The Senate Finance Committee passed the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill by a narrow vote of 6-5 on Thursday after a tie vote failed to strike a $20 million allocation into a state election fund. State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, sided with Republicans to vote against the bill. This was the third Senate committee hearing for the bill. The previous committees amended the bill, striking some voter expansion provisions including allowing 16-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and statewide elections and backend automatic voter registration. Muñoz introduced the amendment to strike the provision allowing the Secretary of State’s office to create a permanent election fund of $20 million.
The Senate Finance Committee approved an amended version of a bill to allocate some of the American Rescue Plan Act immediately to various agencies. The amendment to HB 2, which passed unanimously, removed $26 million appropriated for broadband and reduced the overall funding package to about $478 million. The vote of approval for the amended bill was unanimous and bipartisan. State Sens. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, and Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, were absent.
Two progressive Democrats, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, who are challenging incumbents who lean more to the right within the Democratic party, are getting a boost in their campaign efforts. Correa Hemphill is running against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Gabriel Ramos. With her May filing report, she has outraised Ramos by $53.26. Ramos, who was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to replace Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, is running his first election for the seat. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is spending $150,000 in the remaining weeks of the primary to educate voters on the fact that Ramos and state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, also a Democrat, both voted against HB 51 in 2019.
A legislative appointment from the Bernalillo County Commission Tuesday marked the last vacancy to be filled before the upcoming legislative session. County commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Democrat Marian Matthews to fill a vacant spot left by Democrat Rep. William Pratt after he died last month.
Matthews, a former prosecutor and college educator, announced late last year that she planned to run for Pratt’s seat since Pratt announced he would not run for election. Pratt himself was appointed to the seat after former Rep. Larry Larrañaga died in 2018. Pratt then won the general election that November. Matthews told commissioners she would like to address Albuquerque’s crime rate.
The special meeting was the first for newly appointed commissioner James Collie, a Democrat who was sworn in just before the meeting started.
The idea of assigning state police officers to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge to prevent suicidal people from jumping met with a quick defeat Tuesday at the state Capitol. Members of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee unanimously blocked a bill to allocate $156,000 a year to help pay for the suicide prevention squad. “I can’t see how it’s going to work,” said Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, who led opposition to the proposal, House Bill 166. The measure called for three state police officers to be assigned to the bridge, presumably in different shifts. But Thomson pointed out that the cost of salaries, benefits and equipment for three officers would run $288,000 a year, or nearly double the amount sought in the bill.
Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]MARY KATHERINE RAY is the Wildlife Chair of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.[/box]
The 60-day New Mexico Legislature has concluded for 2015. Last November, a majority of Republicans were elected to the state House of Representatives, which turned the leadership of the House over to the Republican Party for the first time in 60 years. The consequences were not good for wildlife. Every single bill on the subject of wildlife had to go through the House Agriculture committee, which became the House Agriculture/Water/Wildlife committee when the newly elected leadership reorganized and shuffled the committee structure. Placing wildlife issues under the control of agriculture interests was not unlike placing hens under the control of foxes.