Focus turns to rural water projects

In the eyes of some lawmakers, rural New Mexico often is neglected by state government and the big-city politicians who rule the Roundhouse. A push to address the state’s myriad water infrastructure needs — part of a larger effort to prepare for the effects of a warming climate — could transform the current method of operation, as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will try to focus on helping rural New Mexico. Mike Hamman, the governor’s new water adviser, said Thursday that federal infrastructure funding prioritizes “underserved and neglected” communities. “We’re going to try to flip the model because, right now, communities that have capacity are outcompeting the communities that suffer with their capacities,” Hamman told members of the Senate Conservation Committee. “They don’t have good support, so that’s going to be something that will be very important for us … to try to coordinate that in a way that flips the model and puts some energy into helping our rural communities succeed and get the infrastructure they need to have good quality drinking water and wastewater systems,” he said.

Bill would require state departments to help those who don’t speak English

Advocates for New Mexicans who know little to no English say a bill passed by a committee Friday is needed help such residents access medical aid, child welfare services and other resources. Lawmakers on the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs committee approved House Bill 22 on a 6-3 vote. It now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The legislation provides a one-time appropriation of $50,000 to the state Department of Finance and Administration. The money is aimed at helping state agencies assess whether they need to implement departmental language access plans to ensure people with limited English skills can access their services. 

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of the bill, said it will help ensure New Mexico complies with federal language-access laws.

Green amendment once again goes before legislature

Several Democratic state legislators are looking to amend the New Mexico Constitution to guarantee future generations the right to a clean environment. 

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, are the lead sponsors on a joint resolution that nearly two dozen of their colleagues have already voiced support for. The legislative session starts Tuesday and the joint resolution is among the pieces of legislation filed prior to the start. This is the second year that they have sponsored a joint resolution seeking to amend the state’s bill of rights to include environmental rights. This is colloquially dubbed the “Green Amendment.”

Because it is a constitutional amendment, voters would have to approve it if it passes the Legislature. 

If approved by voters, the bill of rights section of the state’s constitution would be amended to include the rights of future generations to clean water and air and a stable climate and healthy environments. It would also recognize the environment’s cultural, natural and human health values.

Children sentenced as adults are disproportionately children of color

When Carissa McGee was 16 years old, she was sentenced to 21 years in an adult correctional facility for stabbing two members of her family. McGee told NM Political Report she was mentally ill at the time, but the judge still sentenced her to more than two decades in prison. “I experienced my ultimate low. I was sentenced at 16 years old. I didn’t know what 21 years would feel like,” McGee said.

New Mexico’s fight to escape the grasp of Big Oil and Gas

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez quickly learned the harsh reality of New Mexico politics after she was appointed to fill an empty seat in the state senate two years ago. One of the first bills she pushed sought a four-year pause on new fracking permits on state lands, taking that time to study the environmental, health and safety impacts of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique. Sedillo Lopez believed it was a sensible piece of legislation, one that was tempered and looked out for New Mexicans. But almost right away, the bill died,never getting out of committee. The same thing happened to a similar measure she pushed earlier this year, with support from dozens of environmental and Indigenous organizations.

Senate sends amended $7.4 billion budget proposal to House

A $7.4 billion budget that would increase state government spending by 4.8 percent in the upcoming fiscal year cleared the New Mexico Senate along a mostly party-line vote Wednesday after an hourslong debate riddled with political potshots and last-minute amendments. “Not everybody’s going to like what’s in the budget,” said Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat who is the Senate Finance Committee chairman. “Not everybody can get everything they want, but we can try.” The proposed budget calls for $3.35 billion in public education spending, a 5.8 percent increase; $300 million for road projects around the state; $200 million in pandemic recovery grants for businesses; and $34 million to help shore up the pension fund for the state’s educators. The proposal also includes about $64 million for a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all state government, public school and higher education employees.

Legislative roundup on bills that advance equity

Three bills passed the state Senate Sunday night that will, if they become law, advance equity for the LGBTQ community and people of color. SB 213, called the panic defense bill, passed by a vote of 41 to 0 with no debate. Sponsored by state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, the bill would prevent someone who commits a violent crime from using the victim’s sexual orientation, gender expression or identity as a legal defense in court. State Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos, who is a co-sponsor on the bill, said she knew a man in the 1980s who was violently murdered because of his sexual orientation. The man who perpetrated the crime used the panic defense, Stefanics said.

New Mexico Senate passes bill to reduce cap on small-loan interest rates

Legislation aimed to rein in what critics call predatory lending passed the state Senate after a tense two-hour debate Monday that sparked accusations of untruths and assertions the bill’s sponsors are oblivious to the tough realities confronted by people who live paycheck to paycheck. Opponents contended Senate Bill 66, which would cut the maximum interest rate on small loans to 36 percent from 175 percent, would do more harm than good for struggling New Mexicans by causing high-risk lenders to shut down. The measure passed on a 25-14 vote and will be considered next by the state House of Representatives. Expect plenty of dissension and disagreement if Tuesday’s Senate floor session is any indication of what lies ahead. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said about a third of the people who called him about the legislation were angry it would cap the interest at so high a rate.

Produced water bill dies in committee

A bill that would have made it illegal for oil and gas operators to spill produced water died in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. Produced water is the toxic flowback water generated in oil extraction. 

SB 86, sponsored by Democratic Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque and Liz Stefanics of Cerrillos, sought to address many of the issues the state is now facing in managing scarce freshwater supplies and increasing volumes of produced water. “This bill does two things,” Sedillo Lopez told legislators. “First, it compels industry to reduce the volume of and reuse its waste by prohibiting freshwater use in fracking when produced water can be used instead. And second, it fulfills the original intent of the Produced Water Act of 2019 by mandating safeguards to protect public health, the environment and freshwater from this waste stream.”

Norm Gaume, a water expert and former director of the Interstate Stream Commission, and who currently sits on the Produced Water Research Consortium’s technical steering committee, spoke in support of the bill.

No immediate impact from impact of moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land

The state of New Mexico is expected to take a major financial hit under executive orders issued by President Joe Biden to fight climate change, including a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. But the impact may not be felt right away. After a presentation Tuesday by a chief economist and other state officials, as well as representatives from the oil and gas industry, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said the budget for the upcoming fiscal year will see little, if any, impact. “But in the next years, you will see a great decline,” said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. “So as [lawmakers file requests for] recurring money or send bills to us, be prepared to look to the future and what that looks like because if we add additional money and recurring money, cutting will not be any fun at all.”