Stronger, more addictive and cheaper to manufacture than many other drugs, the synthetic opioid fentanyl has ravaged the country in recent years — becoming one of leading causes of death among adults ages 18 to 45. New Mexico is no exception. The rate of fentanyl overdose deaths in the state has increased nearly sevenfold since 2016, according to state Department of Health data, jumping from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 to 16 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. The drug has caused the death of nearly 600 people in New Mexico since 2016. Trafficking and overdose cases involving fentanyl “are surpassing all other drugs combined,” in the First Judicial District, chief Deputy District Attorney Anthony Long said in an interview Friday.
In many ways, it felt like high noon on the House floor for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lawmakers on Friday debated one of the governor’s favored pieces of legislation — a crime reform bill that would do away with the six-year statute of limitations on second-degree murder charges. Moving the bill forward from the House of Representatives to the Senate with less than a week left to this year’s 30-day legislative session would provide a breakthrough — or at least movement — in what had been a succession of stalled measures. Fortunately for the governor, the drama was dispensed with quickly: It took the House less than 20 minutes to discuss and vote to approve House Bill 79, which now heads to the Senate for consideration. For Lujan Grisham, who has been pushing for tougher penalties for violent offenders and tighter pretrial release standards to keep those defendants behind bars, Friday’s action was a small victory.
Less than a month after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held a news conference to say she was going to push a “tough on crime” agenda in this year’s legislative session, district attorneys, Republican lawmakers and crime victims held their own gathering Wednesday to deliver a very different message.
The governor’s crime reform platform, they said, is going nowhere.
“We were promised it would be a tough-on-crime year,” said Nicole Chavez, whose teenage son, Jaydon Chavez-Silver, was killed in a shooting in Albuquerque in 2015. “That’s not what is happening,” Chavez said while standing outside the state Capitol. “Every single crime bill has been stopped or tabled.” One piece of legislation that did clear the Senate this week, a “second chance” bill which bans life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, outraged the parents of homicide victims and some Republican lawmakers. The passage of Senate Bill 43 along party lines, with Republicans opposing it, led to Wednesday’s news conference by some of the governor’s critics.
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.
A bill to draw new lines for state House districts statewide passed two committees on Wednesday and is now headed to the House floor. On Wednesday evening, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4, party-line vote.
During the hearing, a number of representatives of sovereign nations, pueblos and tribes expressed their unified support for the map put forward by Daymon Ely, D-Corrales. “This has not been an easy process trying to reach a consensus among sovereign governments,” Pueblo of Acoma Governor Brian Vallo said.
He and others said that Native governments worked for months to find a preferred map that would allow for representation in the Legislature. And others said that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated chronic undercounting during the 2020 census, which led to why the districts had a lower number of residents than other districts, particularly those in northwestern New Mexico. Republicans on the House State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee had expressed concern over the “deviation” of the different districts, or how much each district differs from the ideal equal population.
The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passed the House Judiciary Committee along party lines in an 8 to 2 vote Saturday. HB 38, sponsored by House Representatives Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos and Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, was amended by committee to clean up some of the language. The amendment also exempted railroad employees because of a federal law and inserted language that would prevent counties and municipalities from enacting their own paid family and medical leave ordinances, Chandler said. Chandler said she had many meetings with the business community and chambers of commerce to understand their concerns about the bill and the amendment reflected those conversations. Despite that, many business groups spoke in opposition to the bill during public comment.
The House late Saturday night approved legislation by a wide margin meant to decrease the number of people on parole or probation going back to prison on technical violations for issues like missing a drug test or an appointment with a parole officer. In a 47-17 vote, with some Democrats voting against the measure, the House approved a new version of a bill sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque and a handful of other lawmakers. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed a similar bill last year after it cleared both the House and Senate. The revised version, Maestas argues, has a much better shot at being signed by the governor. In her veto message, the governor had asked bill sponsors to meet with prosecutors and work on a compromise.
New Mexico lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee on Saturday advanced a bipartisan package of public safety measures that proponents said are aimed at reducing violent crime in communities across the state and aiding law enforcement officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Provisions in the omnibus package that would provide funding to train officers in “community-oriented policing” and ease access to treatment for officers with PTSD received broad support from the law enforcement community, advocacy groups and committee members. Suicides nationwide among law enforcement officers were higher last year than the deaths of those killed in the line of duty, several proponents noted, referring to studies by national nonprofits showing a surge in officer suicides in 2019. To address the issue, the omnibus package includes a provision that would make it easier for commissioned officers to get PTSD treatment covered through workers’ compensation. The package, which combines House Bills 6, 35 and 113, was approved by the committee Saturday on a vote of 13-0 and has the support of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
As the 2020 presidential election kicks into gear, New Mexico is a step closer to joining a group of states in upending how the country selects its leader. The Senate Rules Committee backed a bill Sunday that would allow New Mexico to join a compact of several other states committed to putting its electoral college votes behind whichever candidate wins the most votes nationwide. Known as the national popular vote, the idea is part of a movement to remove what backers argue is an outdated vestige of American democracy but which critics of the bill argue would undercut the political power of smaller states like New Mexico. Under the U.S. Constitution, each state gets an electoral college vote commensurate to the number of representatives it has in Congress. Under the formula, smaller states are over-represented.
A bill to allow voters to register on the same day they vote cleared its first House committee Wednesday. The House, State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee advanced the proposal on a party-line vote. The bill aims to let voters register or update their voter registration during early voting or on Election Day, and vote on the same day. Currently, voters must register four weeks before the election to be eligible to vote. One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, said the legislation “is the ultimate access bill to allow voters to access the electoral process as openly as possible.”
The bill would allow new voters to register on Election Day and those already registered to change their address.