New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon approaches the lectern in the state house chamber to deliver the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature Tuesday, January 24, 2022.

Supreme Court Chief Justice talks virtual hearings, criminal justice reform

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon addressed the Legislature during a joint legislative session on Tuesday. This was the first time in four years a State of the Judiciary Address has been delivered in New Mexico. “The Judiciary is battered and bruised, strong, resilient, creative, committed, and caring. I hope through my words today, this will be evident,” Bacon said. Bacon discussed four issues including the judiciary’s efforts through the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting programs that help the community, criminal justice reform and the judiciary’s legislative requests.

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.

Bill would appropriate $100 million to help those hit hard by fire

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A bill that would provide no-interest loans to counties, cities and municipalities struggling to pay for damage incurred during the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is scheduled to receive its first hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 would provide $100 million in loans — money one of its sponsors says is desperately needed while expected federal funds makes their way to the fire zone. Funneling state money to counties and small towns is particularly pressing amid the prospect of renewed flooding when winter snowfall melts this spring, said bill co-sponsor Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. “We are going to have a spring runoff — that has to be addressed,” Campos said in an interview. “We will do our best to get resources to these entities as soon as possible.”

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.

Legislation to help water utilities form regional partnerships advances

A bill that would allow two or more water or wastewater utilities to enter into an agreement to form a regional water authority passed the Senate Conservation Committee on a bipartisan 7-0 vote Tuesday morning. 

Democrats Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerillos and Rep. Susan Herrera of Embudo sponsored the bill. Current law requires legislative approval for water utilities to become regional authorities. Wirth said this legislation will not force utilities to enter into regional partnerships, but will make it easier for those that wish to do so. Wirth spoke about a small mutual domestic system with about 25 customers that ran out of water and is now seeking to regionalize. 

He said drilling wells is not an option for the system because it is cost-prohibitive. A regional water utility authority can help by joining efforts to pursue water resources.

Bill to create a public health and climate resiliency fund passes first committee

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 7-2 in support of legislation that would create a public health and climate resiliency program as well as a fund that would assist communities in responding to emergencies related to climate change. The Public Health and Climate Resiliency bill, SB 5, is sponsored by Democrats Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerillos and Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson of Albuquerque. Stefanics presented the bill to the committee on Monday. Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, and Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, voted against the bill. 

Ingle said that the bill is “so loosely written that I’m a little bit frightened of…where it will lead us down the path and where we’ll actually get some answers.”

Ingle said during his time in the Legislature he has voted for things that he thought were good proposals, but ended up accomplishing very little. Should it pass, the statewide Public Health and Climate Program would be within the Department of Health’s Environmental Health and Epidemiology Bureau, which is in turn within the department’s Epidemiology and Response Division.

Legislators hope to pass Paid Family Medical Leave Act in this year’s session

The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill seeks to provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for employees who request it for a serious medical condition, caring for a family member with a serious medical condition or welcoming a new child. If the bill is enacted, it will be a state-run program and will be managed by the Department of Workforce Solutions. Both employees and some employers will contribute to a state-managed fund that will, in time, pay for itself and provide the funds necessary to pay workers a portion of their wages if they require paid time off for family or medical leave. The cost to employers would be about $4 for every $1,000 of wages while the cost for employees would be $5 for every $1,000 of wages. The formula for benefits is 100 percent of minimum wage plus 67 percent of wages above minimum wage, Tracy McDaniel, policy advocate for Southwest Women’s Law Center, said.

A bill to extend statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes to be heard

A bill that would extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse to enable survivors more time to come forward is expected to be discussed this legislative session. For children ages 13 to 18, SB 82, would eliminate the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse. Currently, a 13-to-18 year old in New Mexico who has suffered child sexual abuse has six years to report the crime and for prosecutors and police to locate the perpetrator and build a case against them. If a survivor of sexual abuse is over the age of 18 in New Mexico, and the crime is considered a second degree offense, the current statute of limitations is also six years. The bill would, if enacted, extend that statute of limitations to 15 years.