Legislators unveil bill to shift PRC authority to governor’s administration

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would dramatically alter the structure of the state’s Public Regulation Commission, shifting nearly every division currently under its authority to a department within the governor’s administration. Although the PRC is a state commission, it is an entity not under the control of the state’s governor. Legislation proposed by state Reps. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, would change that, and comes amid frustration from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and some lawmakers over disagreement with the PRC on whether the Energy Transition Act applies to plans from the state’s largest utility to abandon and recover investments into a coal-fired power plant near Farmington. The energy act, signed into law by the governor in 2019, would allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to recover investment costs sunk into the San Juan Generating Station and requires the state to shift to zero-carbon electricity production by 2045.

Senate prohibits firearms for big hearing on guns, cannabis

The state Senate’s Democratic leadership has banned firearms from a much-anticipated hearing set to take place Tuesday on a controversial gun bill, citing safety concerns. 

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said on the chamber floor Monday that the public will not be able to carry guns while attending a Senate Public Affairs Committee hearing on legislation that would allow so-called extreme risk protection orders. “We want to make sure we don’t have any incidents,” Papen, D-Las Cruces, said in an interview. “Nationally, we have so much anger on this issue. We’re just trying to forestall any problems.” 

The legislation, filed as Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 7, is a marquee item on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and likely to be one of the most contentious bills heard during the session. The New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association has voiced strong disapproval of the proposal, which would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to remove guns from people considered dangerous.

Policymakers say education overhaul will take years

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham enters the second year of an education overhaul she promised on the campaign trail — and a state judge mandated months before she took office — she and other policymakers say the changes will come over decades, not within legislative sessions. They point to persistent problems, such as low rates of student proficiency in math and reading and high numbers of high school dropouts, and say solutions will require years of steadily increasing investments in building an education workforce that suffers from a severe shortage. They say initiating programs to aid the state’s most vulnerable kids and extending classroom time — both expensive propositions — are a start, but add the effort requires New Mexico to rethink how it views education funding. “People say we just throw money at it, but we haven’t ever tried throwing money at it,” said state Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat who serves on the Senate Education Committee. “We’ve done nothing but underfund for years.

White House move to end ‘birth tourism’ discriminatory and misleading, say advocates

The White House announced Thursday it is halting the practice of what it calls “birth tourism” but New Mexico reproductive justice advocates call the new rule discriminatory and say it puts migrants at risk. As of Friday the State Department stopped issuing temporary visitor visas to nonresidents who enter in order to give birth on American soil. The practice enables the baby to be a U.S. citizen. Although it’s not known how many people engage in birth tourism, some conservatives consider it a “loophole” in immigration policy. But reproductive justice advocates call foul and say it’s another tool to demonize immigrants in general, and women immigrants and pregnant immigrants in particular.

Lawmakers renew effort to alter practice of diverting federal aid to rural schools

New Mexico for years has taken a large share of federal education aid intended for rural schools that lie in areas with large parcels of public and tribal lands and has distributed it to other districts, including urban ones. Legislation that would have undone the long-standing practice quietly died last year. State lawmakers have renewed the effort with more force in the current legislative session, introducing at least four bills designed to make up for tens of millions of dollars in federal Impact Aid diverted each year from rural districts, including many that serve Native American students. “It’s an issue of fairness,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who co-sponsored one of the bills. While New Mexico funds public school districts through a formula based on student numbers using money from several sources — including oil and gas revenues — school districts in many states heavily rely on property taxes.

Education committee members decry public school spending plans

Lawmakers on the state House and Senate education committees on Wednesday decried the lack of funds proposed for some of their priorities for fiscal year 2021, indicating a deeper conflict is broiling over the largest share of the state’s budget as the Legislature and governor begin hashing out differences in their spending plans. During a joint hearing on public school funding proposed by both the Legislative Finance Committee and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, education committee members said their input over the past year has been ignored. The initiatives they cited as underfinanced or omitted completely ranged from cybersecurity to teacher recruitment and retention efforts to providing feminine hygiene products for teen girls. Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and former school board member who serves on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee, said she didn’t think the voices of educators, school administrators and higher education officials were “entirely reflected” in the competing budget proposals. “I feel like we have been left in the lurch,” added Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, a former teacher and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Pueblo eyes film production facility to meet what state says is rising demand

Tesuque Pueblo is actively pursuing plans to turn its old Camel Rock Casino into a film production facility after the space was used last year for the movie production of News of the World, starring Tom Hanks. 

The Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp. is in talks with scouts for film and television companies about using the location for future productions, said Timothy Brown, the entity’s president and CEO. The former casino, located off U.S. 84/285, could be used on a short- or long-term basis or rented to a major production company, he said. 

“We feel it’s a great use of that facility,” Brown said Wednesday. “It’s a great space because of the numerous rooms and the size of the rooms for production facilities, wardrobe, building sets and for storage.” The pueblo’s pivot to film comes as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says demand for production facilities in the state is on the rise.

PHOTOS: Opening day at the Legislature

Elected officials from around the state gathered at the Roundhouse on Tuesday for the opening day of the Legislature. Here’s a look at the day in photos. Climate activists representing the New Mexico chapter of the Extinction Rebellion held banners and waved flags outside the Roundhouse. Extinction Rebellion New Mexico held an event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday to give testimony before the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) at a hearing about PNM’s proposal for replacing power generated at the San Juan Generating Station with natural gas and renewable energy alternatives. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, center, at the opening day of the Legislature.

Musical chairs with Senate committee leadership

The New Mexico Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved three new leaders for key committees, including Sen. Joseph Cervantes as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He succeeds a longtime colleague, Richard Martinez, who was convicted last month of aggravated drunken driving. Earlier in the day, the Senate Committees’ Committee, which chooses members of other panels that debate legislation before it reaches the Senate floor, selected Cervantes for the high-profile leadership position in which he likely will influence two key issues: legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use, which he opposes, and a firearms restriction for people considered at risk of harming someone, which he supports. Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, relinquished the committee chairmanship after his conviction but did not step down from his Senate seat. Martinez injured two people in a drunken-driving crash in Española in June.

Egolf challenger Johnston begins 7 day fast on Capitol steps

The woman who is challenging the state’s Speaker of the House for his seat in this year’s elections began the first of seven days of fasting and public engagement on the steps of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe Monday. Lyla June Johnston, who will face Santa Fe Democrat Brian Egolf in the Democratic primary, will be unveiling the pillars of her seven-point “Seven Generations New Deal” platform each day of the “Fast for the Future” event. The campaign is focused heavily on addressing the climate crisis and protecting the planet for future generations. “It’s a seven day fast because we want policy to support the next seven generations. It’s a very long-view policy outlook,” Johnston told NM Political Report, something she believes is missing from our current political leadership.