500 million bags a year from going into New Mexico’s environment and roadways, so it’s a lot of bang for the buck,” said the sponsor, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces.

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he didn’t like a statewide mandate.

“Currently, Santa Fe, Las Cruces [and] Silver City have their own bans, and I think that’s the way to go,” he said.

Legacy funds: A bipartisan bill supporters say will establish the state’s first dedicated funding source for conservation, agriculture and outdoor recreation programs passed the Senate on third reading Tuesday.

Senate Bill 9, a legislative priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, would create the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund and the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, which would allocate spending to various state agencies for existing land and water conservation programs.

“This bill is super important,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who co-sponsored the measure with Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec. “New Mexico is currently the only Western state that does not have a dedicated land and water conservation fund of this nature.”

The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, an expenditure fund, would be used to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money.

“When you look at the federal dollars that will come in by doing this, this really is a win for New Mexico,” Wirth said.

Neville called the state’s ability to tap into federal funds the “biggie” of the bill, which he said will “greatly expand” New Mexico’s ability to carry out conservation projects.

Sen. John Pinto Day: The Senate declared Tuesday Sen. John Pinto Day in honor of the late legislator from Gallup.

Pinto, a Navajo Code Talker who was the longest-serving state senator when he died in 2019, “was a mentor, gentleman and wise leader whose kind demeanor earned him the full respect of the senate,” according to a memorial that received unanimous approval from the chamber.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle heaped praise on Pinto as his oldest daughter and one of his granddaughters, who were sitting in the gallery, wiped tears.

“Sen. Pinto was someone we could truly trust,” said Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe. “We knew that he was a man of integrity. No show. There was no arrogance in him. It was just who he is, from the heart, deep, sincere and caring.”

Rodriguez said she was “blessed” to share an office in the Roundhouse with Pinto and also serve alongside him.

“I miss him all the time, but I know that he’s with us in spirit and continues to guide us,” she said.

The memorial was sponsored by his granddaughter, Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, who was initially appointed to fill his seat after his death.

Diesel tax: It’s a little-known fact that folks in rural districts use dyed diesel in heavy off-road vehicles on their farms and ranches, said Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, after members of the House Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee unanimously voted to approve a bill eliminating the gross receipts tax on dyed diesel fuel purchases.

Heavy off-road vehicles like backhoes, generators and construction equipment use dyed diesel, which is exempt from state and federal excise taxes.

House Bill 354 would also remove the gross receipts tax.

The bill’s fiscal impact report estimates New Mexicans paid over $81,000 in gross receipts taxes on dyed diesel between 2017 to 2022.

Folks who spoke in favor of HB 354 said the gross receipts tax can vary from 5 cents to 30 cents per gallon, depending on the county.

Free tortillas: The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque was a big hit Tuesday at the Roundhouse.

The center, a state museum dedicated to Hispanic culture, arts and humanities, handed out free packets of a dozen Bueno Foods tortillas in the Rotunda in celebration of Hispanic Culture Day at the Capitol.

“We also set up a little station for people to have a snack with Valentine tortillas and to also create their own Valentine using paint out of the Cochineal beetle mixed with other things,” said Elena Baca, the center’s educator and program coordinator.

“We want to show everybody how much we love our community and how they love us back for Valentine’s Day,” Baca added.

The center’s display also included information about upcoming programs and current art exhibits.

Quotes of the day

“La Llorona has left the building.” — Performance artist Rosalia Pacheco, after presenting a theatrical take on the legend of La Llorona on the House floor as part of Hispanic Culture Day at the state Capitol.

“This is not to make light of the aroma bill but … when we are looking at our state kite as a plastic bag, that’s a problem.” — Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, speaking in support of a proposed statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The Legislature is also considering a bill to make the smell of roasting green chile in the fall New Mexico’s official aroma.