Senate sends amended $7.4 billion budget proposal to House

A $7.4 billion budget that would increase state government spending by 4.8 percent in the upcoming fiscal year cleared the New Mexico Senate along a mostly party-line vote Wednesday after an hourslong debate riddled with political potshots and last-minute amendments. “Not everybody’s going to like what’s in the budget,” said Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat who is the Senate Finance Committee chairman. “Not everybody can get everything they want, but we can try.” The proposed budget calls for $3.35 billion in public education spending, a 5.8 percent increase; $300 million for road projects around the state; $200 million in pandemic recovery grants for businesses; and $34 million to help shore up the pension fund for the state’s educators. The proposal also includes about $64 million for a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all state government, public school and higher education employees.

With session clock ticking down, much work remains for New Mexico legislators

To some degree, the two contrasting actions that played out late Friday morning spoke volumes about this year’s 60-day legislative session. In the House of Representatives, members prepared to debate a contentious bill that would repeal a decades-old law making it a felony to perform an abortion. Around the same time, in her Santa Fe home, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, looked at a huge pile of mail from constituents and pondered what lawmakers in her chamber still need to do with fewer than 30 days remaining in session. Later that day, as Rodriguez joined her colleagues on the Senate floor, the House voted to approve the abortion repeal measure, sending it to the governor’s desk. One down, hundreds to go.

A leadership shakeup among NM Senate Republicans

New Mexico state Senate Republicans saw a somewhat unexpected leadership shake-up Tuesday. 

Senate Republicans announced Tuesday evening that Sen. Greg Baca of Belen was elected as the Senate Minority Leader over Sen. Stuart Ingle, who had been minority leader since 2001. 

In 2016, Baca defeated incumbent Michael Sanchez, a Democrat also from Belen. Sanchez was the Senate Majority Leader. Senate Republicans were still unable to take the majority of the chamber that year and Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe was elected by his caucus to the majority leader position and one he still holds. 

According to an announcement from Senate Republicans, Baca served in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War. 

Also elected to Senate Republican leadership is Rep. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho. Brandt was picked to continue in his role as Senate minority whip, a role he’s had since this summer when former-whip Bill Payne stepped down from the position when he announced his retirement. Brandt is also a veteran, having served in the U.S. Air Force.

Pregnant Worker Accommodation easily advances from Senate panel

A bill that would protect pregnant workers passed 6-0 in the Senate Public Affairs Committee in a jovial, bipartisan mood Thursday night. HB 25 amends the state Human Rights Act to protect pregnant workers or new moms from discriminatiom. 

Democratic Sen. Liz Stefanics, of Cerillos, and Democratic Rep. Gail Chasey, of Albuquerque, are sponsoring the bill. The accommodations the bill allows for are things such as water at a workstation, extra bathroom breaks and a stool. Also, an employer could not force a pregnant worker to take time off from work due to pregnancy. The bill passed the House floor 65-0 last week.

Two contraception bills advance

A bill that would go beyond both the governor’s and Legislative Finance Committee’s appropriation recommendations for long-acting reversible contraceptive training to medical professionals passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee 4-2 Thursday. The vote fell along party lines for SB 40, which would provide $1.2 million from the general fund to the state Department of Health to mentor health care providers on long-acting reversible contraception. Democratic Senators Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez of Albuquerque, Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerrillos, Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces voted in favor. Republican Senators Candace Gould of Albuquerque and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho opposed the bill, while Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was absent. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, is sponsoring this bill as well as another, SB 41, which provides $500,000 to the Department of Health to raise public awareness on long-acting reversible contraception.

Senate approves pay raises for elected state officials

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.

After filibuster, Senate OKs power plant shutdown bill

A bill aimed at shutting down the coal-burning San Juan Generating Station and strengthening New Mexico renewable energy standards survived a rambling 3 1/2-hour filibuster and other parliamentary maneuvering by opponents in the state Senate on Wednesday night. But one victim of the games on the Senate floor was the annual House vs. Senate basketball contest at the Santa Fe Indian School gym, an annual benefit for the University of New Mexico’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Senate team had to concede and return to the Capitol, some members arriving in the Senate chamber still wearing basketball gear, because the debate on Senate Bill 489 — dubbed the Energy Transition Act — went on well into the night. State Sen. Cliff Pirtle returned to the Senate floor wearing his jersey for the House-Senate basketball game and the rules-mandated tie.

Despite early ed funding setback, governor pushes enabling law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the unusual step Wednesday of pressing for enabling legislation on a constitutional amendment that hasn’t been sent to the voters, much less been approved by them. With her 3-year-old granddaughter, Avery Stewart, on her lap, Lujan Grisham served as an expert witness for Senate Bill 671. This proposal is contingent on voters someday approving the expenditure of half a percent of the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, helped get the bill through the Senate Education Committee on a party-line 6-3 vote. All the members of her party supported it, but the Republicans voted against it.

Senators pare back proposed childhood ed agency

A bipartisan group of state senators on Monday balked at creating a new department to centralize early childhood education programs, stripping the proposed agency of about half of its responsibilities. Members of the Senate Education Committee voted 5-4 to amend Senate Bill 22, which would establish the centralized agency. The change would keep programs for 4-year-olds under the purview of the Public Education Department. The bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque, said the amendment hurts his proposal. “It defeats the ability to ensure consistency across the early childhood education spectrum,” he said.

With the fate of legal cannabis unclear, decriminalization back on the table

One of the biggest unanswered questions during this year’s legislative session is whether New Mexico will become the next state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis is dependent on a handful of hold-outs in the state Senate, but one bill that would ease the state’s laws on cannabis, years in the making and sponsored by one of those hold-outs, cleared its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 323 on a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored similar legislation to replace criminal charges with fines for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis since 2015. With each attempt, the proposal has gained more support in the Legislature.