Matthew Reichbach is the editor of the NM Political Report. The former founder and editor of the NM Telegram, Matthew was also a co-founder of New Mexico FBIHOP with his brother and one of the original hires at the groundbreaking website the New Mexico Independent. Matthew has covered events such as the Democratic National Convention and Netroots Nation and formerly published, “The Morning Word,” a daily political news summary for NM Telegram and the Santa Fe Reporter.
New Mexico has now given at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to half of its population age 16 or older, according to the state’s Health Secretary. Dr. Tracie Collins, the secretary of the state Department of Health, said that in addition to the nearly 50 percent of people who have received at least one shot, 31 percent of New Mexicans are fully vaccinated, either through two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state’s numbers show 49.4 percent of New Mexicans aged 16 or older with at least one dose and 31.7 percent fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday’s update, 829,765 New Mexicans had received at least one dose and 533,288 were fully vaccinated. This includes 114,211 doses administered in the last seven days from the state.
This morning recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico is available in a free email every Friday. Sign up here. See all of our COVID-19 coverage here. As of Thursday, the state Department of Health reported 191,945 total cases of COVID-19 and 3,942 deaths related to the disease. As of Thursday, 96 individuals were hospitalized for COVID-19, the fewest since Oct. 5.However, DOH reported 297 cases on Thursday and 277 cases on Wednesday, the first two days with more than 250 cases since March 10.
Albuquerque State Rep. Melanie Stansbury emerged from a two-day, two-round process to become the Democratic nominee for the 1st Congressional District special election in June. Stansbury narrowly defeated State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, also from Albuquerque, in the second round, with 103 votes from the party’s central committee members in the 1st Congressional District to Sedillo Lopez’s 97 votes. One member abstained. Sedillo Lopez had the most votes in the first round, but failed to reach 50 percent. The party then went to a runoff between the candidates with the fewest number of candidates to reach 50 percent of votes—in this case, two.
A bill to expunge cannabis-related criminal offenses that would no longer be illegal if cannabis is legalized is headed to the governor’s desk. The effort began with 11 amendments in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, which the committee later adopted as a committee substitute, and another on the Senate floor, a speedy move through the special legislative session. The Senate passed the bill on a 23-13 vote after about one hour of discussion early Wednesday afternoon. The House later passed the bill on a 41-28 vote after over an hour and a half of debate. The bill aims to automatically expunge the criminal offenses, under the state’s expungement law, that would no longer be illegal under cannabis legalization which was being debated by the Senate.
Beginning on Monday, April 5, all New Mexicans over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, entering the “phase 2” of the state’s vaccine distribution plan. This comes as New Mexico remains the leader on COVID-19 vaccine administration. As of Tuesday’s vaccination numbers, 44.2 percent of New Mexicans aged 16 or older have received at least one dose and 27.3 percent are fully vaccinated (either with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or both shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines). Even so, the state will continue to prioritize those in phases 1A, New Mexicans age 75 or older and those age 60 or older with a chronic condition. “President [Joe] Biden directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccine by May 1.
A Senate committee passed a heavily amended piece of legislation to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of cannabis-related crimes that would no longer be crimes under the proposed cannabis legalization bill working its way through the special session. The bill would provide for automatic expungement of cannabis related offenses that would no longer be illegal under the new law. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-3 to pass the bill after hours of technical discussion on language and a series of amendments to clarify the law. “I think a critical part of our state moving forward with the cannabis legislation is making sure that folks who have been convicted or arrested or dealt with the fallout of offenses that were based on actions that in the cannabis regulation act passes will no longer be crimes aren’t suffering the negative impacts of that,” Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat who is one of five sponsors of the bill, said. Among the numerous amendments adopted in the committee were to remove the role of the Attorney General in reviewing cases of those incarcerated to have the cannabis-related portions of their convictions removed from their conviction and one that would clarify that only the portions of records related to cannabis would be removed from the record.
Republicans picked State Sen. Mark Moores as the party’s candidate for the upcoming special election to fill the 1st Congressional District vacancy. Moores, a Republican from Albuquerque, announced his entry into the race in mid-March. Moores owns a laboratory that, over the last year, collected samples of COVID-19 testing. The election will take place on June 1. Democrat Deb Haaland resigned from the seat earlier this month after she was confirmed to the position of Secretary of the Department of the Interior in the Joe Biden administration.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Friday that she will call the state Legislature back for a special session on Tuesday, March 30.
The special session will start just ten days after the end of the state’s regular, 60-day session. At the end of the regular session, Lujan Grisham said that she would call legislators into a special session soon to finish the effort. The governor cited precautions in place because of COVID-19 as one reason why legislation ran out of time. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the session will focus on recreational-use cannabis legalization and economic development through the state’s Local Economic Development Act (LEDA).
Lujan Grisham said in the statement that cannabis legalization and reforming economic development are important enough for the state to call a special session.
“The unique circumstances of the session, with public health safeguards in place, in my view prevented the measures on my call from crossing the finish line,” Lujan Grisham said. “While I applaud the Legislature and staff for their incredible perseverance and productivity during the 60-day in the face of these challenges, we must and we will forge ahead and finish the job on these initiatives together for the good of the people and future of our great state.”
During special sessions, legislators can only discuss legislation that the governor puts on the call.
New Mexico hit a new milestone during the COVID-19 pandemic: No counties are currently in the “red” tier of restrictions, the most restrictive conditions.
With Wednesday’s updates, which uses data from the previous two weeks to show which level of restrictions each county sits in, 13 counties are in the “turquoise” level, ten are in green and ten are in yellow. Counties in the “turquoise” level are those which have been in the green level for two consecutive two-week terms.
Among the high population counties in the state, San Juan and Santa Fe counties reached the turquoise level, while Bernalillo County, Sandoval County and Doña Ana County each are at the yellow level. The state measures whether, in the previous two week period, counties have 8 or more cases per 100,000 residents or an average percent of positive COVID-19 tests results greater than 5 percent. Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a press conference on Wednesday that the state was evaluating its use of positive test percentage, as that continues to remain at very low levels throughout much of the state. Counties at the less-restrictive tiers are able to have more businesses open, including more indoor dining, retail spaces and recreational facilities.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators spoke about legislative successes and what they expect to happen with bills that didn’t cross the finish line, including a pending special session to pass recreational cannabis.
Lujan Grisham said she was proud of how much work was done in a session marred by a pandemic.
“It’s incredibly difficult and challenging, to debate, to draft, to engage in policy making,” she said. “It’s everything from economic relief, education and health care in an environment where you absolutely have to meet the COVID safe practices.”
Particularly, Lujan Grisham praised lawmakers for passing a liquor law reform, approving a proposed constitutional amendment to use state funds to pay for early childhood education and decriminalizing abortion.
Democratic House of Representatives leadership held a press conference a few minutes after adjourning sine die on the House chamber floor to discuss Democratic accomplishments for this session. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, said the focus for this session was recovery.
The three-pronged approach to recovery, Egolf said, was education, health and the economy. Of the more than 170 pieces of legislation that passed this year, some of the bills highlighted during the press conference included passage of SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which repealed the 1969 statute banning abortion, as well as HB 4 the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense in the state and allows for financial remedy up to $2 million and the potential to recover attorney’s fees if a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. Lujan Grisham signed SB 10 into law in February.