New Mexico not changing time change this year

Still feeling fatigued and cranky after this past weekend’s change to daylight saving time? Get used to it. A bill that would have led to the possibility of New Mexico staying on a single time year-round is dead. Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to table Senate Bill 102, which would make Mountain Daylight Time the state’s permanent year-round time if enabling federal legislation is passed. Though the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, stressed the act would only go into effect if the federal government decides to create a nationwide daylight saving time zone, some committee members were not swayed.

Senate committee advances paid sick leave bill

Private employers in New Mexico may no longer get to decide whether paid sick leave is a benefit they want to offer their workers. A bill that would ensure employees in the state have access to paid time off when they’re sick cleared the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on a party-line 6-3 vote Sunday. “Access to paid sick leave protects workplaces, families, and communities statewide,” read a tweet sent from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s account minutes after the vote. “I appreciate so many key stakeholders being at the table for this important discussion and I look forward to signing this legislation when it gets to my desk.” Known as the Healthy Workplaces Act, House Bill 20 would require private employers in the state to provide workers at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, or 64 hours per year.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves aid-in-dying bill

A controversial bill that would allow terminally ill patients who are of sound mind to ask a physician to prescribe drugs to help them die is moving to the Senate floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday voted 5-3 to support the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The committee’s three Republican members opposed the legislation. 

House Bill 47 is named after a judge who died of cancer in 2018 after lobbying legislators for years to approve a so-called right-to-die bill to help those who are terminally ill and want to end their suffering with dignity. Proponents of the measure say it would give patients who are facing a painful death some control over ending their life the way they want to. 

Their doctor would approve any such decisions and prescribe life-ending drugs, but only after getting a second opinion and ensuring the patient was mentally and emotionally fit to make such a choice. 

For Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, the debate over the bill hits close to home. Her daughter, Erin, has fought cancer for 20 years.

Working to get the word out from the New Mexico Senate

Chris Nordstrum was in third or fourth grade when he was called to the Governor’s Office for the first time. 

He wasn’t in trouble. He had won a school poster contest through the Secretary of State’s Office and went to the Roundhouse to claim his award. 

“I remember being in complete awe of this place and the grandeur of that office,” said Nordstrum, a 50-year-old Santa Fe native who serves as communications director for the New Mexico Senate Democrats. 

His office is located behind a nondescript door off one of the main hallways on the ground floor of the Capitol. A long window panel allows him to look down at the Senate floor while a couple of computer screens give him access to Senate committee hearings. 

You may see him walking through the building, but he does not have the high-profile physical presence of a lawmaker. He — like his counterpart in the Senate Republican caucus — is one of those people who helps drive the inner engine of the machine known as the state Legislature. 

As communication directors, their jobs go beyond just coordinating interviews with the press and making sure websites are updated and brimming with fresh news about legislative successes. They are messengers who have a story to tell. 

Nordstrum’s background includes 20 years in marketing and advertising for Cisco Systems in the San Francisco Bay Area and some work in linguistics, which is what he majored in at Pomona College.

Environment protections bill passes New Mexico Senate

A bill that would allow the state of New Mexico to adopt air quality and hazardous waste rules more stringent than federal regulations survived a challenge Friday from Senate Republicans, who had previously stalled the measure with a procedural maneuver that kept it in limbo for days. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, the bill would amend the Air Quality Control Act and the Hazardous Waste Act to allow rules more rigid than federal standards. “In each case … there must be substantial evidence that the proposed state rules are more protective of public health and the environment,” said Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat. The bill passed along a mostly party-line 23-15 vote. Democrat George Muñoz of Gallup sided with Republicans in opposing the measure, which goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration. 

Wirth argued that Senate Bill 8 would provide what he called consistent, New Mexico-focused environmental oversight.

New Mexico ethics commission likely to dismiss 2 of 3 complaints against Egolf

The New Mexico State Ethics Commission will “likely” dismiss two of three complaints filed by a retired judge against House Speaker Brian Egolf, according to a letter the commission sent to the complainant Friday. But the third charge — that Egolf failed to communicate a potential conflict of interest — is still under review by the commission, according to the letter, signed by Jeremy D. Farris, the ethics commission’s executive director. The third complaint will be sent to the ethics commission’s general counsel for review. But, Farris wrote, the commission has no jurisdiction over the other two charges — that Egolf used his legislative office for personal gain and that he failed to discharge his legislative duties in an ethical manner. 

As a result, he wrote, those two complaints will probably be dismissed during the commission’s next meeting in April. 

In her complaint, former state Judge Sandra Price claimed Egolf stands to benefit if the New Mexico Civil Rights Act becomes law. 

The legislation would allow people to file complaints in state District Court over government violations of the state Bill of Rights. Currently, such cases are filed in federal court and cite violations of the U.S. Constitution.

Time grows thin for two redistricting bills for New Mexico

The legislative challenge to choose a process for redistricting still hasn’t been settled. Lawmakers have just one week to get the job done. 

On Friday, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance two bills that each would create an independent commission to redraw election district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats. That means the competing measures both will move to the House of Representatives for consideration. The committee adopted some amendments for House Bill 211 and Senate Bill 15 that made them more closely aligned. But differences remain. 

Chief among them: The Senate bill does not include a provision prohibiting the committee from considering the current political makeup of existing districts as it drafts a new plan.

Legislation to fund early childhood education from Land Grant Permanent Fund gets hearing

In some ways, it was a historic legislative moment. The Senate Finance Committee — renowned as being the morgue for repeated efforts to draw permanent fund money for early childhood education — held a hearing Thursday to discuss that proposal, known as House Joint Resolution 1. But the committee did not vote on the legislation. Instead, as committee Chairman George Muñoz explained, the hearing was intended to educate members on the initiative before taking further action. 

What that action will be remains unclear, although compromise and change seem likely, based on Thursday’s testimony. 

The resolution has become one of the most vetted and publicized in recent years. HJR 1 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing for a 1 percent annual distribution from the $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund — almost $200 million a year — to pay for services for New Mexico’s youngest children. 

Critics, including those who served on the Senate Finance Committee in the past, have said any drawdown from that fund could hurt its future stability.

Senate passes clean fuel bill despite concerns about higher gas prices

A proposal to reduce New Mexico’s carbon footprint by going after greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector fueled a spirited debate Thursday in the state Senate. At issue is whether Senate Bill 11, which would create a statewide clean fuel standard, would lead to higher prices at the gas pump for consumers, who lately have been experiencing sticker shock when they pull up to the pump. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who disputed the notion that gas prices would shoot up, ultimately cleared the chamber on a party-line 25-14 vote — but only after a two-hour discussion that left some lawmakers wondering whether a push to protect the environment would cost consumers. “My biggest concern is what we’re going to do to gas prices in the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs. “It will take a little while, but we’re going to get to a point where the people that it’s going to impact the most are low-income people.”

Some look to improve independent redistricting proposal

With just over a week to go before this year’s legislative session ends, the prospect of lawmakers coming through with an independent redistricting plan is looking more likely. But some involved in the process still have concerns about Senate Bill 15, which the Senate unanimously approved Wednesday. The measure would create a seven-member citizens’ committee to gather public input and then come up with three possible redistricting plans for the Legislature to consider by year’s end. 

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill Friday. Assuming the committee approves the measure, it would go to the House floor for a final vote before heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for a signature. 

Some redistricting advocates want the legislation to include language that ensures tribal and pueblo governments are included in the process. 

“The redistricting activities have to take into consideration local governments and their role on the Navajo Nation,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. Among his concerns: The bill as written says redistricting should not divide existing precinct boundaries.