Rep. Lewis will end reelection run, retire at end of term

State Rep. Tim Lewis announced he will retire at the end of his current term and will not continue his run for reelection. The Republican from Rio Rancho was unopposed in the Republican primary and has no opponent in the upcoming general election. 

The schoolteacher said in a statement that he is leaving the Legislature after ten years to spend more time with his family. “Serving these last ten years has been a privilege and great honor, and I will always be grateful for the support that the people of Rio Rancho have given me over the years,” Lewis said. “The decision to withdraw now has not been an easy one for me. My family is the primary reason, but I also recognized early on that the office is best served by those who do not make a career out of politics.” 

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, praised Lewis’ time in the Legislature.

Secretary of state pushes for temporary automatic mail election

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is advocating for legislation during this week’s special session that would extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots in the November general election and allow county clerks to automatically send ballots to all registered voters prior to Election Day, her office said. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toulouse Oliver and a couple of dozen county clerks in the state had pushed for a mail-only primary election to protect poll workers and voters from risks of contracting the viral illness. The state Supreme Court rejected the clerks’ request, however, saying the Legislature would have to approve a change in law to allow mass distribution of ballots by mail to voters who haven’t requested one. Spokesman Alex Curtas said Friday the secretary of state still supports an emergency provision allowing ballots to be sent to voters without an application. She also backs other proposals that could streamline the general election, he added.

Guv signs bill protecting pregnant workers

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law Friday that protects working mothers and new moms from discrimination in the workplace. HB 25, or the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Bill, amends the state’s Human Rights Act to make pregnancy, childbirth and conditions related to either a protected class from employment discrimination. “It’s good to sign a bill that does what is so obviously the right thing to do,” Lujan Grisham said through a written statement. “There is no world I can imagine in which it would be right or fair to discriminate against a woman for becoming a mother.”

The bill allows a pregnant person or new mom to ask for “reasonable accommodations” such as a stool, extra bathroom breaks, or time to make prenatal visits. The new law prohibits an employer from forcing a pregnant worker or new mom to take time off because of their condition unless requested by the employee.

Guv signs pension solvency bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a bipartisan bill into law that aims to put New Mexico’s state pension system on a path to solvency. 

Senate Bill 72, one of the high-profile bills of the 2020 session, calls for increasing contributions from public workers and the state in a bid to eventually eliminate the Public Employees Retirement Association’s $6.6 billion unfunded liability. “By paying out more than it was taking in, PERA was on a path to eventual bankruptcy,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement on Monday. “Now we’ve reversed course, and I’m confident New Mexico can keep its promises to current and future retirees.” Lujan Grisham made the bill one of her priorities for the session after issuing an executive order last year to create a working group that drafted a pension reform proposal. Many of that task force’s recommendations were incorporated into the eventual bill, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell.

NM expands free school meals

A bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will provide free breakfast and lunch to thousands of low-income public school students who have been required to pay a reduced fee for meals through a federal program. 

House Bill 10, funded through a $650,000 appropriation to the Public Education Department that was included in the main state spending bill for fiscal year 2021, will eliminate copays of 30 cents or 40 cents per meal for about 12,500 students across the state who qualify for federal reduced-price breakfasts and lunches. “A 40-cent copay should never come between a child and the food they need to grow and learn,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. Her signature on HB 10 came on the first day of National School Breakfast Week. The national nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, in its recently released school breakfast scorecard, found New Mexico ranks third in the nation, behind West Virginia and Vermont, for the ratio of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches who also take advantage of school breakfast programs.

For every 100 New Mexico students who eat subsidized lunches, 69.4 also eat breakfast at school, the nonprofit said. “This school year, New Mexico is on track to serve more than 13,500,000 school breakfasts,” said Public Education Cabinet Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a news release.

Five takeaways from the 2020 legislative session

Fourth floor diplomacy

Before the session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said her strategy for the session — and governance in general — was to employ diplomacy and compromise with legislators to win support for her initiatives. It sounded like a fuzzy talking point at the time. It turned out to be largely true. A number of the bills Lujan Grisham prioritized during the session did indeed pass, but important ones didn’t, such as recreational cannabis. And her marquee Opportunity Scholarship proposal, announced with much fanfare last year, was scaled down in a big way.

Small wins for cannabis in 2020 legislative session

Cannabis legislation was not a complete loss for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during this year’s legislative session, but it was far from a complete win. Despite almost a year of work from a group assembled by Lujan Grisham to come up with proposed legislation for cannabis legalization, the proposal she backed failed early on in the session. The only Lujan Grisham-backed proposal that made it to her desk is a bill that would limit enrollment in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to New Mexico residents. 

During a press conference after the Legislature adjourned on Thursday, Lujan Grisham said she will keep pushing for a safe and comprehensive legalization measure, even if it means changing the state constitution. New Mexico law does not allow for voter initiatives, which is how most states, including Colorado, legalized cannabis. The only way to change law through an election question is to propose a constitutional amendment, and Lujan Grisham said that’s not off the table. 

“I’m open to any number of pathways,” Lujan Grisham told reporters. 

New Mexicans only

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, was promoted as a fix to legislation that was passed into law last year.

Bill that backers say can help healthcare around the state goes to Guv’s desk

The Senate unanimously passed a bill that will enable pharmacists to be paid for time spent prescribing emergency contraception and hormonal contraception. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed. Backers say HB 42 will particularly help rural pharmacists and rural patients. Senator Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, who carried the bill in the Senate, said it helps pharmacists because they are paid for filling prescriptions, but they are not paid for the time they spend prescribing medications. Because there are doctor shortages in rural areas in New Mexico, this could help rural patients, say backers of the bill.

Legislature adjourns sine die

Legislators in both chambers adjourned sine die at noon on Thursday, ending the 2020 legislative session. The at-times contentious legislative session finished with most key bills crossing the finish line and heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk, though many bills failed to get hearings in the House because of stalling by House Republicans. The Legislature finished the budget process early Thursday morning, with less than 12 hours until the end of the session. Capital outlay legislation, which provides funding for public works throughout the state, also passed in the final hours of the session. The thirty-day session is focused on the budget; any legislation not related to budget needs to be put on the agenda by the governor to be considered.

A bill to prohibit requiring NDAs for sexual harassment settlements headed to Guv’s desk

A bill that supporters say will prevent serial sexual harassers in the workplace passed the Senate floor 23 to 13. HB 21 will enable victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination in the workplace to determine if a nondisclosure agreement should be part of a settlement with a former employer. Backers of the bill say it levels the playing field and prevents serial abuse. The bill is now headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. According to Christopher Papalco, a University of New Mexico law student, 38 percent of sexual harassment claims in New Mexico involve repeat offenders.