Two bills addressing paid sick leave will be rolled into one bill

After four hours of testimony on two bills that address paid sick leave, House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs asked the sponsors of both bills to work to roll them into one. The two bills, HB 20  and HB 37, both mandate that employers in the state offer paid sick leave that employees would accrue over a 12-month period, but HB 20 would establish a tiered system of paid time off based on the amount of workers an employer has. For example, employees at a business or organization with fewer than 10 workers would be allowed to earn up to 40 hours of earned sick leave. But employees who work for an employer with 10 or more workers could accrue up to 64 hours of earned sick leave within a 12-month timeframe. State Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Las Alamos, is the lead sponsor of HB 20.

A bill to establish paid family and medical leave will be filed in January

A bill to create paid family and medical leave for all employees in the state is slated to be filed in January. The bill would allow employees to take up to 12 weeks per year of paid leave for a serious medical issue, bringing home a new child or to care for a family member with a serious medical issue. The effort is not new. State Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Las Alamos, sponsored similar bills in 2019 and 2020 and will be the lead sponsor on the upcoming 2021 bill. HB 16 never went to committee in 2020.

Bill to introduce paid sick leave is timely, say advocates

Albuquerque resident Iman Andrade got worried when the pandemic began in mid-March. She delivered pizzas for a living earlier this year and the staff making and delivering the pizzas make minimum wage. They came in sick because they had to, she said. “My experience as a worker, as a driver, you don’t get paid enough to get to call into work sick. In the middle of the pandemic, it’s dangerous.

Tax expert says there could be significant revenues in cannabis legalization, some lawmakers still skeptical

Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January. 

Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use. 

While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact. 

“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”

Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom. 

Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.

As coronavirus spreads, advocates say it shows why paid sick leave is needed

With the coronavirus continuing to spread, some say the crisis emphasizes the need for paid time off for health emergencies in New Mexico. So far, there are no known positive cases of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, in New Mexico, according to state Department of Health spokesman David Morgan. Jodi McGinnis Porter, director of communications for the New Mexico Human Services Department, said that as of the end of Sunday, 57 people in New Mexico tested for the virus and all tests were negative. But the state health department said last week that the agency anticipates positive tests at some point. Every state surrounding New Mexico has had at least one test positive case and there are hundreds of confirmed cases nationwide. 

The financial toll of the growing spread of the coronavirus is still not clear, but the Dow Jones dropped 2,000 points Monday and the price of oil dropped to $30.24 a barrel according to MarketWatch.com.

A long road to remediation for hexavalent chromium plume near Los Alamos

In the years between 1956 and 1972, thousands of kilograms of chemical called hexavalent chromium was released into a canyon near Los Alamos. Some of the contaminant filtered through the soils of the area and was consequently converted to trivalent chromium, a far less dangerous iteration of the chemical. But at least 2,000 kg of hexavalent chromium has remained in the environment, moving through the canyonlands that surround Los Alamos for decades. Today, the contamination is settled atop an aquifer in a plume, and the chemical is now present within the first 100 feet of the water table in the area of the plume. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) have been working to contain the plume since 2005, while officials decide on how best to clean up the contamination.

Gun buyer background check bill clears Legislature

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted 42-27 late Monday to approve a bill that would expand requirements for instant federal background checks on buyers of firearms in the state. Exceptions would include sales of antique firearms or any sale involving immediate family members. It would not affect transactions involving guns that are loaned, gifted or inherited either. The Senate already had narrowly approved Senate Bill 8, on a vote of 22-20 on Feb. 14, the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Fla.

Trapping bill highlights state’s urban/rural divide

Mary Katherine Ray has seen traps up close. One caught the leg of her dog Greta while they were hiking. “I will never forget the sound of Greta’s screaming,” Ray told a New Mexico legislative committee on Thursday. It was a story lawmakers heard over and over again — a story of beautiful days outdoors turned bloody by traps lurking in the brush. Animal welfare advocates and others are renewing a years-long effort to ban trapping on public lands in New Mexico.

Governor signs series of bills Martinez had vetoed

Lobbyists usually have to report when they spend money on legislators and other government officials. But because of a loophole in New Mexico law, lobbyists do not have to report any expenses under $100. Take a lawmaker to lunch and as long as the bill is $99.99 or less, you don’t have to tell a soul. That will change thanks to a new law. Sort of.

Three Dem legislators lose in primaries

Three incumbent Democratic state House members lost in their primaries Tuesday according to unofficial numbers. In a Santa Fe area district, Carl Trujillo was perhaps the most embattled incumbent. A lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment last month, though Trujillo denied the allegations. He now faces an investigation by the state Legislature in accordance with the state’s new sexual harassment rules. Trujillo was beat out by former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romero.