Community solar bill heads to the House

A bill that would allow communities to subscribe to local solar facilities passed the Senate floor Thursday. 

SB 84, sponsored by Democratic Senators Liz Stefanics of Cerrillos and Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, would direct the Public Regulation Commission to evaluate existing community solar programs and develop and adopt rules for a program in New Mexico by April 2022. Each project would be limited to producing 5 megawatts of electricity each year, and facilities would be limited to generating 100 megawatts per year, which Lopez said is about 1 percent of the total annual electricity generation in the state. 

Each project would require an anchor tenant that would subscribe to no more than 40 percent of the project’s electricity capacity, and each project would need at least 10 subscribers before construction can begin. Lopez said the bill targets low income participation. 

“Community solar is favorable to low income participants, because it typically offers them savings, no upfront costs, and no penalty to cancel the subscription to a community solar facility,” Lopez said. “Thirty percent of the annual program capacity is reserved for low income customers and low income service organizations, and the PRC will issue guidelines to ensure the low income carve out is achieved each year.” 

Lopez also highlighted the economic benefits of community solar. She pointed to a UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research study that estimated community solar could deliver some $517 million in economic benefits and would generate $2.9 million in tax revenue for the state.

New Mexico Senate passes bill to reduce cap on small-loan interest rates

Legislation aimed to rein in what critics call predatory lending passed the state Senate after a tense two-hour debate Monday that sparked accusations of untruths and assertions the bill’s sponsors are oblivious to the tough realities confronted by people who live paycheck to paycheck. Opponents contended Senate Bill 66, which would cut the maximum interest rate on small loans to 36 percent from 175 percent, would do more harm than good for struggling New Mexicans by causing high-risk lenders to shut down. The measure passed on a 25-14 vote and will be considered next by the state House of Representatives. Expect plenty of dissension and disagreement if Tuesday’s Senate floor session is any indication of what lies ahead. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said about a third of the people who called him about the legislation were angry it would cap the interest at so high a rate.

Democrats say Otero County official threatened House speaker

Democrats in the House of Representatives voiced outrage over an email from an Otero County official they claim contains a threat against Speaker Brian Egolf. Democrats contend Otero County Assessor Steve Boyd, who also serves as president of New Mexico Counties, a group that advocates for counties’ needs statewide, wrote an email about a recent Albuquerque Journal story on Egolf’s Santa Fe-based law firm settling 10 legal cases against state agencies for more than $2 million over the past five years. According to the email, Boyd wrote: “Another Democrat getting rich off of the people rather than serving them. This is why New Mexico fights an uphill battle all the time. “If I had a list, he would be on it.”

DOH reports 166 new cases, 13 additional deaths

The state Department of Health reported the fewest newly reported number of COVID-19 cases in months, with 166 new cases on Monday. The department also reported 13 additional deaths related to the disease. The last time the state reported fewer than 166 cases was on Oct. 5, when the state reported 157 new cases. This low number of cases did come with a much lower than average number of newly reported tests.

Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

After a three-hour debate in the House of Representatives late Sunday, the Healthy Workplaces bill passed 36 to 33 and will head to the Senate. HB 20 would allow all private employees working in the state to accrue up to eight days of paid sick leave per year. If passed, a full-time employee would have to work close to six weeks before being able to accrue one full day of sick leave, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said. Chandler is the lead sponsor to the bill.  An employee would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. The debate largely revolved around small businesses in the state.

Senate committee signals House cannabis legalization effort as the likely preferred option

Even after a nearly four hour Senate committee meeting on Saturday, none of the four cannabis legalization bills the panel discussed advanced. But with encouragement from the Senate majority leader and the committee’s chair, the sponsors said they work to come up with a unified approach before another meeting next week. 

It seems likely, based on comments from some committee members, that none of the Senate proposals will advance out of committee, but that portions of them will be incorporated into a House bill that has already advanced to the Senate. 

Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chair Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo announced at the beginning of the meeting that the committee would not take action on any of the bills. Instead, the committee heard public testimony and examined the differences between the bills. And in a somewhat unorthodox procedure, the committee discussed HB 12, which has not yet been assigned to any Senate committees. HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps.

House passes cannabis legalization effort, sends it to the Senate

A House proposal to legalize and regulate cannabis passed the chamber on a 39-31 vote, with six Democrats breaking rank to vote against the measure. 

HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, would fully legalize the sale and production of cannabis for adults, allow home cultivation and would expunge previous minor drug convictions. The bill would also implement an eight percent excise tax on the sale of cannabis and a local government tax up to four percent. Recreational-use cannabis would also be subject to gross receipts taxes, while medical-use cannabis would not. 

Martínez said the three major tenets of the bill are to protect New Mexico’s current medical-use cannabis program, ensure an equitable and just industry and to create a regulated industry that will thrive. 

Romero told her colleagues she shared the sentiments of her cosponsor and said cannabis has been used for various purposes for centuries, including in her own family.    

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo explained why he opposed the bill. He raised concerns about how a fully-legalized cannabis program might impact tribal governments in the state.

Bill that would end qualified immunity heads to Senate Judiciary Committee

A bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense in civil rights cases advanced from the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. HB 4, known as the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed without recommendation in a 5 to 3 vote along party lines. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, amended the bill to remove acequias, land grants and other small units of government from the definition of a public body, said Daniel Marzec, communications director for House Speaker Brian Egolf’s office. Egolf is a co-sponsor of the bill. The lead sponsor is Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque.

Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’

Called historic, New Mexico decriminalized abortion on Friday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act into law, after years of efforts by abortion rights supporters. SB 10 repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion by banning it with very few exceptions. 

Lujan Grisham said “a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body.”

“Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “New Mexico is not in that business – not any more. Our state statutes now reflect this inviolable recognition of humanity and dignity. I am incredibly grateful to the tireless advocates and legislators who fought through relentless misinformation and fear-mongering to make this day a reality.

Governor: NM ‘on the road to recovery’

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top state health officials had optimistic news related to the state’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution, during a remote press conference on Thursday. The press conference came just a day after the state eased restrictions for counties in the yellow and green levels as well as adding another level, turquoise, which would allow even less restrictive COVID rules. Related: State updates ‘Red-to-Green’ framework, including adding a ‘Turquoise’ level

“We are on the road to recovery,” Lujan Grisham said in a press conference on Thursday. “And this is exactly where we deserve to be, given our hard work.”

The state also recently celebrated administering 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and remains one of the highest performing states in the nation when it comes to administering COVID-19. The average number of daily cases continues to fall, though a health official cautioned that reopening could cause that decrease to slow down.