Bill to aid pregnant workers clears committee after debate over perceived vagueness

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to protect pregnant workers but killed a proposed amendment that some lawmakers said would have protected workers who allege a violation of the proposed law from further discrimination. HB 25 aims to protect pregnant workers or new moms from discrimination in the workplace. Under the proposed law, New Mexico employers with four or more employees would have to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a pregnant worker or new mom. Examples of “reasonable accommodations” are defined as reprieve from heavy lifting, providing water or a stool at a workstation and extra bathroom breaks, according to backers of the bill. The bill has received wide support from industry, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights organizations.

Medical cannabis qualified patient bill heads to governor’s desk

A bill that would limit enrollment in the state’s medical cannabis program to New Mexico residents passed the House and is on its way to the governor’s desk. 

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque would change the definition in the states medical cannabis law to specify that a qualified medical cannabis patient must be a resident of New Mexico. The House passed the bill on a 44-19 vote. 

As the bill has made its rounds in committee hearings, New Mexico’s Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel repeatedly stressed her fear that the federal government may try and interfere with the states Medical Cannabis Program if the bill is not signed into law. 

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, presented the bill for Ortiz y Pino and fielded questions from her colleagues. 

Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Aztec, questioned how the Department of Health, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Program, defines what a resident is. 

Armstrong, aided by Kunkel, said the department will accept various documents to prove a potential patient lives or plans to live in New Mexico. 

Montoya  ultimately voted against the bill. 

Rep. Zack Cook, R-Ruidoso, who was the sole dissenting vote on the bill in a committee hours earlier, also voted against the bill. He dismissed Kunkel’s concerns about the U.S. Department of Justice. 

“We don’t know that the feds are going to do anything,” Cook said, echoing his statements from earlier in the morning. 

Regardless, the bill received bipartisan support. But, four Democrats voted against the bill despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s support. 

The issue of who gets to enroll in the program goes back to last session when a bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law also changed the definition of what a qualified patient from a “resident of New Mexico” to a “person.”

Arizona resident president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health Duke Rodriguez, along with two Texas residents, successfully convinced a state judge that they should be eligible to enroll in the program. Lujan Grisham and the DOH took the issue to the state Court of Appeals where the issue is still pending.

PRC reform bill heads to the Senate after narrow passage in House

A proposal to make structural changes to the Public Regulation Commission passed the House floor with a narrow vote of 36-34 after a three-hour debate Sunday evening. HB 11 is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe. It would restructure the PRC with the aim of streamlining operations and making the commission more efficient. RELATED: PRC reform bill advances with big concerns

The bill “strengthens and simplifies the Public Regulation Commission,” Small said, adding that the bill “appropriately separates the decision making function from the advocacy function.” Small said he met with former and current PRC staff, including commissioners; and considered other other utility commissions from other states in drafting the legislation.

House minority leader takes issue with special process for medical cannabis bill

An unconventional process for a somewhat controversial medical cannabis bill provoked the ire of the House Republican floor leader Sunday afternoon. 

House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, told acting Speaker of the House Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, he felt like House Democrats have been changing rules for the majority’s benefit. 

The bill in question, SB 139, would change state law to only allow New Mexico residents to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The problem is, the bill is also directly tied to a state Court of Appeals case where Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, represents the appellees. In attempt to eliminate the perception of a conflict of interest, Egolf said in a letter last week, he would remove himself from the legislative process for that bill. Egolf’s letter asked leaders from the House majority and minority to make the decision about what sort of House committee assignments the Senate bill would get. 

Ely, who Egolf assigned as Speaker Pro Tempore for the assignment process of the bill, told the body on Sunday afternoon that Townsend declined to take part in the process. 

“There was a process proposed that the minority leader and majority leader would try to reach an amicable arrangement as to what committee or committees Senate Bill 139 would be referred to,” Ely said. “The minority leader, as is his right, has decided not to recommend that, so I as the presiding officer will make the referral.”

Townsend took issue with how Ely characterized the letter.

Medical cannabis qualified patient bill moves to the House

A Senate bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents are eligible to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is headed to the House. 

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, passed the Senate floor Saturday night by a 32-8 vote. Ortiz y Pino told other Senate members that the bill is an attempt to “plug the hole” that was created in a bill he sponsored last year that was signed into law. 

