Sen. Craig Brandt talks about Glory's Law during a press conference. Other speakers included, from left to right, Glory's mother Christy Sellers, UNM Head Football Coach Danny Gonzales and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales.

Law to ban discrimination against organ donor recipients has support

Three legislators filed a bill to prevent patients from being denied an organ donation due to mental or physical disability from happening in New Mexico, dubbed Glory’s Law. Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, and Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque are the sponsors of  SB 71. Glory’s Law is named for Christy Sellers’ youngest daughter, Glory, who is almost completely deaf, has Down Syndrome and other issues affecting her heart and lungs. “I heard about a story in another state where a baby was denied a kidney transplant solely based on that child having Down Syndrome,” Sellers said at a press conference about Glory’s Law Thursday. “Right now, (New Mexico) doesn’t have any laws in place to protect people with disabilities should they need a transplant, they could be denied solely based on having Down Syndrome solely based on things that don’t affect their quality of life, or make them any less worthy.” 

Seller and her family have adopted three disabled children including Glory.

 Scrase announces retirement as state human services secretary

By Phill Casaus and Daniel J. Chacón

Dr. David Scrase, whose near-weekly briefings during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic often served as a barometer of the state’s desperate fight against the virus, announced he will retire from state government late next month. The announcement came late Friday afternoon, often a time when officials release surprising or disquieting news. Scrase, the Cabinet secretary of the state Human Services Department, is one of the few holdovers remaining from the original members of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Cabinet in early 2019. In 2021 and 2022, Scrase did double duty. He ran Human Services while also heading the Department of Health on an interim basis in the maw of the pandemic, as the state’s tenuous health care system teetered beneath the weight of critical cases.

Additional learning time soars through key committee with bipartisan support

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Educators may be divided on a bill that would extend the number of hours they spend teaching students and building their own skills and knowledge, but lawmakers displayed rare bipartisan support for the initiative. The House Education Committee on Friday voted unanimously to endorse House Bill 130, which would mandate an increase in learning time in public schools to 1,140 hours, including up to 60 hours of professional development for teachers, while allowing districts some flexibility in when to add the hours. “This is a good start to address some of the needs we have,” said Rep. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas. Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said lawmakers have to take the bill seriously because of the “tremendous negative impact on our students” stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some lawmakers, particularly those in rural communities with four-day weeks in public schools, initially expressed displeasure with the idea of expanding to a fifth day or into the summer months when the plan was introduced.

As Water Trust Fund dries up, Wirth champions bill to infuse it with $250M

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A state fund that has helped finance dozens of water infrastructure projects around New Mexico since it was created nearly two decades ago is drying up. The State Investment Council has been sounding the alarm for years, warning the so-called Water Trust Fund, which it manages, could be depleted within 15 years without an additional infusion of capital or a restructuring of its distribution requirements of $4 million a year. “This fund is on a terminal path,” Charles Wollmann, the council’s director of communications, legislative and client relations, said Thursday. “It is going to die unless there are additional appropriations or it would have to slash its annual distribution.” A windfall to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars may be on the way.

Bill would add penalties for livestock rustling

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

This is no bull — and no joke. There’s a crime still all too common to those who run farms and ranches around New Mexico: livestock rustling. And not just cattle theft. Horses, donkeys, pigs, llamas and all sorts of poultry are also being hauled away by truck, trailer and any other means possible, agricultural experts say. In the days of the old West, rustlers who were caught ended up hanging from a tree or scaffold, said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell.

Governor-backed fund would address shortage of health care providers in rural areas

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Immediately after Dr. Valory Wangler opened a nonprofit health center serving Gallup and McKinley County last year, patients started to pour through her doors. “We certainly could tell that we had identified a critical need,” said Wangler, founder and executive director of Gallup Community Health. Since then, the health center has expanded from mostly only Wangler seeing patients to 11 providers working in the burgeoning facility in some capacity or another. “We believe in paying our staff fairly and making sure that they’re able to meet their basic needs, and that has certainly put us at an operating loss,” she said. Under a bill lawmakers started to pore over Wednesday, health care providers such as Wangler could see some financial relief.

Expansion of prohibition of storage of radioactive waste bill heads to judiciary committee

A bill that would expand the current prohibition on storing radioactive waste in New Mexico passed its first committee—the Senate Conservation Committee—on Tuesday on a 6-1 vote. Under the proposal, companies like Holtec International would not be able to store radioactive waste from activities like nuclear power generation without first receiving consent from the state and without having a permanent repository for nuclear waste operational

The bill, SB 53, also expands the state’s radioactive waste consultation task force membership to include the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; the secretary of the Department of Indian Affairs and the commissioner of public lands. 

The task force, in the past, has been limited to dealing with federal facilities. The proposed bill would expand that to include private facilities as well. This comes in light of plans to move nuclear waste, including spent fuel, from power plants across the United States to a facility near Carlsbad. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Reps.

Funding to support rebuilding after fire passes committee while spring burn ban dies

With questions remaining surrounding allocation of federal assistance, the communities impacted by the largest wildfire in state history are asking the legislature for $100 million to replace and repair infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the blaze. This funding would come in the form of zero-interest reimbursable loans. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Reps. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, and Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, are sponsoring SB 6 to provide that funding to the impacted communities. The bill received unanimous support from the Senate Conservation Committee and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

Bill to classify natural gas as renewable dies in first committee

A Republican-sponsored bill attempting to get combined cycle natural gas included in the definition of renewable energy died in its first committee on Tuesday. The bill’s lead sponsor was Rep. James Townsend of Artesia, a retired executive from a fossil fuel company. Townsend said that House Bill 96 attempted to fix a problem that is “readily apparent in New Mexico.” That problem, he said, is rolling brownouts and blackouts related to a shortage of electricity. Other sponsors include Rep. Randall Pettigrew of Lovington, Rep. Candy Spence Ezell of Roswell and Rep. Jimmy Mason of Artesia. The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted on party lines to table the bill.  

“Natural gas is not a renewable, but it works,” Townsend said in response to questions about the Energy Transition Act, which was not among the laws that would be amended to include combined cycle natural gas.

Lawmakers begin to examine differences in executive and legislative spending plans

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A showdown is brewing between the executive and legislative branches of government over two of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s legislative priorities: free meals for students and paying for teachers’ health insurance premiums.

While the governor’s executive budget recommendation includes funding for both initiatives, the spending plan put forth by the Legislative Finance Committee doesn’t have funding for either. The chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee called the $100 million proposal to cover the cost of health insurance premiums for all school personnel unsustainable. “It’s not well vetted,” Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said after the committee examined the differences between the two spending plans. “The governor is going to have to convince us that it’s sustainable and won’t create inequities within agencies that don’t get their health care paid for,” he said. A spokeswoman for the governor did not return a message seeking comment late Monday.