Kids Online Safety Act reintroduced in U.S. Senate

The internet can be a dangerous place for young people, especially social media platforms where children and adults can interact with minimal or nonexistent barriers. To help combat the dangers children may face online, Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján and others reintroduced the Kids Online Safety Act which was sponsored by Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn. The bill, however, is controversial and many privacy, tech and LGBTQ+ groups oppose the bill, and they say it could actually cause harm to minors by restricting access to information based on what state attorneys general determine to be harmful. This comes as states throughout the country target abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights. “Big Tech knows that the algorithms they use to maximize time spent online also lead to harm, particularly for children,” Luján said in a statement supporting the bill.

From left to right: Senate Floor Majority Leader Peter Wirth, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales at a press conference in the Governor's Office Cabinet Room March 18, 2023.

Legislative Recap: Bills signed and bills vetoed

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed 211 bills into law from the 2023 legislative session, which ended two weeks ago. The deadline to sign bills into law ended on Friday April 7. Some of these bills included highly-debated bills such as HB 547 which established tax code changes; HB 4 which codifies voter rights and protections including the addition of the Native American Voting Rights Act and HB 7 which provides protections for access to reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare Some additional bills include Bennie’s Bill, which makes a crime out of negligently providing a minor access to a firearm and HB 134 which provides menstrual products in school restrooms.

Other signed legislation included some environmentally-based bills including SB 72 which established a Wildlife Corridor Fund and SB 337 which established the Water Security Planning Act that authorizes the Interstate Stream Commission to issue funds via loans and grants to facilitate regional water planning. More: San Juan Generating Station, mine remediation bill heads to House floor

Lujan Grisham also signed another environmental bill,  HB 142 which requires the New Mexico Environment Department and the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to contract out a comprehensive study to determine the amount of environmental contamination to the lands and waters near the mine and generating facility. Other legislation she signed includes five new special license plates, SB 21 which prohibits prescribed burns on red flag days and SB 392 which establishes youth programs through the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Guv signs capital outlay bill, which includes $10 million pledge for reproductive clinic in Las Cruces

The day before the deadline to sign bills, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the capital outlay bill, which includes a $10 million pledge to build a full-spectrum reproductive health clinic in Las Cruces. HB 505 contains $1.2 billion worth of projects to be built across the state. Among those is Lujan Grisham’s $10 million pledge to build a full-spectrum reproductive health care clinic in Las Cruces. Lujan Grisham announced the pledge last summer, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade when it ruled against a Mississippi abortion clinic that provided abortions up to 16 weeks. Several organizations have partnered to begin discussions on the future clinic.

Guv signs bill protecting abortion providers

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation that protects providers and patients from out-of-state efforts to criminalize or penalize through civil court the right to abortion in New Mexico. SB 13, Reproductive Health Provider Protections, codifies into law Lujan Grisham’s executive order announced last summer, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade through its Dobbs decision. It also protects those providing and seeking gender-affirming care. The new law, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, carries penalties of $10,000 for a violation. It prohibits state agencies from participating in an out-of-state effort to seek information about or from abortion or gender-affirming care providers.

Guv signs sweeping new voting rights bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a voting rights expansion into law on Thursday. 

HB 4 updates the state Election Code by expanding voting rights across New Mexico including the addition of the Native American Voting Rights Act and restores rights to formerly incarcerated felons. “For me, in particular, you know, New Mexico already is a state with expansive and productive voting rights access and protections, and that’s meaningful and I really want to say thank you to the state and all of the coalition members who have been clear about that,” Lujan Grisham said during the bill’s signing ceremony. “All the things that we have, to some degree, been able to take for granted, because we have good leadership… We cannot, in this climate, take that for granted that governors and secretaries of state and policymakers are going to be able to navigate it and we want to send a message to the rest of the country. That this is what voting protection and access should look like.”

More: Election reform bills pass Legislature

More than 50 organizations representing thousands of New Mexicans make up the coalition Lujan Grisham mentioned.

Lujan Grisham signs displaced worker assistance bill

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Thursday that will expand the eligibility for laid off miners and coal plant workers from the San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine to access displaced worker assistance funds. The funds were created through the Energy Transition Act, but included a time frame for when workers who lost their jobs had to seek assistance from the displaced workers fund. However, the funds were not available when the first layoffs occurred in 2020. Because the workers only had a year to seek assistance, many of the workers who lost their jobs were ineligible for the funds. The framework for dispersing the funds to workers has not yet been finalized.

Lujan Grisham signs universal free school meal bill into law

All New Mexico public school students will receive free meals after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law on Monday. This makes New Mexico just the fourth state to guarantee free meals to all public school students. “Today, New Mexico is leading the nation by not only providing free healthy school meals to every student in our state, but we’re also making sure those meals are nutritious foods that kids want to eat,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “When we feed our children, we’re feeding our future – these investments today will yield benefits tomorrow through generations of healthier New Mexicans.”

States throughout the country had universal free school meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through federal waivers. The federal COVID-19 emergency declarations will end later this year.

How the Legislature addressed child well being

New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom on child well being indexes, but the 2023 Legislature passed some bills that advocates say can make an impact on that low ranking. A child tax credit was included in the final omnibus tax package and it will help improve racial and gender equity, Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, told NM Political Report. HB 547, the omnibus tax bill, underwent multiple conference committees but the New Mexico Child Tax Credit survived the negotiations. It will, among other things, provide up to $600 per child annually as a child tax credit for families earning $25,000 or less a year. For households earning $25,000 to $50,000, the annual child tax credit will be $400 per child and for households earning $50,000 to $75,000, the annual child tax credit will be $200 per child if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the bill into law.

Environment tax credits included in package this year

Proposed tax credits related to climate change and the environment were included in the final tax package this legislative session. The hard-fought compromise between the House of Representatives and the Senate came down to the final morning of the session. The Senate approved the revised tax package, after it took several meetings from a conference committee to come to an agreement, shortly after midnight on Saturday. The House approved the package later in the morning. The multi-billion dollar tax package that touches many areas of the state’s tax code includes tax credits for electric vehicles and charging as well as energy storage. 

It also includes various provisions to encourage development of geothermal resources.

A "Vote Here" sign at the Otero County Fairgrounds in Alamogordo.

Election reform bills pass Legislature

The 60-day legislative session has come to an end with sweeping changes coming to New Mexico elections, pending the governor’s signature. HB 4 included many of the changes, including expanding voter rights. 

The bill provides voting protections and improved voting access for Native Americans through the Native American Voting Rights Act, enhances voter registration systems and voter data privacy, restores voting rights to formerly incarcerated felons, created a voluntary permanent absentee ballot list which allows voters who usually vote by absentee ballot to be on a list so they don’t have to reapply for each election, sets up automatic voter registration when updating address or presenting documents at Motor Vehicle Divisions and other state agencies and designates Election Day as a school holiday. Once signed, the bill goes into effect in annual phases beginning in July 2023.  More: Voting rights expansion bill heads to governor’s desk

A bill similar to HB 4 passed on March 14. SB 180, a bill to make more technical changes to elections, also passed both the House and Senate this year after vigorous debate.