PRC reform bill dies in Senate committee

A proposal to restructure the Public Regulation Commission died in the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee after a two-plus hour debate. The bill was tabled by a vote of 5-4. Democratic Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe presented HB 11 to the committee Tuesday afternoon. Small and Trujillo told the committee the bill would help address staffing issues at the PRC and make the commission more efficient.

Pregnant worker protection bill on its way to Guv’s desk after scare on Senate floor

A bill protecting pregnant workers nearly died on the Senate floor Tuesday night when a Democrat tried to introduce an amendment viewed as “unfriendly.” However, the Senate defeated the amendment and the bill itself passed unanimously. HB 25 seeks to protect pregnant workers and new moms in the workplace by amending the state Human Rights Act to include those employees. This would enable pregnant people and new moms to seek mitigation under the state’s Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been discriminated against if an employer refuses “unreasonable accommodations.”

An amendment that Senator Joseph Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, tried to attach to the bill took issue with the idea that pregnant workers and new moms belong under the Human Rights Act. Candelaria, who is openly gay, said the bill created a “new suspect class of people.”  He did not want the Human Rights Act to be amended. He said the bill would “erode decades of civil rights litigation and protections” reserved for immutable aspects of a person such as sexual orientation.

Crafting of state budget could go down to wire

On Monday morning, there was a sign on a key Senate panel’s door with underlined writing in all caps. “House Bill 2 will not be heard today,” it read. The General Appropriations Act, also known as the main budget bill for New Mexico state government, had been on the Senate Finance Committee’s agenda for Monday but would now have to continue awaiting action, as it has for nearly since two weeks since the House passed it. “We don’t have the amendments ready,” committee chair Sen. John Arthur Smith told The New Mexican. “It’s not an easy process when you have this many amendments.”

Indeed, the committee does have to sort through some 600 proposed amendments while it also figures out how to cut around $150 million from a House bill Smith says overshoots spending targets.

PERA reform bill clears House

A plan that would increase contributions from public workers and the state to the Public Employees Retirement Association to get the pension system on a path to solvency is nearly on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. The House approved the legislation in a 40-28 vote Monday after hours of debate. Senate Bill 72 calls for a rise in contributions and a temporary suspension of cost-of-living increases for some retirees in an effort to ensure PERA can continue pension payouts well into the future, supporters say. It also calls for reduced cost-of-living increases in the years after the suspension ends. The House made a technical change to an amendment to SB 72, so the measure will need to return to the Senate for approval before going to the governor’s desk, said Daniel Marzec, a spokesman for the House Democrats.

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.

Budget push comes down to the final hours

If you started the clock at midnight Monday and counted down to the end of this year’s legislative session at noon Thursday, you’d come up with 84 hours. That’s how long legislators in the state Senate have to make adjustments to the state budget. “Putting out fires. That’s what it looks like,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith of what promises to be a frenetic three and a half days. Entering the final moments of the 30-day legislative session, the state budget encompassed in House Bill 2 remains in limbo.

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.

Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

“I apologize.