Finance chair: Lawmaker pay unlikely to pass

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said the chances lawmakers will approve a proposal to ask voters to pay them are “very tough.” Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, made the comment after a lengthy morning debate about the pros and cons of House Joint Resolution 8, which would allow voters to approve a constitutional amendment to create a citizens’ commission to study the issue of paying lawmakers. The commission would also suggest salary ranges for lawmakers, though the salaries would not kick in until July 2024. Among other issues, Muñoz questioned whether the current Legislature could constitutionally bind a future Legislature to be paid. He also said the resolution does not clarify how lawmaker salaries would impact pension plans for former state employees who now serve as lawmakers.

Legislative salaries still possible, but extended legislative sessions unlikely

By Robert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

It was one of the top priorities for lawmakers during this year’s 60-day session: a resolution asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment “professionalizing” or “modernizing” the Legislature. With just a few days to go, at least one of two proposals appears dead and the outlook of the other remains questionable. “I’d say it’s dead,” Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, wrote in a text message about House Joint Resolution 2, which would lead to 60-day legislative sessions every year, with voter approval. 

Lawmakers now meet for 60 days in odd-numbered years and 30 days in even-numbered years, which some say limits how much they can get done. Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of SJR 2, said in an interview this week there were a number of discussions among lawmakers about the measure, and “there are diverse opinions.” Like Rubio, she indicated the resolution, which made its way through two House committees and now awaits a vote on the House floor, is unlikely to go any further this year. 

While she would have liked to see the resolution pass, she said, “Maybe we’ll do it next year.”

Legislation to modernize Legislature, expand sessions clear first committee

A House committee heard two proposals that would put constitutional amendments on the ballot that would modernize the state legislature. The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee passed HJR 2 with amendments on a 6-to-3 vote along party lines on Monday. The legislation allows bills not voted on to roll over to the next session for consideration. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, gave his reasons for voting against the bill. “I’ve been a victim of legislation dying on the Senate calendar, we all have,” Rehm said.

A petroleum PR blitz in New Mexico

In the past seven months, oil and gas companies have dramatically stepped up their outreach and public relations spending at some of New Mexico’s best-known, best-loved events. The industry also picked up an additional public relations bump from the not unexpected news that oil and gas revenues will add an additional $2.5 billion to next year’s state government budget. This record breaking funding comes on the heels of last year’s record breaking budget, both of them courtesy of record breaking oil and gas production and record breaking oil and gas prices. All of this money sloshing around the state raises the positive public profile of the petroleum industry. Meanwhile, the public sees little of its state Legislature — but that doesn’t mean it’s not busy.

New Mexico’s Paid Sick Leave law goes into effect

A group of legislators, advocates and individuals celebrated the start of New Mexico’s Paid Sick Leave law, which officially starts Friday. The Paid Sick Leave bill passed after a bitter fight between Democrats in the state Senate in the final hours before the legislature ended. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill. State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the sponsors of the bill agreed to let the bill go into effect on July 1, 2022 instead of July 1, 2021 as a compromise with New Mexico businesses who said they could not afford to provide paid sick leave, particularly after being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stewart said there was an attempt to weaken the law before the start of the 2022 legislature but no bill was ever introduced.

Officials urge DHS to end program that puts asylum seekers at greater risk

Several elected New Mexico officials signed onto a letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking for the end of border expulsions under Title 42. Title 42 is a program started under former President Donald Trump which has continued under President Joe Biden. Under Title 42, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expels asylum seekers at the border rather than allowing them to enter the country and go through the process of applying for asylum in the U.S.

Under Biden, some exemptions became available though CBP still turned away the majority who requested asylum at a port of entry. But Katie Hoeppner, a spokesperson for ACLU-New Mexico, told NM Politlcal Report in an email that the situation “is now deeply troubling because there is no way for people seeking asylum to safely approach ports of entry and request protection, no matter how vulnerable they are.”

The letter states that allowing asylum seekers to enter into the U.S. is not only a legal responsibility but that it can be done safely. The letter states that recent research shows that 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings in 2019.

Paid Sick Leave bill passes Senate Judiciary by slim margin

After a lengthy debate around some of the language and regulatory details of the Healthy Workplaces bill, the Senate Judiciary passed the paid sick leave proposal on a 5 to 4 vote. HB 20 would enable all private employees to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year with an effective date of July 1, 2022. Earlier this week, the day before it was expected to be heard on the Senate floor, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, pulled the bill and asked that it be assigned to his Senate Judiciary Committee for an amendment. Cervantes said he wanted to strike a section of the bill that stated its purpose, which the committee did so through an amendment. Republicans also added an amendment.

Bill to end new contracts on private prisons passes House committee

A bill to impose a moratorium on new contracts for private prison facilities passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee 3 to 2. Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and a co-sponsor of HB 352, described it as “a newer version” of HB 40, which stalled at the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier this session. HB 352 would create a task force made up of 17 stakeholders, including the state Department of Corrections and other agency representatives, to analyze phasing out private prisons. HB 40 would have ended private prisons within 3 to 5 years in New Mexico. HB 352 is a more “narrow” approach, advocates said.

Workers and organizers rally for paid sick leave bill

Organizers held a virtual rally Tuesday evening in support of a bill that would enable workers statewide to earn paid sick leave to care for themselves or a loved one. HB 20 passed the House chamber by a vote of 36 to 33 on Sunday. The rally organizers, a group of nonprofit organizations that, together, called themselves the Paid Sick Leave Coalition, cheered its passage in the House and expressed hope that the bill will also make it to the state Senate. Related: Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

The Healthy Workplaces bill would, if passed, mandate that all private employers allow workers to accrue up to 8 days of paid sick leave a year. Two of the bill’s co-sponsors, Democratic Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, of Albuquerque, and Rep. Angelica Rubio, of Las Cruces, spoke virtually during the rally about the work to get the bill through.

Bill to mandate paid sick leave passes House

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.