Environmental bills coming in the 2021 legislative session

With just one week away from the 2021 session, state legislators have prefiled over 120 bills. Here’s a glimpse of some of the environment-focused bills we’ll be watching. 

The Green Amendment: State Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque and Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, are proposing an amendment to the New Mexico state constitution to protect the state’s natural resources. Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces is introducing the bill in the House. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would provide residents of New Mexico with environmental rights, including a right to a clean and healthy environment and a right to the preservation of the environment. The amendment would also direct the state to protect environmental resources for the benefit of all the people. Ferrary told NM Political Report the resolution is “part of the Green Amendment movement that’s going on around the country.” The Green Amendment refers to a movement among state governments to enact protections for the environment within state constitutions.

Guv declares state of emergency as state prepares for ‘likely’ riots at government buildings

On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency over “likely” riots at the state capitol and other government buildings this weekend and through next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. The governor cited last week’s “violent insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol and “credible intelligence that threats of similar riots exist and are likely to occur at the capitol building and other prominent government buildings in all 50 states either before or on January 20, 2021.”

The declaration directs the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to direct the response and the Adjutant General of the New Mexico National Guard “to order into service any element of the New Mexico National Guard as may be needed to provide military support to civil authorities.”

Earlier this week, the FBI warned in an internal bulletin that some protesters are planning on “storming” all 50 state capitols, the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and other government buildings including courthouses between now and Jan. 20. New Mexico leaders told NM Political Report earlier this week that they are preparing for such a protest, as the first day of the New Mexico legislative session and Biden’s inauguration next week. The FBI bulletin, according to ABC News, advised that local and state law enforcement beef up operations.

Legislators will again try to repeal antiquated abortion ban

With a new set of members in the state Senate, a bill to repeal the New Mexico 1969 abortion ban is expected to be filed in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature. Six Democrats who support abortion rights beat Republicans in November, in some cases after defeating anti-abortion Democrats in June’s primary, for state Senate seats, tipping the balance of power further to the left in the upper chamber. The state Senate defeated the 2019 effort to repeal the antiquated state law that bans abortion with few exceptions. Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins

Of the eight Democrats who sided with Republicans on the repeal vote two years ago, only two remain: state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and state Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. Incoming state Senators Carrie Hamblen, Siah Correa Hemphill and Leo Jaramillo, all progressive Democrats who ran on reproductive health, defeated their incumbent Democrat opponents in the primary and then won again in November against their Republican challengers.

Legislators seek to reform drug laws

New Mexico lawmakers have tried to take on drug addiction and deadly overdoses for decades. During previous years, lawmakers from both major parties attempted to address opiate epidemics in the state through both increased penalties and more progressive measures. 

This year, with not only a Democratic majority and a Democratic governor, but also a new incoming class of  more progressive Democrats in the Senate, the state could see movement on bills that would lower penalties for drug possession as well as public health minded approaches to addiction. 

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report that she plans to sponsor a bill that would allow for safe and legal places to use illegal narcotics, often referred to as safe injection sites. The idea, Armstrong said, is that people would be able to bring already obtained narcotics to a designated location where there would be medical professionals on hand to assist in the event of an overdose and provide resources for recovery. 

“It makes sense to me, for public safety, for the health and safety of the individual and a different attempt to try and get folks help,” Armstrong said. 

Armstrong, who has consistently sponsored healthcare related bills during her six years in the Legislature, said safe consumption sites would hopefully address concerns in many communities regarding used needles scattered around public areas like parks and playgrounds. But, she said, it would also address over-criminalization of substance addiction. 

“It is definitely a healthcare issue,” Armstrong said. “But it is a criminal justice reform as well, because this is a safe place with no threat of being arrested.

Bill would halt new fracking permits while state conducts impact studies

State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would enact a four-year pause on fracking permits while studies are conducted to determine the impacts of fracking on agriculture, environment and water resources and public health. 

The bill directs state agencies and departments, including the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the New Mexico Environment Department, the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture to study and report annually to the governor and the relevant legislative committees on the impacts of fracking on the respective sectors. 

“It’s not a moratorium on fracking or banning fracking altogether. It is simply a pause on issuing new permits for four years,” Sedillo Lopez told NM Political Report. 

“The bill requires agencies to study the issue of fracking, and to give recommendations to the legislature for legislation and rules that would be appropriate to deal with the consequences of fracking on our air, our land, our water, and our health,” she said. 

The 2021 session will be the third time state legislators will consider the bill, which failed to get on the call during the last 30-day session in January 2020. In even-numbered years, only budget bills and bills on topics chosen by the governor can be discussed by the Legislature. The 2021 version of the bill hasn’t been prefiled. 

RELATED: State environmental regulators face thinner budgets amid pandemic and oil slump

In past legislative sessions, the bill has received pushback from Republicans and legislators representing districts in the state’s two energy-producing zones. A fiscal impact report on the bill from 2019 estimated the state would lose $3.5 billion by halting new fracking permits for four years, but an updated analysis is needed to better predict the possible fiscal implications moving forward. 

Sedillo Lopez said that the bill has support among many environmental groups and concerned residents, but added that she was surprised at the opposition it has received among other groups. 

“The reaction was actually stunning.

NM cannabis industry group gives priorities for a legalization bill

It is likely that the general public will not see drafts of recreational-use cannabis legalization proposals from the legislature until next month, but one group is already suggesting language and looking for a legislative sponsor. 

The New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce publicly released an early of a recreational-use cannabis bill that they say highlights what those in the industry see as important issues. The chamber is made up of more than 40 cannabis organizations, ranging from educational and legal groups to actual cultivators and dispensaries. 

