Sexual assault nurse examiner shortage impacts victims and families

When the sun comes up, a sexual assault nurse examiner could be coming home from investigating a case after getting a call in the early hours of the morning. Autumn Skinner, a Portales-based sexual assault nurse examiner, has had to drive outside of the seven-county region she serves due to a lack of sexual assault nurse examiners [known as SANEs] in rural areas across the state. She has had to drive three hours one way to examine a victim and she has had to ask victims to meet her at a hospital halfway due to the distance. “I’ve gone out to Union County in the middle of the night and not come home until the sun comes up,” she said. Some programs in the state lack the means to offer on-call SANE care for victims, she said.

Senate committee passes bill to fully fund sexual assault services

By a vote of 7-0, the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee unanimously passed SB 197, which, if passed and signed by the governor, would provide the full $5 million request for sexual assault services across the state which advocates have said is crucial. State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, is sponsoring SB 197. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a co-sponsor and spoke during the committee hearing about the importance of the request because some federal funding for sexual assault services is expected to no longer be available as of Fiscal Year 2023. Alexandria Taylor, director of Sexual Assault Services for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said that HB 2, the General Appropriations Act of 2022, provides $2.6 million to New Mexico Crime Victim Reparation Commission. “We’re asking for the remaining $2.4 million to be put in,” Taylor said of SB 197.

Bill to end life in prison without parole for juveniles clears committee

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, with some members absent, voted 5-to-1 to pass SB 43, which would eliminate the possibility of a child being sentenced to life in prison without parole. Republican state Sen. Gregg Schemedes of Tijeras voted against the bill. State Sens. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, David Gallegos, R-Eunice and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, were not present for the vote. All the Democratic members of the committee voted in favor.  

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, a Democrat from Albuquerque, said the courts have asked the legislative branch to clarify this particular part of the law, which if passed would prevent a child from receiving a life sentence without parole and would allow a parole hearing after 15 years of time served.

Effort to eliminate Social Security tax gains momentum

The push to eliminate New Mexico’s income tax on Social Security benefits is gaining traction at the Roundhouse. Two senators, Democrat Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Republican David Gallegos of Eunice, introduced separate bills Thursday that would eliminate the tax on Social Security income. Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, previously introduced a bill to repeal the tax, but it would still affect higher earners and increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to make up the loss in state revenue. Padilla said his proposal, Senate Bill 108, has been endorsed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called on lawmakers Tuesday during her State of the State address to end the tax and whose office issued a news release late Thursday reiterating the request. “We have never had a better opportunity to eliminate income taxes on Social Security like we do right now,” Padilla said.

Legislature sends spending bill to Governor’s desk (Updated)

Updated: The House concurred on HB 2 as amended by the state Senate by a voice vote on Thursday. This sends the legislation to the Governor’s desk for signature. HB 2 appropriates $478 million of the ARPA funds into various projects, such as road work, broadband expansion and conservation projects. The Legislative Finance Committee staff put the spending bill together based on requests from state agencies made during interim legislative committee hearings. The spending for some of the money, such as $10 million for smaller airports around the state, has not been appropriated in specific terms and will be left up to the agencies, in this case the Department of Transportation, to make the final decisions on the best use of the funds.

New Mexico not changing time change this year

Still feeling fatigued and cranky after this past weekend’s change to daylight saving time? Get used to it. A bill that would have led to the possibility of New Mexico staying on a single time year-round is dead. Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to table Senate Bill 102, which would make Mountain Daylight Time the state’s permanent year-round time if enabling federal legislation is passed. Though the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, stressed the act would only go into effect if the federal government decides to create a nationwide daylight saving time zone, some committee members were not swayed.

New Mexico Senate passes bill to reduce cap on small-loan interest rates

Legislation aimed to rein in what critics call predatory lending passed the state Senate after a tense two-hour debate Monday that sparked accusations of untruths and assertions the bill’s sponsors are oblivious to the tough realities confronted by people who live paycheck to paycheck. Opponents contended Senate Bill 66, which would cut the maximum interest rate on small loans to 36 percent from 175 percent, would do more harm than good for struggling New Mexicans by causing high-risk lenders to shut down. The measure passed on a 25-14 vote and will be considered next by the state House of Representatives. Expect plenty of dissension and disagreement if Tuesday’s Senate floor session is any indication of what lies ahead. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said about a third of the people who called him about the legislation were angry it would cap the interest at so high a rate.

Abortion ban repeal bill clears first hurdle Monday

Senate Bill 10, which would repeal the 1969 abortion ban on state law books, passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee 5-3 Monday. The vote fell along party lines with the three Republican state Senators voting against and the five Democrats on the committee voting in favor. After a two hour wait due to technical difficulties, the committee hearing ran for nearly 2.5 hours due to the length of the debate on the issue. Members of the public for both sides gave impassioned speeches both for and against. “(The bill) makes sure that women, in collaboration with their provider and families, can make decisions for themselves.

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.

Progressive Democrats defeat incumbents, with some races still pending

Tuesday night proved to be a night of historic upsets against state Senators who have long held onto their seats. Much of the action was on the Democratic side, though it appears two Republican incumbents also lost their primaries. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, after 32 years in the state Senate and the most powerful legislator as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is extremely likely to lose to grassroots challenger Neomi Martinez-Parra. Smith represents SD 35. He more than doubled Martinez-Parra in donations.