Speakers tout NM’s climate leadership, but are quiet on oil and gas production

A group of local leaders touted New Mexico’s work towards addressing climate change during a recent webinar on public health and climate change. But speakers such as Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, and New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Kathyleen Kunkel tip-toed around the state’s recent record oil production and its contribution to climate change. Fossil fuel combustion is the chief driver of carbon dioxide emissions that are causing climate change. While many states have begun transitioning to renewable energy sources to replace coal, oil and natural gas, New Mexico is the only state to adopt a 100 percent clean energy mandate while also producing record levels of oil. 

“For the [Gov. Michelle] Lujan Grisham administration, environmental issues are public health priorities,” Kunkel said in her remarks, adding that DOH is part of the governor’s climate change task force.

Guv signs civil rights commission, election, budget solvency bills

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three pieces of legislation from the special session which ended earlier this week: a bill to create a state civil rights commission, a bill to aid in voting amid a pandemic and a solvency bill related to the budget. Other pieces of legislation, including the revised budget, remain on her desk. The governor can issue line-item vetoes of bills that include an appropriation, including the budget. She has until July 12 to decide on those, though the new fiscal year begins on July 1. The civil rights commission bill was one of the pieces of legislation aimed at police reform that passed the Legislature this year.

What police reform efforts happened, and didn’t happen, during the special session

This year’s special session wrapped up on Monday and the state now has a balanced budget. But as with many special sessions, legislators were tasked with considering other law changes, including those aimed at holding law enforcement officers more accountable. Those bills included issues like mandatory body cameras for police officers, new processes for reporting police use of force and creating a civil rights commission. It was a mixed bag on what types of reform proposals passed and there were mixed feelings from civil rights advocates. 

Body cameras

One of the bills that made it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk is SB 8, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. The bill would require all police in the state, regardless of jurisdiction, to wear body cameras.

Election changes pass House after revote

A scaled-back election overhaul lacking a key provision that would have allowed clerks to mail every registered voter a ballot for the November general election is on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk following a dramatic revote after first failing to pass the House. After three hours of debate, the House rejected Senate Bill 4 in a 38-32 vote Saturday that included many Democrats opposing the measure despite it being a priority of Lujan Grisham and other Democrats. But a subsequent vote to “reconsider” the legislation passed, and after hours of closed-door caucus meetings, a second vote on the legislation cleared the House floor 44-26 without any amendments, rescuing the bill from the legislative graveyard. House Speaker Brian Egolf and other Democratic leaders persuaded fellow Democrats to support legislation they opposed just hours earlier byreminding them of other provisions in the bill that are meant to help ensure a safe election during the pandemic. “We basically decided to [prioritize] a safe election, an election where absentee ballot programs can be meaningfully done without late-arriving ballots, without vendors and processing being such a problem like in the primary we just went through,” Egolf said in an interview after the House adjourned.

Offensive phone calls disrupt House rules committee meeting

A House committee charged with creating rules for running the special session got an earful Wednesday when some telephone callers into the meeting criticized social protests and uttered racial epithets. The scene, legislators on both sides of the aisle said, pointed to the challenge of running a nontraditional session of the Legislature. Members of both political parties expressed outrage at the calls, which effectively ended any effort to take public comment by phone during Wednesday’s meeting of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee at the Roundhouse. “What we just heard is pretty disgusting,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Rep. Jim Townsend, the minority leader in the House, agreed. 

“I am the strongest proponent of public involvement that there is, but when I hear comments like that … that’s uncalled for,” said Townsend, R-Artesia.

For some, hand-shaking is on tap at special session

A House Republican said Tuesday he would likely shake hands with or hug fellow legislators from Southeastern New Mexico during the special session — prompting criticism from House Speaker Brian Egolf, who said he was worried such a practice could jeopardize the health of others later this week. Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said lawmakers from his part of the state plan to wear masks and use hand sanitizer during the upcoming meeting in Santa Fe and would keep their distance from legislators from other areas of New Mexico. But when it comes to interacting with members from his area of the state, Nibert said those representing the southeast intend to engage in physical contact with each other at the Capitol because their area of the state has not been heavily affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic. “When I see David Gallegos for the first time, I can pretty well guarantee you he’s going to stick his hand out to shake my hand and probably give me a hug,” Nibert said, referring to the Republican legislator from Eunice. “I’m not going to be offended by it and he’s not going to be offended by it because in our community that’s where we’re at.”

