Pregnant worker protection bill on its way to Guv’s desk after scare on Senate floor

A bill protecting pregnant workers nearly died on the Senate floor Tuesday night when a Democrat tried to introduce an amendment viewed as “unfriendly.” However, the Senate defeated the amendment and the bill itself passed unanimously. HB 25 seeks to protect pregnant workers and new moms in the workplace by amending the state Human Rights Act to include those employees. This would enable pregnant people and new moms to seek mitigation under the state’s Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been discriminated against if an employer refuses “unreasonable accommodations.”

An amendment that Senator Joseph Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, tried to attach to the bill took issue with the idea that pregnant workers and new moms belong under the Human Rights Act. Candelaria, who is openly gay, said the bill created a “new suspect class of people.”  He did not want the Human Rights Act to be amended. He said the bill would “erode decades of civil rights litigation and protections” reserved for immutable aspects of a person such as sexual orientation.

Money to upgrade domestic violence shelter passes Senate Public Affairs Committee

A bill to appropriate $2 million to improve an aging shelter for victims of domestic violence passed 5-0 in the Senate Public Affairs Committee late Friday. SB 229, sponsored by Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Linda Lopez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, would provide the money from the general fund to the Department of Finance and Administration for the city of Albuquerque so the city could contract with S.A.F.E. House for significant renovations on its shelter. According to a statement provided by Katherine Croaciata, the expert witness and executive officer of Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, the money would upgrade the plumbing, heating and air conditioning and the electrical wiring, and close off the interior to create two private living areas instead of having one space separated by a curtain. There would also be two separate entrances instead of one and two separate and private bathrooms.

The facility is more than 100 years old and served 442 adults and more than 300 children from 2018 to 2019, according to the statement. “The victims are recovering from horrible situations,” Croaciata said during the committee meeting.

KRQE reporter kicked out of Senate committee meeting

State senators kicked a television reporter out of a public committee meeting Thursday, telling her she was not allowed to film the hearing. Rachel Knapp, who covers the Legislature for KRQE-TV, was filming the Senate Conservation Committee’s deliberations on a hazardous waste bill when Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez interrupted the meeting to ask the reporter if she had permission to record. “I just figured it was a public meeting,” Knapp told the legislator in response, according to a recording of the hearing. “I apologize for interrupting,” Knapp continued moments later. “I’m Rachel with Channel 13.

‘Red flag’ gun bill steeped in controversy clears Senate panel

In an emotional hearing before hundreds of supporters and detractors, a state Senate panel narrowly passed a high-profile gun bill on Tuesday that would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to confiscate guns from people considered dangerous. The Senate Public Affairs committee voted 4-3 along party lines in favor of Senate Bill 5, known as the “Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.” The bill will now be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation is a marquee item on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and likely to be one of the most contentious bills heard during the session. If it becomes law, New Mexico would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar measures, also known as “red-flag” laws. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is co-sponsoring the legislation and is an attorney, invoked last year’s mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart as a reason why the bill should be passed.

Long-term fixes for PERA could be tough sell

A Senate Democrat stood outside a Roundhouse committee room Thursday with the head of New Mexico’s retirement system, expressing her concerns about a proposal to reform it. Wayne Propst, head of the Public Employees Retirement Association, tried to alleviate her worries. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez isn’t alone. Several members of her caucus, as well as retirees, are expressing unease about the bill, aimed at putting the pension system on a path to solvency. “It is a concern that I’ve been raising,” Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque said in an interview later, adding she’s getting questions from worried constituents.

Criminal justice race, ethnicity data may be coming to NM

A state senator says she’ll push for laws in the coming years to answer a long-troubling question in New Mexico: does the criminal justice system here disproportionately target non-white people? Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and former law professor, tells New Mexico In Depth she was “stunned” to learn during this year’s legislative session, her first in the Senate, that few agencies collect or share data on the race and ethnicity of people caught up in the system. “I thought, how was I not aware of this?,” she said in an interview this week. “It was really weird.”

So Sedillo Lopez is working up a memorial she plans to introduce at the 2020 session, which begins in January, directing the New Mexico Sentencing Commission to study how — and whether — the state’s jails and prisons gather demographic information on people who are locked up or on probation. Though she doesn’t yet have a detailed plan for the next step, she aims to use the study to bolster a bill in 2021 that would “ensure that this data is collected and continues to be collected regardless of who’s in charge.”

The Sentencing Commission says it’ll be glad to do the work.

Climate rally in ABQ includes calls for action

Thousands of students walked out of school and adults left work across New Mexico as part of massive international climate protests. In Albuquerque a large crowd took part in large a rally downtown  on Friday with hundreds, likely over 1,000, people. The rally included local artists, politicians and students speaking about the impact of climate change and the need to immediately address it. Most of the speakers were local youth. Alyssa Ruiz, the founder of the Sandia High School Climate Club, spoke to the crowd and called on zero emissions by 2050.

After Senate vote, wage issue heads for showdown with House

The lowest paid New Mexicans are closer to getting a raise. The Senate passed a bill Friday night that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 from in October, phasing in increases all the way up to $11 in 2022, which would still be below the wage floor established in cities like Santa Fe. While it passed 25-17, Senate Bill 437 represented a messy compromise after the state House of Representatives had approved a higher increase backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and in turn stirred heavy opposition from the business sector, particularly the restaurant industry. The Senate’s industry-backed proposal goes now to the House. But even though it would allow Democrats to follow through on a central campaign promise from last year’s election, several lawmakers from the party argued Friday night it does not go far enough.

Public records bills include secrecy on lottery winners

State Sen. Pat Woods says big lottery winners can turn into losers, so he wants to conceal their identity from the public. His push for secrecy initially failed Tuesday when the Senate Public Affairs Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the proposal, Senate Bill 397. But then committee members reconsidered and advanced Woods’ bill in a 5-2 decision. “I hate hearing stories of people who win lottery prizes and are broke shortly thereafter,” said Woods, R-Broadview, in arguing for the state-sanctioned gambling operation to keep winners’ names private. He said those who claim jackpots often don’t know how to manage their money and are easy prey for con men and unscrupulous family members.

Bill would freeze fracking permits while impacts studied

When you’re driving at night through Counselor, N.M., on U.S. 550 the horizon takes on a dusky illumination, almost like daylight, Samuel Sage said during a Monday news conference in Santa Fe. Bright light flares from natural gas being burned off as part of oil and gas production, which has become increasingly common in that area of Northwestern New Mexico, particularly since 2013, said Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation’s Counselor Chapter House. Sage was among several environmental advocates who gathered at the state Capitol in support of a bill that, if passed, would create a four-year moratorium on any new state permits for hydraulic fracturing — a type of deep horizontal drilling that injects high-pressured fluid below ground. The bill also outlines extensive reporting requirements for several state agencies related to the impacts of fracking. “All we want is clean air and clean water,” Sage said.