Bill to increase penalties for human trafficking passes House

A bill to increase the penalties for human trafficking and expand protections to victims of the crime advanced out of the House of Representatives Monday with a nearly unanimous vote. HB 56 passed 63 to 3 and now heads to the Senate. Sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, the bill increases the penalty for human trafficking from a third degree penalty to a second degree penalty for perpetrators if their victims are 18 or older. For human trafficking crimes that involve a victim under the age of 18, the penalty for the perpetrator would be increased to a first degree penalty. Louis said human trafficking is not limited to one type of victim.

A bill to amend the state’s Human Rights Act clears committee hearing Saturday

A bill that would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to make clear that public bodies and state agencies are subject to its provisions passed unanimously in committee hearing Saturday. HB 192 is sponsored by House Rep. Brittany Barreras, an independent from Albuquerque who caucuses with the Democrats. Called the Extend Human Rights Act to Public Bodies, the bill passed the House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs unanimously. Barreras and co-sponsor Rep. Angelica Rubio D-Las Cruces, amended the bill to modernize the language and change “handicapped” to  “disabled”  and clarified that public agencies would not have to change programmatic focus under the bill. Marshall Martinez, interim executive director of Equality New Mexico, said this bill, if made law, would bring greater clarity to the New Mexico Human Rights Act.

Bill to end private detention facilities in the state passes House Judiciary but may face uphill battle

A lively debate in the House Judiciary Committee around a proposal for New Mexico to stop renewing contracts with private detention centers ended with one Democrat voting against the bill, along with all Republicans, but it passed 7 to 5. HB 40, the Private Detention Moratorium Act, would phase out the state’s reliance on private companies to house its prison population within 3 to 5 years. New Mexico incarcerates more people per capita than any other state and, disproportionately, the people housed are Black and Latino, advocates for the bill have said. But House Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, a Democrat from Milan and a former magistrate judge, voted against the bill. He said he used to work in the state prison system and he questioned whether people housed in public detention centers are really better off.

Two bills addressing paid sick leave will be rolled into one bill

After four hours of testimony on two bills that address paid sick leave, House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs asked the sponsors of both bills to work to roll them into one. The two bills, HB 20  and HB 37, both mandate that employers in the state offer paid sick leave that employees would accrue over a 12-month period, but HB 20 would establish a tiered system of paid time off based on the amount of workers an employer has. For example, employees at a business or organization with fewer than 10 workers would be allowed to earn up to 40 hours of earned sick leave. But employees who work for an employer with 10 or more workers could accrue up to 64 hours of earned sick leave within a 12-month timeframe. State Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Las Alamos, is the lead sponsor of HB 20.

Bill to introduce paid sick leave is timely, say advocates

Albuquerque resident Iman Andrade got worried when the pandemic began in mid-March. She delivered pizzas for a living earlier this year and the staff making and delivering the pizzas make minimum wage. They came in sick because they had to, she said. “My experience as a worker, as a driver, you don’t get paid enough to get to call into work sick. In the middle of the pandemic, it’s dangerous.

The U.S. is considering revamping its nuclear weapons program. What does this mean for WIPP?

All systems, no matter how efficient, produce some amount of waste. 

“Wherever people are doing something, there are trash cans around,” Dr. Robert Hayes joked to NM Political Report. Hayes is an associate professor of nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University and a former principal engineer at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). “Even if I’m making nuclear weapons, I’m going to be making trash,” he said. The U.S. Government has generated many tons of such ‘trash’ from its nuclear weapons research programs. Some of this low-level waste has found a final resting place in southeastern New Mexico. WIPP, located on a stretch of land 30 miles east of Carlsbad, is the country’s only deep geological repository for this nuclear defense-generated radiological waste.

Legislators push to get bill heard on rent relief, thousands will be affected

New Mexico state Representatives Andrea Romero and Angelica Rubio are proposing a $77 million bill to provide rent relief through the end of the year. Romero, D-Santa Fe, and Rubio, D-Las Cruces, held an online town hall Wednesday evening to discuss the proposed bill, which they said they expect to file Thursday morning at the start of the special session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not announce that rent relief would be on the call for the special session when announcing her priorities for the special session. Lujan Grisham’s press secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said through email late Wednesday that “legislators may file additional proposals such as (rent relief fund) and the legislative process will either see those through or not.​”

But Rubio said that she has been hearing this week that Lujan Grisham would not put something on her call that wasn’t likely to “succeed,” and that legislators would only be able to debate the bills on Lujan Grisham’s call. Romero outlined the three main points of what will be on the bill.

Are New Mexico voters ready for salaried legislators?

New Mexico legislators don’t get paid much. Some might argue that’s just as well. But the Legislature’s low pay is a bit closer to changing. The state House of Representatives elected on Wednesday to send voters a constitutional amendment that would repeal a prohibition on the Legislature paying its members a salary. It would also create a commission that would set the salaries for statewide elected officials, such as the governor, as well as legislators.

Latest marijuana legalization effort begins in NM House

Recreational marijuana would become legal for people 21 or older in New Mexico and the state could tax marijuana sold in licensed stores under a bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque. House Bill 356 would establish a licensing system that supporters say favors small businesses and institute a 9 percent tax on marijuana for buyers who are not patients in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The revenue would go for research and education as well as community grants for workforce training, substance misuse treatment, mental health treatment, and youth drug-education and prevention programs.

Cities and counties would be allowed to opt out of allowing retail marijuana sales. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Martínez told The New Mexican in an interview last week. He called the decades-long state and federal anti-marijuana policies a failure.

Bill seeks voter OK to pay legislators a salary

Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales has been in the state House of Representatives for nearly 25 years. Plenty of colleagues have come and gone. And he’s noticed something about many of those who can afford to stick around in nonsalaried jobs as state legislators. “You have to be wealthy, retired or have a very supportive employer,” says the Democrat from Ranchos de Taos. New Mexico is one of only a few states that do not pay lawmakers an annual salary.