The comments came as a House committee is set to debate proposed rules changes on Wednesday that would allow the chamber to take greater health precautions during the session, such as allowing members to participate virtually.

Can New Mexico lawmakers get in, get out for special session?

The New Mexico Senate’s conservative-leaning Democrats long have been the gatekeepers — the ones who ultimately decide if legislation backed by the governor and the House of Representatives can become law. Of course, the control they wield has an expiration date after a number of their most influential members lost primary elections this month to more progressive challengers. Those lawmakers will be leaving the Legislature at the end of the year. Even so, they’ll have one last hurrah to exercise their power — the upcoming special session — and they could use it again to block bills backed by their colleagues. This time, they might do that by leaving town.

Egolf challenger drops out of the race

A candidate running to unseat New Mexico’s Speaker of the House suspended her campaign Monday, saying she would re-focus her efforts to combat climate change. 

But as NM Political Report’s Andy Lyman, reporting for the Santa Fe Reporter, discovered, Lyla June Johnston’s campaign came to an end about a month after her former campaign manager accused her of theft. 

Johnston told the Santa Fe Reporter that a police report that named her as a suspect in a fraud and embezzlement investigation had nothing to do with her decision to drop out of her race. 

Johnston said the case was based on a misunderstanding and that her former campaign manager got her property back after police got involved. 

After she called police to report the alleged crime, the campaign manager told the responding officer that she thought Johnston, along with another campaign worker, took the campaign manager’s personal belongings in retaliation for quitting Johnston’s campaign. 

The campaign manager told the officer she quit the campaign after Johnston disclosed that an old Facebook post from her past was being circulated online. The post, the campaign manager said, seemed to show Johnston admitting to, and asking forgiveness for, sexual misconduct from when she was a student at Stanford University. 

Johnston told the Santa Fe Reporter that she has long deleted the post, but that it was her attempt to talk about consent. 

“What I was writing about was that when I was a teenager, I kissed someone when we were both inebriated and, as teenagers, we normalize this behavior at parties,” she told the Santa Fe Reporter. “But I eventually rejected that mindset. Because now I know this means neither of us were able to consent. So, I was trying to start a conversation about consent that extends beyond the narrow legal definition.”

Johnston’s official announcement that she was ending her campaign cited “a disappointing legislative session” and her seven day fast as two events that made it “clear that our resources and energy will be better directed toward a grassroots, statewide effort to address the climate emergency.”

Johnston is outspoken against the oil and gas industry and has criticized politicians, including her former opponent, Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, of relying too much on financial returns from oil and gas extraction. 

Her exit from the race leaves Egolf without an opponent with just a few weeks left for legislative candidates to file for candidacy.  

Lujan Grisham hails ‘really productive’ session

New Mexico’s 54th Legislature wrapped up Thursday amid congratulatory hugs and news conferences — a veneer of good cheer that masked a dose of sleep deprivation, early-morning procedural bickering, and finally, sighs of relief as key bills were passed just hours before the final gavel. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic legislators touted the passage of a number of their priority proposals, including the creation of an early childhood trust fund, passing a high-profile firearms bill and shepherding through the state’s $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year. “I think this was a really productive 30-day session,” Lujan Grisham said, surrounded by legislators and cabinet secretaries at a post-session news conference in  the Roundhouse. “We are building something new together. We’re investing for tomorrow and we’re delivering today.”

The governor won passage for the majority of bills she asked legislators to undertake — 80 percent of them, by her own count.

Senate panel trims 2021 budget

A cut here, a whack there — and a budget takes form. But not without some acrimony. The Senate Finance Committee released considerable changes to the state’s main budget bill Tuesday, trimming the House’s spending plan in high-visibility areas such as roads and teacher pay raises, and scaling down one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most prized pieces of legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship. The committee unanimously approved its amendments to House Bill 2, which calls for a $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year, and moves the legislation to the Senate floor. That would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and would target reserves at 25 percent.