Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an upcoming special session beginning on April 5 after an agreement with legislative leaders. At issue is a “junior” spending bill, which Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed. The governor said legislators would bring up a “revised” spending bill. She also indicated that she will ask the Legislature to provide further economic relief in light of rising inflation and soaring gas prices. “As prices remain high nationwide, it is clear that we must act swiftly to deliver more relief to New Mexicans,” the governor said.
This year’s 30-day legislative session ended with a surprise. Or, more accurately, a series of bombshells. As the Legislature concluded its business at noon Thursday, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — considered a key architect of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and one of its most influential players — announced he is not seeking reelection this year. That was one one of the day’s rapid-fire shockers, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced only an hour or so later she was rescinding New Mexico’s indoor mask mandate. Though most legislators seemed wrung out by a difficult month, punctuated by a nearly daylong marathon in the House of Representatives, the session’s conclusion was anything but anticlimactic.
State Rep. Patty Lundstrom’s effort to jump-start what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other proponents call a clean hydrogen economy might be blocked again — this time by House Speaker Brian Egolf. Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, announced Monday he was putting Lundstrom’s second bill calling for a Hydrogen Hub Act on the “Speaker’s Table” — where it can remain on hold until the session ends or can be put back into play by the speaker. Egolf wrote in a text message House Bill 227 “will not be heard” before the end of the session. He did not explain why he made the move. Environmental activists who oppose the governor’s plan to make New Mexico a hub of so-called blue hydrogen production, arguing it will increase emissions amid a global climate crisis, cheered Egolf’s action.
ByDaniel J. Chacón and Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican |
If you plan to attend this year’s 30-day legislative session at the state Capitol, here’s a piece of advice: Don’t forget a mask or proof of vaccination and a booster shot. The Roundhouse will be open to the public when the Legislature convenes Tuesday, but with safeguards designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the threat of the virus continues to hang over New Mexico nearly two years after it arrived. The open doors stand in contrast to the tightly shuttered New Mexico Capitol during last year’s 60-day session, when both the pandemic and fears of violence erupting in response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol prompted state lawmakers to increase security measures. Another change from most previous sessions: Weapons are prohibited, though small pocket knives will be permitted.
After a contentious, two-hour debate over what should go into the bill to fund 2021’s second special legislative session, the House voted 65 to 1 to approve the $1.6 million package. The new House Majority Floor leader, Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez, of Albuquerque, introduced HB 1, known as the feed bill, which ensures that the 2021 second special session legislative session can pay for itself. The legislative session, as called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is focused on redrawing political maps and how to appropriate the rest of the $1.1 billion the state has received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act under Pres. Joe Biden. The bill originally included additional monies to go to the executive and judicial branches, to enable the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to prepare to spend the ARPA funds and money for the courts to pay for pretrial services. Martinez referred repeatedly to the crime problem in Albuquerque and that the DFA needed to get ready for the federal expenditures as reasons to pass a bill that was designed to allow the legislature to include the additional expenditures.
The impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by low-income and minority communities—and those same people could be left behind as the state works to combat this crisis if equity is not placed at the center of conversations, according to panelists who spoke during the 2021 Climate Summit in Santa Fe this week. Low-income and minority communities also form a large portion of the fossil fuel work force, where they face low wages, long working hours and dangerous conditions, as highlighted by members of the group Somos Un Pueblo Unido who have family members working in the oil fields near Hobbs. During a panel discussion on Tuesday, they described 15-hour work days, including during extreme heat, that leaves workers exhausted. But, at the same time, the low-wages mean they are living from paycheck to paycheck. Low-income households tend to face a greater energy burden, meaning more of their earnings go to paying utility bills than other households.
As Texas abortion rights yo-yo in the courts, one Planned Parenthood doctor said the volume in patients coming from Texas has not changed. Last week a federal Texas judge placed a temporary injunction on SB 8, the Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks, at the U.S. Department of Justice’s request. The DOJ is suing Texas over the law. But within 48 hours after the injunction, the 5th US Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s injunction, making abortion illegal in the state of Texas, again, after six weeks gestation. According to national media, the DOJ has appealed and is asking the courts to reconsider placing an injunction on the ban.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain clinics, which includes those in New Mexico, experienced a 130 percent increase in patients coming from Texas since August. The organization held a press conference on Monday alongside elected officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada to discuss how the six-week gestational abortion ban in Texas has impacted the health care provider across the three states. In New Mexico alone, Planned Parenthood clinics have served 50 Texas patients since the ban began on September 1, Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications for PPRM, said. Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive officer for PPRM, said the average wait time for an appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Mexico is now 21 days. She said Texas patients have had to travel, on average, 650 miles one-way to access abortion.
ByCody Nelson, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Emily Holden, for Floodlight |
Antoinette Sedillo Lopez quickly learned the harsh reality of New Mexico politics after she was appointed to fill an empty seat in the state senate two years ago. One of the first bills she pushed sought a four-year pause on new fracking permits on state lands, taking that time to study the environmental, health and safety impacts of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique. Sedillo Lopez believed it was a sensible piece of legislation, one that was tempered and looked out for New Mexicans. But almost right away, the bill died,never getting out of committee. The same thing happened to a similar measure she pushed earlier this year, with support from dozens of environmental and Indigenous organizations.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators spoke about legislative successes and what they expect to happen with bills that didn’t cross the finish line, including a pending special session to pass recreational cannabis.
Lujan Grisham said she was proud of how much work was done in a session marred by a pandemic.
“It’s incredibly difficult and challenging, to debate, to draft, to engage in policy making,” she said. “It’s everything from economic relief, education and health care in an environment where you absolutely have to meet the COVID safe practices.”
Particularly, Lujan Grisham praised lawmakers for passing a liquor law reform, approving a proposed constitutional amendment to use state funds to pay for early childhood education and decriminalizing abortion.
Democratic House of Representatives leadership held a press conference a few minutes after adjourning sine die on the House chamber floor to discuss Democratic accomplishments for this session. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, said the focus for this session was recovery.
The three-pronged approach to recovery, Egolf said, was education, health and the economy. Of the more than 170 pieces of legislation that passed this year, some of the bills highlighted during the press conference included passage of SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which repealed the 1969 statute banning abortion, as well as HB 4 the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense in the state and allows for financial remedy up to $2 million and the potential to recover attorney’s fees if a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. Lujan Grisham signed SB 10 into law in February.