A Senate panel significantly watered down a bill late Thursday that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. Senate Bill 4, which is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, had proposed to allow county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters without requiring people to request them. But after a three-hour debate, the Senate Rules Committee voted to strike that provision from the bill. Under the revised bill, people would still need to apply for absentee ballots before receiving them. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed the amendment after Republicans on the panel expressed concerns that automatically mailing ballots would put election security at risk.
State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez was self-isolating at her hotel in Santa Fe Thursday after being exposed to a person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said she received a call from the state Department of Health notifying her she had contact with someone who tested positive. The senator said she was feeling fine and had no symptoms associated with the virus. She was given permission to travel to Santa Fe for the special legislative session, but isolated in her office at the Capitol and then moved back to her hotel. “I came to my hotel because my committees aren’t meeting today,” she said Thursday.
For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse.
There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote.
A Senate bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents are eligible to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program is headed to the House.
SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, passed the Senate floor Saturday night by a 32-8 vote. Ortiz y Pino told other Senate members that the bill is an attempt to “plug the hole” that was created in a bill he sponsored last year that was signed into law.
The bill he sponsored last year, among other changes to the state’s medical cannabis laws, removed the words “resident of New Mexico” from the definition of a qualified patient and replaced them with “person.” Shortly after the law was changed last year, Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, along with two Texas residents, took the state to court after the three were denied medical cannabis patient cards. Rodriguez is an Arizona resident, but according to court documents owns a home and vehicle in New Mexico. Arizona has a medical cannabis program and Texas has a medical program with limited conditions and only allows cannabis with half a percent of THC—a psychoactive substance in cannabis.
After a state district judge ruled in favor of the three petitioners, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office and the Department of Health took the issue to the Court of Appeals, where it remains pending.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, took issue with the bill and repeated some of the same concerns he brought up in a previous committee hearing. He told a story about a friend of his who suffered through cancer treatment and was unable to benefit from medical cannabis because he lived in Texas.
In its inaugural meeting, a group tasked by New Mexico’s governor to come up with ideas to safely and efficiently legalize recreational use cannabis in the state discussed the process for which it will follow in the next several months.
The Working Group on Cannabis Legalization for New Mexico consists of about 20 people with varying backgrounds, including medical cannabis producers, medical cannabis patients and state departments. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham picked the members of the group.
Lujan Grisham’s senior policy advisor Dominic Gabello told members he is confident the group will be able to address the many concerns related to legalizing cannabis in New Mexico.
“We’ve put this together and I think we’ve got a good plan moving forward to discuss this and really figure out, how do we find the right path forward for New Mexico,” Gabello said. Some medical cannabis patients and producers previously raised their concerns about adequate patient representation in the group. Before Wednesday’s meeting, there was no patients in the group, but patient advocate Heath Grider was ultimately added. “I believe that everyone is doing their best to include us,” Grider said just after Wednesday’s meeting.
But, he said, the group can still use more voices, particularly from patients and businesses who might be impacted by legalization.
The group’s chair, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, told NM Political Report there will be more opportunities in the next eight planned meetings to include community stakeholders from across the state, including Native American tribal members and leaders and residents in rural areas.
“All those meetings are public and they can add comments ahead of time online,” Davis said.
Davis also said the group’s website will allow members of the public to see what each member thinks about a specific issue related to legalization.
“You’ll see who dissented and what the vote was,” Davis said.
And even though the group’s website is not an official state site, Davis said the whole process will be transparent and encouraged members to be aware of that .
“Assume everything you write down is public record,” Davis told the group before the meeting.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, who co-sponsored a bill last legislative session to legalize cannabis and establish state-run dispensaries, is also part of the group.
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 New Mexico Senate on Monday voted 38-0 for a bill creating a division of outdoor recreation, one of the favored initiatives of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It is not to be a promotional agency but one that would be responsible for building the private-sector economy by helping businesses find ways to draw more visitors to New Mexico’s rivers, forests, caverns and peaks. The proposal, Senate Bill 462, next moves to the House of Representatives, where the Democratic leadership will fast-track it. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it’s clear that the Democratic governor wants this bill passed. “New Mexico has the greatest outdoor opportunities in the West,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after the Senate’s vote.
New Mexico’s governor and other statewide elected officials would get 15 percent raises starting in 2023, under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate. The proposal, Senate Bill 547, next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The state’s five public regulation commissioners, who are elected from districts, also would receive 15 percent increases. Salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials were last increased in 2002. Sens.
In a clash between urban and rural lawmakers, the New Mexico Senate voted 22-17 on Wednesday to outlaw coyote-killing contests that are staged for prizes or entertainment. The proposal, Senate Bill 76, now advances to the House of Representatives. Similar bills have twice cleared the Senate in the last four years but died in the House. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said he had a simple reason for co-sponsoring the latest attempt to end the contests targeting coyotes. “I don’t want to live in a culture of wanton killing,” Moores said.
Some vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez are raising eyebrows among legislators and others—and at least one partial veto may be challenged in court. Wednesday was the final day for Martinez to decide whether or not to sign bills from this year’s legislative session. She signed 80 bills into law, but vetoed 31 others. Some she rejected using her veto pen, while with others she just allowed time to run out in what is called a “pocket veto.”
One portion of a bill that may see a new life was part of the crime omnibus bill the Legislature passed in response to the spike in crime, particularly in Albuquerque. The bill combined a number of ideas aimed at reducing crimes.