House bill calls for a commission to reduce hunger in New Mexico

The best thing about being a farmer, said Donne Gonzales of Chamisal, is rising every morning to hear the world wake up. The 26-year-old New Mexico native loves the morning songs of the birds and the rush of water in the acequias. To her, these sounds speak to the land’s power to provide food and to a hope that someday no one will lack for food. 

“One in four children in this state goes hungry,” said Gonzales, who also works with a program training new farmers. “They are not getting the nutritional value, which leads to deficiencies and health issues and weight problems,” she added. “Then they are not healthy, not feeling good, and they cannot be paying attention in our educational system while their tummies are growling.”

Gas tax increase aims to help state’s subpar roads

New Mexico’s roadways are in terrible shape, and they’re costing the average driver $767 annually in additional vehicle operating costs, according to a new report. But motorists don’t need to read a narrative to understand the condition of New Mexico’s interstates, highways and roads. “All you have to do is hop in your vehicle and drive a couple of miles,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Thursday during a virtual news conference. “Our roads at the moment are a complete disaster, and we do need to take it seriously,” added Padilla, vice chairman of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. The report by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found 56 percent of major roads and highways in New Mexico are in poor or mediocre condition due to inadequate state and local funding.

Community solar bill heads to the House

A bill that would allow communities to subscribe to local solar facilities passed the Senate floor Thursday. 

SB 84, sponsored by Democratic Senators Liz Stefanics of Cerrillos and Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, would direct the Public Regulation Commission to evaluate existing community solar programs and develop and adopt rules for a program in New Mexico by April 2022. Each project would be limited to producing 5 megawatts of electricity each year, and facilities would be limited to generating 100 megawatts per year, which Lopez said is about 1 percent of the total annual electricity generation in the state. 

Each project would require an anchor tenant that would subscribe to no more than 40 percent of the project’s electricity capacity, and each project would need at least 10 subscribers before construction can begin. Lopez said the bill targets low income participation. 

“Community solar is favorable to low income participants, because it typically offers them savings, no upfront costs, and no penalty to cancel the subscription to a community solar facility,” Lopez said. “Thirty percent of the annual program capacity is reserved for low income customers and low income service organizations, and the PRC will issue guidelines to ensure the low income carve out is achieved each year.” 

Lopez also highlighted the economic benefits of community solar. She pointed to a UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research study that estimated community solar could deliver some $517 million in economic benefits and would generate $2.9 million in tax revenue for the state.

Legislation to curb governor’s power during emergency moves forward

Legislation that would let voters decide whether to curb the governor’s authority over emergency orders slipped past its second hurdle Wednesday when the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted to move it forward. Committee members, who were divided on House Joint Resolution 6, initially stalled it on a 4-4 vote. However, at the urging of a sponsor, Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely of Albuquerque, the committee then voted 7-1 to move it to the House Judiciary Committee with no recommendation for approval. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, the committee’s chairwoman, cast the lone vote against the move. Under HJR 6, voters would decide whether they want to add a new section to the state constitution to set limits on the length of time a governor’s emergency order can remain in effect without legislative approval.

Health officials talk about vaccination efforts, as NM receives more doses

Health officials spoke on Wednesday during a press conference about the rollout of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a new emphasis on certain areas of the state for new doses and even the decision by Texas’ governor to end that state’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions. This came ahead of the state announcing 359 new cases of COVID-19 and thirteen additional deaths related to the disease. Nearly 40 of the new cases, 37, were among inmates of the Lea County Correctional Facility, which has seen hundreds of new cases in the last few days. Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins said the state received 17,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but would receive few, if any, vaccines in the coming weeks until the company can manufacture more doses. While she did not have the names of the counties available immediately, she said that the vaccines would be sent to ten counties with low vaccine coverage and high ratings on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.