Bill to fund strategic water reserve passes Senate Conservation Committee

A bill that would appropriate $25 million for the state to acquire water rights to help meet interstate compact and endangered species requirements passed the Senate Conservation Committee on an 8-0 vote on Thursday. This comes after last year’s allocation of $15 million to the state strategic water reserve was fully spent, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, said. That money helped the state secure a lease from Jicarilla Apache Nation for up to 20,000 acre feet of water in the San Juan River that was previously used for operations of the San Juan Generating Station. SB 167 is sponsored by Stefanics and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, as well as Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

Bill expanding State Forestry Division’s ability to prevent fires passes committee

A bill that would expand the State Forester’s ability to improve forest health and address post-fire concerns passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 11-0 vote on Thursday. The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, and Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. HB 195 would allow the State Forestry Division to conduct or contract for activities to prevent or suppress fires. It would also give the SFD the ability to “conserve forests and forest resources, maintain and improve forest health, conduct post-fire slope stabilization, erosion control, riparian restoration, seeding and reforestation of burned areas, research forestry and forest fires, conduct urban and community forestry, establish nurseries, and furnish forestry and forest fire-related technical assistance to New Mexicans, including through technical advice and projects related to the mitigation of or adaptation to conditions caused by climate change,” according to the fiscal impact report. Prior to discussions, Nibert introduced an amendment that would make it clear that the state could only go onto private property without permission in an emergency situation, such as if a fire was approaching and actions needed to be taken on private property.

Legislative Roundup

Days remaining in session: 43

Solar power: A bill that would require all new residential construction to include photovoltaic systems and receptacles for electric vehicles eked out of the Senate Conservation Committee on a 4-3 vote Thursday. “As we’re moving toward electrifying everything, we ought to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 77. “This does not require retrofitting.” Under the bill, the photovoltaic system would have to provide at least one watt per square foot of heated area, which Soules called a “reasonable balance.” “That’s probably not enough, but it’s enough to make a significant difference in someone’s electric bill and to reduce some of the concerns and problems on the grid as there’s more construction going in,” he said.

Spring burn ban bill brought off table, amended version passes Senate committee

The Senate Conservation Committee passed a bill on Thursday on a 5-2 vote that would ban prescribed burns in the spring months when the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning. SB 21, sponsored by Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, initially was tabled by the committee. The committee made the rare decision to bring the bill off the table to be heard again after Griggs made some changes. The previous version would have completely banned prescribed burning in the spring. After Griggs submitted a committee substitute that limited the ban to days when there are red flag conditions, many of the opponents said they supported the bill or no longer opposed it.

Bill to eliminate statute of limitations in civil cases for child sexual abuse clears first committee

A bill that will, if enacted, eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in child sexual abuse incidences passed a Senate committee unanimously. SB 126, Child Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations, is sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque. She said the current law gives the victim until their 24th birthday or three years after they disclose during treatment to file a civil case against the perpetrator. “This allows folks to get to the courthouse door. We know from extensive studies, trauma can last a long time.

"Vote Here" signs in front of the Otero County Administration Building on New York Avenue in Alamogordo.

Bill prohibiting firearms at polling places advances

A bill to ban firearms at all polling places was approved in the Senate Rules Committee on a 6 to 3 vote. Polling places that are located inside schools already have this provision in place, but SB 44 would expand it to all polling locations. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored SB 44. The bill states that, “Unlawful carrying of a firearm at a polling place consists of carrying a loaded or unloaded firearm within one hundred feet of a polling place on election day or while early voting is in progress.”

The bill allows law enforcement or other authorized security personnel to carry their firearms.

The bill’s Fiscal Impact Report notes that this would constitute a new petty misdemeanor causing those charged under SB 44 to spend up to six months incarcerated which could cost counties funding to house more inmates. “Based on the marginal cost of each additional inmate in New Mexico’s jail system, each offender sentenced to jail for this crime could result in estimated increased costs up to $9,614 to counties,” the Fiscal Impact Report states.”It is difficult to estimate how many individuals will be charged, convicted, or get time in prison or jail based on the creation of a new crime.” 

The Administrative Office of the District Attorneys state in the report that the bill would survive a Second Amendment challenge.

House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis asks a question during the committee hearing for HJR 9 concerning bail reform.

Effort to change bail system one step closer to the ballot

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee heard House Joint Resolution 9 Wednesday morning. The committee moved the legislation to the House Judiciary Committee with a Do Pass Without Recommendation. The legislation proposes a constitutional amendment to allow bail denial conditions to be set by the Legislature. It would also remove the judicial requirement that bail decisions are only made by courts of record, removes the bail denial limitation for those charged with felonies, clarifies that bail may be denied if conditions of release would not “reasonably assure” the defendant’s court appearances and the legislation removes some court procedural directions. HJR 9  updates language in the part that prevents defendants from being detained based on an inability to pay.

Bill to make obtaining orders of protection easier passes Senate committee

A bill that will make orders of protection easier for survivors to obtain passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee with no opposition. SB 18, Rename Family Violence Act, cleared the committee on an 8-0 vote. It will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee next. SB 18, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, significantly rewrites the Family Violence Protection Act to improve victims’ ability to request an order of protection and to expand the list of reasons an order can be obtained. If the bill becomes law a survivor will be able to request an order for protection in the event of kidnapping, false imprisonment, interference with communication, threats to disclose immigration status, harm or threats to harm animals to intimidate, threaten or harass a person and unauthorized distribution of sensitive images.

Legislative Roundup

Days remaining in session: 44

“School choice” shot down: The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday tabled a bill that would have created a $100 million fund to help parents pay for their children’s private school tuition. The sponsor of Senate Bill 109, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said after the hearing he wasn’t surprised by the committee’s 4-2 party-line vote that likely means the bill is dead this session. “I’ve been up here 11 years, and we’ve done nothing to fix education. We just keep status quo, and that’s what we did again,” he said, adding he “completely expected” his proposal to be shot down by Senate Democrats “because the unions run the Democrat Party.” Brandt, a committee member, joined Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, in voting against the motion to table the bill.

Bill updating Campaign Reporting Act clears first committee

The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill that would make changes to the state’s campaign finance reporting law on Wednesday. 

SB 4 would, if enacted, revise the campaign finance reporting schedule and campaign finance reporting requirements. The bill passed on a 6-3 vote. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque. More: Modernizing the Legislature to be discussed during this year’s session

These revisions include definition updates, allowing reports to be filed the next business day should the due date be on a state holiday, bars candidates from making an expenditure to repay an interest-bearing loan from themselves and requires loan terms to be reported. It also expands the legislative session prohibited fundraising period to include incumbents or candidates for a proscribed office, campaign committee or legislative caucus committee.