The chamber’s director, Ben Lewinger, said the group worked tirelessly to come up with language that puts the state first. 

“Our members have an agreement that what’s best for their individual companies right now is not necessarily what’s going to be best for the future of cannabis in New Mexico,” Lewinger said. 

The chamber’s early draft includes portions that were included in previous legislation, but also adds to them. 

One issue that has been publicly discussed, but not included in previous attempts is how to ensure cannabis businesses are mostly local. 

The chamber’s proposed solution is to only allow businesses with at least 60 percent of the company owned by those who have lived in the state for two years. Lewinger said the chamber wanted to ensure New Mexicans have a stake in cannabis sales, but also not hinder the flow of capital from outside the state. 

“We were trying to strike a balance between it being a true homegrown New Mexico industry, but not limiting the ability for out-of-state money to come into a New Mexico run company,” he said. 

Oklahoma, which only has a medical cannabis program, albeit one of the most prosperous in the country, has a provision that requires 25 percent of ownership is locally based. But Oklahoma is also facing a legal challenge in federal court over that requirement. Lewinger said given the pending Oklahoma case, he wouldn’t be surprised if New Mexico faces a similar challenge, if the bill moves forward as written.

An anti-discrimination bill to help protect LGBTQ expected to be filed next month

An anti-discrimination bill to help protect the LGBTQ community in the state will be filed in January ahead of the state legislative session. State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the panic defense bill, which he introduced in the 2019 Legislature. That year, SB 159 passed two committees but Candelaria said he pulled the bill to wait for a friendlier time in the Legislature. He noted that after the Nov. 3 election, there will be six lawmakers, including Candelaria, who are openly members of the LGBTQ community.

NM Senate Dems pick leadership, make choice for pro tem nominee

New Mexico Senate Democrats picked their leadership Saturday and made their nomination of who they want in the Senate president pro tem spot. 

The majority party in the Senate picked Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque as their choice for pro tem, but the full Senate will still vote when they meet for the 2021 legislative session in January. 

In a statement through the Senate Democrats, Stewart said she hopes Democrats and Republicans can work together next year. 

“I am honored to have the support of the Democratic Caucus for President Pro Tempore as we enter what will undoubtedly be a difficult session that will require us to solve New Mexico’s many problems under unprecedented circumstances,” Stewart said. There’s still no guarantee that Stewart will be elected by the body as a whole. In 2013, for example, Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, was the Demcratic nominee for the pro tem spot, but a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans had enough votes to put Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, into the spot. Papen lost in this year’s Democratic primary to Democrat Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces. Hamblen went on to win in the general election. 

Earlier this week, there seemed to be some tension among some Senate Democrats leading up to Saturday’s caucus meeting.

Tension among Democrats over pro tem race

The alleged involvement of a progressive political group in the race for state Senate president pro tem seems to be causing some consternation among some New Mexico Senate Democrats.   

According to sources familiar with the Senate Democratic Caucus, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, announced during a recent caucus meeting that he was approached by an unnamed political group that offered something in exchange if Cervantes voted for the groups choice for pro tem. 

Sources NM Political Report spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said Cervantes did not specify what was offered or which political group offered it. 

Cervantes declined to discuss the matter, but did not deny that it happened. 

“I think it’s important that I work through the channels and the process we have for ethics issues,” Cervantes said. “So I’d tell you that I wouldn’t talk with you about that publicly until the appropriate time to do so.”

When asked which authority he reported the possible incident to, Cervantes didn’t give any more details. 

“I have spoken with individuals in a confidential way and in the appropriate way that we have for reporting things of concern,” he said. 

The pro tem position is voted on by the full Senate, but Democrats will have a 27-15 majority when the next legislative session begins in January. 

One source said several caucus members have been approached by representatives from the New Mexico Working Families Party to discuss potential legislation, with the conversation quickly turning to the pro tem race. 

Working Families state director and former state senator Eric Griego called the notion that his group would try to drum up votes with a bribe “absurd.”

“First of all, we’ve not talked to Senator Cervantes at all,” Griego said. 

Griego said his group has been meeting with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss legislation and that occasionally the pro tem race comes up in conversation. But, he said, his group has only offered up their list of preferred Senators in those conversations and that the implication of quid pro quo is “super libelous.”

“It’s patently false, we just don’t work that way,” Griego said. 

The Working Families Party is a national organization that operates as both a political party in some states and also as a political advocacy group. 

Griego said the local chapter worked hard this year to oust what the group calls “corporate champions.” The group endorsed a list of candidates this year and helped get moderate Democrats out of office during the primary. Griego said his group wanted to follow through with that effort.    

“We worked our butts off to elect good people, both in the primary and the general,” Griego said. “And we’re not just going to hope that it turns out ok, in terms of leadership.

Governor: New Mexico in ‘extreme crisis’ with COVID-19

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during an online press conference on Thursday that the state is in “an extreme crisis” for the respiratory illness that has claimed the lives of over 235,000 nationwide and 1,082 in the state. And she said it is already too late to “prevent the pain that is coming to our first responders and our health care workers,” later this month. During Lujan Grisham’s press conference, state Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase likened the situation to what happened in Italy in March, when the hospital system in that country was so overwhelmed, hospital workers had to limit care. “We’re preparing institutions for an Italy-like situation over the next couple of weeks,” Scrase said. Lujan Grisham did not declare any new public health orders limiting travel or businesses, saying she wanted more time to look at the data.