Bill to amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act passes House

A bill that would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to include public agencies passed the House 52 to 14. HB 192, sponsored by Rep. Brittany Barreras, D-Albuquerque, had a quick debate during the Saturday House floor session. The bill would amend the state’s Human Rights Act to clarify that public bodies and state agencies are subject to its provisions prohibiting discrimination because of race, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth, physical or mental disability, serious medical condition or spousal affiliation. The bill would also modernize the language for individuals with disabilities in the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, Barreras said. Rep. Randall Crowder, R-Clovis, asked about potential additional costs to the state if the bill passes.

Doctors urge lawmakers to pass Healthy Workplaces bill

During a press conference on Friday, two New Mexico doctors urged the state senate and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to support the Healthy Workplaces bill during a press conference on Friday. HB 20 passed the House 36 to 33 after a three-hour debate on Sunday. Republicans, all of whom voted against it, largely argued the bill would hurt small businesses in New Mexico. Eight Democrats also voted against the bill. Related: Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

If passed and signed into law, HB 20 would allow all private employees working in the state to earn up to eight days of paid sick leave per year.

Bill to keep NM on daylight saving time clears Senate

New Mexicans might no longer have to change their clocks twice a year. An ongoing effort to keep New Mexico on daylight saving time year-round passed the Senate on a 22-18 vote Friday. But it’s far from a done deal. Not only does Senate Bill 102 still need approval from the state House of Representatives, where a similar measure has languished in the past, the change could occur only “after a federal law has been enacted allowing a state to exempt itself from reverting to standard time from daylight saving time,” the bill states. “Congress would have to pass enabling legislation to allow states to do this,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell.

Bill to end new contracts on private prisons passes House committee

A bill to impose a moratorium on new contracts for private prison facilities passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee 3 to 2. Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and a co-sponsor of HB 352, described it as “a newer version” of HB 40, which stalled at the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier this session. HB 352 would create a task force made up of 17 stakeholders, including the state Department of Corrections and other agency representatives, to analyze phasing out private prisons. HB 40 would have ended private prisons within 3 to 5 years in New Mexico. HB 352 is a more “narrow” approach, advocates said.

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (3/5/21 edition)

This morning recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico is available in a free email every weekday. Sign up here. See all of our COVID-19 coverage here. The state Department of Health reported 259 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday according to raw data and 16 additional deaths related to the disease. The department reported 177 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Thursday, a new months-long low for the metric.The state is now below 300 daily cases on a seven-day average, the Albuquerque Journal noted.The state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard said the state has administered 627,665 doses as of Thursday—401,020 primary doses and 226,665 secondary doses. This does not include any doses administered out of the 196,420 received by the Veterans Administration, Indian Health Service or Bureau of Prisons, which each administer the doses directly.As of Monday, 77.8 percent of those on the Navajo Nation had received at least one COVID-19 shot, with 28.1 percent of the population fully vaccinated, per the Navajo Times.

Haaland nomination to head Interior heads to full Senate

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination to lead the Interior Department. The committee voted 11-9, with Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting along with Democrats, to send the nomination to the full Senate. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico was among the Democrats who voted to advance Haaland’s nomination. “I am pleased that Congresswoman Haaland’s confirmation is advancing, and I am eager for the full Senate to take up her nomination so she can get to work protecting our natural heritage for future generations,” Heinrich said. Heinrich, a second-term Senator, has been a key voice supporting Haaland’s nomination.

Liquor law overhaul headed to Senate floor

A sweeping liquor license reform bill is on its way to the Senate floor after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 to move it forward Wednesday. But the committee approved a number of amendments that changed some aspects of the bill. 

Gone is a provision that would have given a $100,000 tax break to retailers who currently hold liquor licenses. 

But a clause giving longtime liquor license owners who run restaurants and bars a $200,000 tax break — $50,000 per year for four years — remains. Gone, too, is a deal that would have waived all future annual license renewal fees for those longtime liquor license owners. 

But much of House Bill 255, which passed through the House of Representatives earlier in the session, remains intact. The bill still allows for home delivery of alcohol along with food orders. 

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the bill is meant to update the decades-old liquor license law that has increased liquor license fees to well over $500,000. It is also meant to encourage new restaurateurs to get into business at an affordable price.

Senate passes bill creating state division to upgrade broadband system

Schoolchildren are still sitting in cars to access Wi-Fi hotspots to take part in virtual lessons, a leading Democratic senator told his colleagues Wednesday. That’s one reason Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, urged the Senate to support Senate Bill 93, which would create a central state office to develop and upgrade New Mexico’s broadband system. The state currently doesn’t have a blueprint for broadband, said Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque and co-sponsor of the legislation. He said creating a plan is the key focus of the bill. 

“Broadband will never happen until we put that plan in place,” Muñoz told the Senate, which voted 33-6 to support the bill following about an hour of debate Wednesday, sending the measure to the House. 

Citing a 2020 report that said despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained spotty for many New Mexicans, Padilla said only by creating an agency to focus on the problem will the state solve it. 

Among other functions, the new entity would work to draw matching federal funds for every dollar New Mexico invests in its broadband system — a goal that could bring in somewhere between $9 and $13 for every dollar spent by the state, Padilla said. 

Though improvements and new investments — a total of $325 million between 2015 and 2018 — have been made in offering and expanding broadband, the fact so many state agencies play a role in the effort leads to gaps in data and service, that 2020 report said. 

That report suggested New Mexico create an anchor agency to address the issue. New Mexico often ranks near or at the bottom in national studies when it comes to broadband capability.

Recap of New Mexico COVID-19 news (3/4/21 edition)

This morning recap of COVID-19 news from New Mexico is available in a free email every weekday. Sign up here. See all of our COVID-19 coverage here. The state reported 359 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including 37 at the Lea County Correctional Facility. The state also reported 13 additional deaths related to the disease. As of Wednesday, 195 people were hospitalized in New Mexico for the disease.Health officials spoke about the state’s vaccination efforts and about keeping an eye on Texas as they are poised to stop all COVID-19 capacity restrictions and the state’s mask mandate.

Workers and organizers rally for paid sick leave bill

Organizers held a virtual rally Tuesday evening in support of a bill that would enable workers statewide to earn paid sick leave to care for themselves or a loved one. HB 20 passed the House chamber by a vote of 36 to 33 on Sunday. The rally organizers, a group of nonprofit organizations that, together, called themselves the Paid Sick Leave Coalition, cheered its passage in the House and expressed hope that the bill will also make it to the state Senate. Related: Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

The Healthy Workplaces bill would, if passed, mandate that all private employers allow workers to accrue up to 8 days of paid sick leave a year. Two of the bill’s co-sponsors, Democratic Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, of Albuquerque, and Rep. Angelica Rubio, of Las Cruces, spoke virtually during the rally about the work to get the bill through.