Efforts are underway to craft legislation for regional water utility authorities

With only a few months left before the beginning of the legislative session, efforts are picking up to draft legislation. 

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, hosted a meeting on Tuesday to discuss legislation that would enable the creation of regional water utility authorities similar to the ones that serve communities in the Lower Rio Grande area and Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This is not the legislation’s first rodeo, as Herrera put it. Wirth sponsored the Regional Water Utility Authority Act in 2019, but it died. Currently, small water systems in the state have options like entering into joint power agreements or creating umbrella entities, but these don’t fully address the needs. “I want to believe that timing is everything,” Herrera said.

Amid New Mexico’s history of legacy pollution, Holtec tells lawmakers that nuclear storage proposal is safe and secure

Officials with the company that wishes to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico are working to assure lawmakers that it would be both safe and secure. 

Holtec International Project Director Ed Mayer presented the plans for the nuclear fuel storage to the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee on Thursday during its meeting in Hobbs. His presentation comes as New Mexico has been fighting the company’s proposal. During this year’s legislative session, legislators introduced a bill to ban the storage of spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico. While the bill made it through two committees, the House ultimately did not pass the proposal. 

Related: Bill to ban spent nuclear fuel storage in New Mexico passes committee

While the bill did not pass this year, spent nuclear fuel storage will likely be debated once again during next year’s session. In July, after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced plans to issue a license to Holtec to construct and operate the facility, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called upon the Legislature to “deliver a proposal to my desk that protects New Mexico from becoming the de facto home of the country’s spent nuclear fuel and it will have my full support.”

Opponents point to the risks surrounding radioactive material as well as the history of pollution in New Mexico and environmental racism.

Rail Runner funding removed from junior spending bill

The Rail Runner will not be receiving $1 million to temporarily reduce fares to riders. A proposal to provide the money to the public transit organization was removed from the “junior” spending bill on Tuesday during the Senate Finance Committee and a later attempt by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, to add it back in was unsuccessful. The funding for the Rail Runner to reduce fares was not in the bill that previously passed the Legislature during the regular session earlier this year. That bill was brought back for the special session after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed it. The governor said in her veto message that it circumvented the normal process for spending bills and said that some of the projects were not fully funded, which could result in money being  “wasted on projects that will never be completed.”

Proponents of including the Rail Runner funding said that one reason for the special session was to provide relief to New Mexicans struggling because of the cost of gasoline.

Omnibus crime bill heads to governor’s desk

Midway through Rep. Meredith Dixon’s introduction to an omnibus crime bill put together by the Senate, Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, stopped her. At 4 a.m., he explained, the server for the legislative webcasts resets every morning and they would stand in place while that took place. Dixon, an Albuquerque Democrat, continued her explanation of the new portions of the HB 68 after the brief interruption, speaking for another ten minutes. This was just a short portion of the three hours of conversation. In all, the new version of the bill included 54 sections, a massive change from the five-section bill that left the House earlier in the legislative session.

House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions

The House Judiciary Committee passed an omnibus voting bill, SB 144, that includes provisions of two other voting bills, SB 8 and SB 6, on a party line vote of 9-3 Tuesday evening. After Senate Republicans blocked a Senate floor debate and vote on SB 8 over the weekend, House Democrats moved the provisions from that bill into another voting bill, SB 144. SB 144, sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, initially aimed to protect election workers from intimidation, threat or use of force or violence, damage or harm while carrying out their duties during an election. The penalty for the crime is a fourth degree felony. The bill also has already passed the Senate, removing a barrier with less than two days left in the session.

Low-income energy efficiency bill passes Senate, heads to Governor’s desk

A bill intended to lower how much low-income residents pay in utility bills passed the Senate on Tuesday on a 26-14 party-line vote. HB 37, the Community Energy Efficiency Development Block Grant, would allow communities to apply for funding to help lower-income areas with energy efficiency upgrades such as weatherization or replacing old appliances. It passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 5. Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, co-sponsored the measure and presented it on the Senate floor.

Teacher pay increases head to governor

Advocates calling for teacher pay raises have reason to celebrate. 

The House of Representatives voted unanimously late Monday night to approve Senate Bill 1, which would increase the minimum pay at each level of the state’s three-tiered teacher licensing system by $10,000. The measure is one strategy aimed at addressing a crisis-level teacher shortage across New Mexico. SB 1 now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who put her support behind the legislation early on. She called it the largest educator pay raise in recent years and announced after the House vote she planned to sign the bill into law. That means starting teachers will see their pay rise to $50,000 from $40,000, while middle-tier teachers will see a jump in the base pay to $60,000 from $50,000.

Joint Senate committee advances broad crime reform bill to floor

With just a few days to go before the end of this year’s legislative session, members of both the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve a broad crime reform bill — though it isn’t keeping critics from lambasting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But rather than focus on imposing stricter laws and penalties, Senate Bill 231 targets providing stipends to recruit and retain police officers; adding more officer training programs; creating a statewide database through which state and federal law enforcement agencies can share information; and generating three additional judgeships to increase trial capacity. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for a vote. 

The vote came in the same week police arrested two people, including a man with a lengthy criminal record, in the nonfatal shooting of a state police officer near Edgewood, and the random stabbings of 11 people in Albuquerque Sunday. Some lawmakers alluded to those events as they discussed the merits of SB 231 during a Monday morning joint committee hearing held on the floor of the Senate. 

Initiatives included in the legislation, its supporters said, will do more to prevent crime than locking criminals up for longer periods of time. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said longer incarcerations are an “overly simple” approach to fighting crime, and did not deter Caleb Dustin Elledge, the suspect in the shooting of the state police officer, from committing more crimes. 

“He wasn’t too concerned about serving the original sentence or an enhanced sentence,” Cervantes said of Elledge, who is from Los Lunas.

Controversial ‘hydrogen hub’ bill is dead

One of the most contentious bills in this year’s legislative session is dead. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Monday announced he was moving House Bill 228 — aimed to help New Mexico become a hub of clean hydrogen energy — to the “Speaker’s Table,” where it will remain on hold until the session ends. Camile Ward, spokeswoman for House Democrats, wrote in an email “the bill will not be considered further this session.” The bill’s chances of making it through the session at this point were slim, as the session concludes at noon Thursday. Even if the House had approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate, it had to pass through at least one committee hearing before getting a vote in the full chamber. 

Egolf permanently tabled a previous incarnation of the legislation, House Bill 227, last week.

Clean Future Act heads to House floor

The Clean Future Act moved out of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Saturday after lengthy discussions that began the previous day. The committee voted 6-3 to pass a committee substitute for HB 6. The vote fell on party lines after Chairwoman Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, limited the amount of time the three Republicans had to ask questions. The Clean Future Act will now move to the House floor and Louis told the Republicans that they can ask the sponsor, Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, questions about the bill on their own time. The bill coincides with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s efforts to address climate change and calls for reducing emissions across all sectors in the state with the goal of reaching net-zero emissions based on 2005 emissions levels.