Bills on clean fuel standard, air regulations and an environmental database clear first committees

Three environmental bills passed their first committees Tuesday. The Senate Conservation Committee passed two bills, one related to a clean fuel standard and the other related to improving air quality in the state, while the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee passed a bill to create an environmental database. 

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, presented SB 11, the Clean Fuel Standard Act, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said is one of her legislative priorities for the session. The bill would direct the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) Environmental Improvement Board to promulgate rules creating a clean fuel standard for transportation fuels. Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, is the House sponsor of the bill. 

“It’s a smart approach to positively impact our economy, our public health, and our environment,” Stewart said. She estimated that the bill would yield a 4.7 million ton reduction of carbon emissions from the state’s transportation sector “with no change needed in consumer behavior.”

Stewart also said the bill would generate sustainable growth for the state’s economy by supporting a new industry. 

“We’re estimating about $47 million annually in economic investments by enacting this bill and merely by announcing the bill, our agencies are hearing from new businesses that want to come to New Mexico, and others that want to expand here,” Stewart said.

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.

Bill requiring police to wear body cams while on duty heads to governor

Amid calls for increased scrutiny of law enforcement, the House of Representatives voted 44-26 to approve a measure that would require all New Mexico police officers to wear body cameras. 

The legislation, passed by the House two days after the state Senate concluded its business and departed a special session that focused on shoring up the state budget, now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. Lujan Grisham praised the work of the Legislature during the special session, but noted it is only the start as New Mexico looks to the 60-day session in January amid a severe economic downturn brought on by falling oil prices and the COVID-19 crisis. “Let me be clear: The work of rebuilding our state economy has only begun,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “But we will, I have no doubt, construct a more robust and inclusive economy than ever before as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with everything we’ve got. “And the work we’ve begun on civil rights and public safety reform and election accessibility and small business relief will remain a chief priority of my administration,” she added.

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.

Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’

Hed: Reproductive justice advocates say abortion ban repeal ‘next year’

Many reproductive justice advocates said their biggest disappointment of the 2020 legislative session is that the 1969 New Mexico law banning abortion is still on the books. But some in the Respect NM Women Coalition, a group of reproductive justice advocates and organizations, say ‘next year.’

“We’re looking forward to repealing the state’s archaic 1969 abortion ban in 2021,” said Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The nonprofit she leads is part of the coalition. While the law is still on the books, it is not currently enforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision. The law is worrisome for many because the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Louisiana law, June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee) requiring abortion clinics in that state to be affiliated with a hospital and have admitting privileges.

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.