Lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee came to a quick compromise Monday on a measure they hope will set the state’s sometimes controversial redistricting process on a smooth path via an independent, bipartisan panel of people to redraw voting district boundaries. A substitute bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, gained the committee’s unanimous approval, replacing two competing Senate bills — including one sponsored by Ivey-Soto. Monday’s deal came only after Ivey-Soto took a verbal swipe at critics who accused him of opposing the idea of an independent redistricting committee because his initial bill called for a committee composed of legislators. “I take a little personal some of the comments that have been made about the perspective of the Legislature in the redistricting process,” he said.
He said his name had been used as a “barrier to independent redistricting.
Democrats in the House of Representatives voiced outrage over an email from an Otero County official they claim contains a threat against Speaker Brian Egolf. Democrats contend Otero County Assessor Steve Boyd, who also serves as president of New Mexico Counties, a group that advocates for counties’ needs statewide, wrote an email about a recent Albuquerque Journal story on Egolf’s Santa Fe-based law firm settling 10 legal cases against state agencies for more than $2 million over the past five years. According to the email, Boyd wrote: “Another Democrat getting rich off of the people rather than serving them. This is why New Mexico fights an uphill battle all the time. “If I had a list, he would be on it.”
The state Department of Health reported the fewest newly reported number of COVID-19 cases in months, with 166 new cases on Monday. The department also reported 13 additional deaths related to the disease. The last time the state reported fewer than 166 cases was on Oct. 5, when the state reported 157 new cases. This low number of cases did come with a much lower than average number of newly reported tests.
After a three-hour debate in the House of Representatives late Sunday, the Healthy Workplaces bill passed 36 to 33 and will head to the Senate. HB 20 would allow all private employees working in the state to accrue up to eight days of paid sick leave per year. If passed, a full-time employee would have to work close to six weeks before being able to accrue one full day of sick leave, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said. Chandler is the lead sponsor to the bill. An employee would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. The debate largely revolved around small businesses in the state.
Even after a nearly four hour Senate committee meeting on Saturday, none of the four cannabis legalization bills the panel discussed advanced. But with encouragement from the Senate majority leader and the committee’s chair, the sponsors said they work to come up with a unified approach before another meeting next week.
It seems likely, based on comments from some committee members, that none of the Senate proposals will advance out of committee, but that portions of them will be incorporated into a House bill that has already advanced to the Senate.
Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chair Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo announced at the beginning of the meeting that the committee would not take action on any of the bills. Instead, the committee heard public testimony and examined the differences between the bills. And in a somewhat unorthodox procedure, the committee discussed HB 12, which has not yet been assigned to any Senate committees. HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps.
A House proposal to legalize and regulate cannabis passed the chamber on a 39-31 vote, with six Democrats breaking rank to vote against the measure.
HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, would fully legalize the sale and production of cannabis for adults, allow home cultivation and would expunge previous minor drug convictions. The bill would also implement an eight percent excise tax on the sale of cannabis and a local government tax up to four percent. Recreational-use cannabis would also be subject to gross receipts taxes, while medical-use cannabis would not.
Martínez said the three major tenets of the bill are to protect New Mexico’s current medical-use cannabis program, ensure an equitable and just industry and to create a regulated industry that will thrive.
Romero told her colleagues she shared the sentiments of her cosponsor and said cannabis has been used for various purposes for centuries, including in her own family.
Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo explained why he opposed the bill. He raised concerns about how a fully-legalized cannabis program might impact tribal governments in the state.