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 chairman of an influential Senate committee proposes to strip out big pieces of a sprawling tax bill, scrapping a proposed increase in New Mexico’s personal income tax rates and scaling back a suggested increase in a credit for families. For backers of House Bill 6, the measure is key to making the tax system more progressive and shoring up the state’s finances before the oil industry takes another dive and New Mexico’s government is left strapped for cash again. But the idea of passing several tax increases at a time when the state anticipates a budget surplus from an ongoing oil boom has drawn plenty of criticism. Some senators on both sides of the aisle have argued the proposed tax hikes are too much, too fast — and potentially a big political liability. Sen. Clemente Sanchez, a Democrat from Grants who chairs the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, on Tuesday called for changes to the bill that would reduce the amount of money raised for the general fund from more than $300 million in the next fiscal year to an estimated $93 million, not including some other changes.
In a party-line decision, the state Senate voted 25-16 on Tuesday night to make New Mexico part of a multistate compact that would elect the president by popular vote. All 16 Republican senators opposed the measure, House Bill 55. The compact would take effect when states possessing a majority of the electoral votes, — a total of 270 — have joined the compact. So far 11 states and Washington, D.C., have joined. New Mexico has five electoral votes.
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.
A Senate committee on Tuesday snubbed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s call to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next several years, advancing instead a more modest bill backed by business groups. Dueling proposals for increasing the wages of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers collided in a packed hearing of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. After a flurry of changes, the committee ultimately advanced a measure that would raise the wage over time, topping out at all $11 an hour in 2021. While not far off from a minimum wage increase backed by the governor and approved by the state House of Representatives, the proposal omits a key provision to adjust the minimum wage annually in the future based on the rising cost of living. And the committee’s vote, in turn, reflected resistance in the Legislature’s upper chamber to some of the newly elected governor’s agenda.
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.
The state Senate narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require just about anyone buying a firearm to undergo a background check. This legislation has been a priority for gun control advocates, but all 16 Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate said it would not prevent the sort of mass shootings that have spurred calls for such laws. Scheduled for the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, the Senate’s vote was the biggest test yet for gun control during this legislative session. Majority Democrats won the day on a 22-20 vote. Senate Bill 8 now heads to the state House of Representatives, which already has passed a law on background checks this year and might approve this measure.
New Mexico legislators rolled five different crime bills into one, then sent the measure to the governor Wednesday in what they called a bipartisan move to make communities and prisons safer. State senators approved the plan, House Bill 19, on a vote of 32-2. The measure already had cleared the House of Representatives on a 66-1 vote. Now the bill moves to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Martinez herself pushed a number of crime bills during the 30-day legislative session, including an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the death penalty.
The Legislature’s two chambers are at odds over a proposed $6.3 billion state budget. Unlike recent years when financial problems prompted rounds of cuts, partisan fights and depleted reserves, the disagreements that emerged Tuesday came down to comparatively minor questions about funding roads. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a spending plan on Tuesday that provides bigger pay raises for state police than a version of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version of the budget, approved 40-2 by members of that chamber, also provides millions of dollars in additional funding for the district attorney in Albuquerque and returns some of the money cut from school districts last year. But the Senate also scaled back the amount of money the House had approved for roads.
New Mexicans will be free to continue walking the halls and galleries of their state Capitol with guns in hand or strapped to a hip. The House of Representatives on Friday night rejected a bill that would have prohibited openly carrying firearms in the Roundhouse. Backers had argued that Senate Bill 337 was a compromise that would continue allowing anyone with a proper license to carry a concealed firearm but end what some say is the intimidating sight of people holding guns during tense committee hearings. House members voted down the bill 35-31 after nearly 90 minutes of debate that reflected the conflict between security and openness in a building known as the people’s house. Several Republicans said the bill would be a step toward limiting access to a state Capitol where the public is free to come and go without passing through metal detectors.