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. 

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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.

Collective bargaining bill passes Senate

The full state Senate passed a bill in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that proponents say would better protect workers and provide more consistency to New Mexico’s collective bargaining laws. The bill’s supporters say it will update and modernize its Public Employees Bargaining Act, which they call one of the weakest in the U.S. The legislation provides a timeline for the Land of Enchantment to restructure and standardize its unusual system of 52 local labor boards, which proponents say currently leads to inconsistent labor policy. Republican senators pushed the debate on House Bill 364 nearly three hours, picking apart the bill and aiming repeated complaints and criticisms at Sen. Mimi Stewart, who introduced it on the floor. The legislation eventually passed 24-17, largely along party lines, although one prominent Democrat voted against it. “It’s time to look at [the law] and change it, be thoughtful about it, and that’s what we’re trying to offer tonight,” said Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

Senate passes version of budget, sends back to House

The state Senate passed the main budget bill Wednesday by a wide margin after a lengthy debate in which Republicans warned of the dangers of New Mexico’s dependence on oil and gas, while a couple of progressive Democrats argued for spending more. The chamber approved its amended version of House Bill 2 by a vote of 35-7 after a two-hour debate, calling for a $7.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 that would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and leave reserves at 25 percent. The House now needs to agree with the Senate’s changes before the General Appropriations Act can move to the governor’s desk. A House vote on the amended bill was expected Wednesday night. NM Political Report update: The House concurred with the Senate changes early Thursday morning and the budget will be sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.

Insurance handout is coming, say backers of health fund bill that stalled

New Mexico legislators are giving a handout to insurance companies, say backers of a bill designed to create a fund for the uninsured. 

The bill passed the House floor 41 to 25 earlier this week but failed to make it to the Senate Finance Committee agenda by Wednesday evening. It has to go through that committee before reaching the Senate floor. The legislative session ends at noon on Thursday. Adriann Barboa, spokesperson for a coalition of nonprofits serving the vulnerable called New Mexico Together for Health Care, called  HB 278 a “one-time opportunity” for New Mexicans to get nearly everyone in the state insured. The federal government made a change to give a tax rebate to insurance companies this year.

Senate panel trims 2021 budget

A cut here, a whack there — and a budget takes form. But not without some acrimony. The Senate Finance Committee released considerable changes to the state’s main budget bill Tuesday, trimming the House’s spending plan in high-visibility areas such as roads and teacher pay raises, and scaling down one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most prized pieces of legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship. The committee unanimously approved its amendments to House Bill 2, which calls for a $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year, and moves the legislation to the Senate floor. That would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and would target reserves at 25 percent.

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.