To some degree, the two contrasting actions that played out late Friday morning spoke volumes about this year’s 60-day legislative session. In the House of Representatives, members prepared to debate a contentious bill that would repeal a decades-old law making it a felony to perform an abortion. Around the same time, in her Santa Fe home, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, looked at a huge pile of mail from constituents and pondered what lawmakers in her chamber still need to do with fewer than 30 days remaining in session. Later that day, as Rodriguez joined her colleagues on the Senate floor, the House voted to approve the abortion repeal measure, sending it to the governor’s desk. One down, hundreds to go.
A bipartisan bill that would create new procedures to fill a vacant congressional position in New Mexico — perhaps soon enough to apply to the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland — cleared its first committee Monday. The Senate Rules Committee, on a 6-5 vote, advanced Senate Bill 254, sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. The measure would add a special primary election and special general election to fill a congressional vacancy. Under existing state law, the New Mexico secretary of state calls for a special election after a vacancy occurs, and then each major political party’s central committee nominates a candidate. The bill was born out of the possible vacancy that would be created in the 1st Congressional District if the U.S. Senate confirms Haaland to serve as President Joe Biden’s interior secretary.
A piece of legislation designed to create a cash flow for New Mexico’s college student-athletes cleared its first significant hurdle Wednesday. Introduced by a bipartisan trio of two state senators and a high-profile member of the House, SB 94 cleared the Senate Education Committee with unanimous approval Wednesday morning. According to one of its authors, it has gained the kind of momentum required to make it become a law before the end of the session. Similar measures have been adopted in California and Colorado, which have five schools in the Mountain West Conference, 10 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and one in the Western Athletic Conference — leagues that are home to, respectively, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands and New Mexico State. “In this day and age of politics, this is a bill that passed unanimously with Republicans and Democrats in California,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to protect pregnant workers but killed a proposed amendment that some lawmakers said would have protected workers who allege a violation of the proposed law from further discrimination. HB 25 aims to protect pregnant workers or new moms from discrimination in the workplace. Under the proposed law, New Mexico employers with four or more employees would have to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a pregnant worker or new mom. Examples of “reasonable accommodations” are defined as reprieve from heavy lifting, providing water or a stool at a workstation and extra bathroom breaks, according to backers of the bill. The bill has received wide support from industry, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights organizations.
A scholarship plan aimed at covering all college tuition and expense costs for New Mexicans cleared yet another hurdle when members of the Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 to send it to the Senate Finance Committee. But the bill may face deeper scrutiny once it gets there since a Legislative Finance Committee fiscal impact report says it may cost much more than the Higher Education Department estimates. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the program would cost about $35 million a year when she unveiled the proposal last year. Reacting to concerns expressed early in the session, the bill’s sponsors worked on a revamp to make it more palatable to lawmakers. Their alterations increased the cost to $45 million.
More New Mexicans would qualify for medical marijuana, and the 70,000-plus patients already in the state’s medical cannabis program would have to deal with less paperwork under legislation approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. On Friday, the House passed Senate Bill 406, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, which would add more qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use and would allow patients in the program to renew their medical cannabis registry identification cards every three years instead of every year as now required. The Senate passed the bill the previous week. Also last week, the House passed Senate Bill 404, sponsored by Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. which also would make medical cannabis cards good for three years.
Goodbye, Christopher Columbus. New Mexico may observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. The Senate voted 22-15 Friday to send Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would rename the holiday commemorating the Italian explorer. The legislation comes as the holiday that took off in the late 19th century as a celebration of Italian-American heritage has in recent decades spurred debate over the real legacy of a man who represents the beginning of European colonialism in the Americas and how best to tell a fuller story of the continent’s history. “I see this as a reconciliation process, not only as New Mexicans but as Americans,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo.
The state Senate on Friday approved a bill to prohibit private employers from using a job application that asks applicants about arrests or criminal convictions. The measure carried 28-11 and now advances to the House of Representatives. Employers would still be free to inquire about an applicant’s record after reviewing the application, said the bill sponsor, Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque. His proposal, Senate Bill 96, is intended to help people with a criminal history apply for jobs without being summarily disqualified. If given an opportunity to interview, their chances of finding work and steering clear of trouble increase, O’Neill said.
Everybody around the state Capitol seems to have a favorite example. There’s the state House district in Northern New Mexico that is split in two by a mountain range and wilderness. You couldn’t drive across it if you tried. Then there’s the state Senate district that stretches some 180 miles from Santa Fe to Ruidoso. When it comes to political districts that have been precisely if nonsensically contorted, the New Mexico Legislature has got some real doozies.
The toughest question on a job application can be pretty short. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? For job seekers with criminal records, checking that box can make all the difference in landing an interview with a prospective employer. Now, lawmakers are reviving a years-long effort to “ban the box” by prohibiting employers from asking about criminal convictions on an initial job application. Even as crime has become a flash point between Republicans and Democrats, Senate Bill 96 is one idea that has rallied bipartisan support.