The bill he sponsored last year, among other changes to the state’s medical cannabis laws, removed the words “resident of New Mexico” from the definition of a qualified patient and replaced them with “person.” Shortly after the law was changed last year, Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, along with two Texas residents, took the state to court after the three were denied medical cannabis patient cards. Rodriguez is an Arizona resident, but according to court documents owns a home and vehicle in New Mexico. Arizona has a medical cannabis program and Texas has a medical program with limited conditions and only allows cannabis with half a percent of THC—a psychoactive substance in cannabis. 

After a state district judge ruled in favor of the three petitioners, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office and the Department of Health took the issue to the Court of Appeals, where it remains pending. 

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, took issue with the bill and repeated some of the same concerns he brought up in a previous committee hearing. He told a story about a friend of his who suffered through cancer treatment and was unable to benefit from medical cannabis because he lived in Texas.

House EV tax credit heads to the Senate

A proposal to create an electric vehicle tax credit passed the House floor late Friday with a vote of 40-27. Legislators introduced two different versions of the proposal, one in the House and one in the Senate, but the House version has advanced further than the Senate version of the bill, which is not expected to move out of the Senate Finance Committee before the session ends next week. RELATED: House version of electric vehicle tax credit advances

Bill sponsor and Mesilla Democratic Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena introduced a substitute bill on the floor, which she said offered a compromise with the Senate’s version. HB 217 would establish a $2,500 tax credit for residents whose annual income is above $50,000; but the tax credit jumps to $5,000 for residents who make less than $50,000. The bill would also establish a $300 income tax credit for the acquisition of a residential electric vehicle charging unit.

Egolf to recuse himself from process on cannabis bill

The New Mexico Speaker of the House announced Friday that he will remove himself from the legislative process if a Senate bill related to three of his clients makes it to the House. 

Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, issued a letter to the House clerk detailing his plan of action if SB 139, which would clarify that medical cannabis patients in the state must be New Mexico residents, makes it to the House. 

Egolf is an attorney outside of his role as Speaker. New Mexico does not have full-time legislators. The bill is a direct result of a pending court of appeals case between Egolf’s clients and the governor’s office. A bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law last year included a change in who could become a New Mexico medical cannabis patient. Previously, the law defined a qualified patient as a “resident of New Mexico” who suffered from an approved qualifying condition.

‘Red flag’ bill heading to the governor’s desk

After weeks of heated testimony, the last legislative debate on a contentious gun-control bill played out with little drama Thursday night on the House floor. But there was a moment late in the proceedings when Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas choked up with emotion. The Albuquerque Democrat described his wife’s 41-year-old cousin, Celena Alarid, sticking a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger. “She went to heaven sooner rather than later,” he said. 

But much of the three-hour debate over Senate Bill 5 played out like a piece of lackluster theater — one in which everyone involved knew their lines, everyone was tired of saying them and the final scene was very easy to predict. The House voted 39-31 Thursday night to approve the so-called “red-flag” bill, which will allow law enforcement to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms. A judge would require the person to give up their guns for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if probable cause is found that the person poses a threat to themselves or others.

Bill that protects victims of sexual harassment gets bipartisan support on the House floor

A bill that protects victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination passed the House floor unanimously late Thursday night. The House voted 67-0 in support of HB 21, which prevents an employer from forcing a nondisclosure agreement on an employee who is settling over sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Most cases never reach the courts, said Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, during the House floor discussion. Hochman-Vigil also said that more often than not the victim is no longer employed and cannot get a new job and needs to reach the settlement for financial survival. Proponents of the bill said during committee hearings that the bill really protects future potential victims and that enabling victims to speak about what happened to them can prevent serial abusers.

Senate prepared for tough decisions while cutting down budget

The New Mexico House of Representatives may have passed the main budget bill, but the spending plan is unlikely to get to the governor’s desk without a slashing. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is more than irked at the version of the budget the other chamber sent over. Sen. John Arthur Smith is promising to “get real aggressive” in finding areas to cut and free up needed revenue. “I will admit that I’ve been more annoyed with this budget cycle and what was sent over to us,” said Smith, D-Deming, referring to House Bill 2. “Because of the reserve targets — they knew darn well what they were.”

When the House passed its $7.6 billion budget bill last week, it said the legislation called for stashing away 26 percent in reserves, which would be in line with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s spending plan at a time when the state is projecting sizable new revenues from oil and gas production.