A bill to eliminate life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles sentenced as adults passed the House in the early hours of Sunday morning by a 37-25 vote. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, sponsored SB 64. House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, a cosponsor, presented the bill to the House. The bill would, if enacted, retroactively impact 70 adults out of a prison population of about 7,000 individuals in New Mexico and it will end the possibility of a child sentenced as an adult of being given the sentence of life without the chance of parole. It would not automatically grant parole.
A bill to expand the New Mexico Human Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ individuals passed its first committee hearing by a party line vote of 5-3. HB 207, the Expand the Human Rights Act Scope, would, if enacted, update some of the language in the New Mexico Civil Rights Act and it will close a loophole in the current law so public entities, such as public schools, cannot discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. State Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, is the primary sponsor and presented the bill to the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Saturday. If enacted, the bill will replace the word “handicap” with “disability,” update the language in the bill to include the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” It will also include definitions for the words “sex” and “gender,” Ortez told the committee during the hearing. The three Republicans on the committee spoke during the question period on the bill.
The so-called Second Chance bill will have no chance during this year’s legislative session. Sponsors of Senate Bill 43, which would’ve banned life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, have pulled the proposed piece of legislation from consideration. “In the final week of the session, it has been frustrating to watch a chorus of voices drowned out by a handful of District Attorneys and other parties who have misrepresented this issue to victims of tragedy across our state,” the sponsors wrote in a joint statement. “We negotiated in good faith but the goalposts kept moving, and we cannot accept changes that undermine the intent of the bill.” The sponsors plan to bring the bring the bill back next year.
The state agency that provides legal representation for indigent defendants is drastically understaffed, according to a recently released study which says the Law Offices of the Public Defender needs 67 percent more lawyers that it has to provide “reasonably effective assistance of counsel” as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. That’s 602 more attorneys — more than double the 295 the agency currently has.
“It frightening,” Public Defender Commission Chairman Thomas J. Clear III told House Appropriations and Finance Committee members Friday. “I have warned it is a problem that is going to cost this state a lot of money, and this report verifies it. “I applaud our attorneys …[who] handle these cases, but quite frankly, the defendants aren’t receiving any kind of quality representation systemically,” he added. Completed by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, the study is an outgrowth of a 2016 crisis within the state agency.
During a two-hour Senate Finance Committee hearing on HB 2, the committee learned of issues with the bill that will likely require change to the legislation. Department of Game and Fish Director, Michael Sloane, told the committee during the hearing that the department did not request the $5 million appropriated in the bill for property acquisition. He said the department is not currently considering any property acquisition projects. This led to concern among some committee members who brought up Bar L Ranch in Sandoval County, that the money was appropriated for that purchase but Sloane said any talk about the state purchasing that land was premature. Senate Finance Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, clarified how the appropriation happened by saying that the Legislative Finance Committee had reached out to the department but, he said, didn’t hear back.
New Mexicans should expect smoother roads and state government employees can look forward to a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the upcoming fiscal year under a $7.39 billion spending plan the House Appropriations and Finance Committee unanimously approved Monday. The proposed budget, which represents a 4.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year, includes $300 million for state and local roads. The proposal also calls for $64 million in spending for a cost-of-living adjustment for all state government, public school and higher education employees. “This is the cleanest bill I’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the committee. “There’s no love handles on this bill.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Wednesday that makes nondisclosure agreements for harassment, retaliation or discrimination no longer a bargaining tool for employers in settlements. HB 21, a nondisclosure agreement bill, levels the playing field, according to bill sponsor Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, a Democrat from Albuquerque. When a victim of harassment, retaliation or discrimination files a lawsuit against an employer, the employer can no longer require the victim to sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement. Hochman-Vigil and other proponents of the bill said during the legislative session that more often than not the victim is no longer employed when they bring suit and are forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement as a condition for settling. That silences the victim, proponents said during the legislative session.
A bill that protects victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination passed the House floor unanimously late Thursday night. The House voted 67-0 in support of HB 21, which prevents an employer from forcing a nondisclosure agreement on an employee who is settling over sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Most cases never reach the courts, said Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, during the House floor discussion. Hochman-Vigil also said that more often than not the victim is no longer employed and cannot get a new job and needs to reach the settlement for financial survival. Proponents of the bill said during committee hearings that the bill really protects future potential victims and that enabling victims to speak about what happened to them can prevent serial abusers.
A bill that advocates say would reduce serial sexual harassers in the workplace passed by a 9-3 vote along party lines in the House Judiciary Committee Monday, and at least one Republican legislator worried the bill goes too far. Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, opposed HB 21, which prohibits a private employer from enforcing a nondisclosure act when the employer settles a sexual harassment case with an employee. Nibert said he didn’t like the fact that the bill meant that the government is regulating private business, especially since the government is excluded from the bill. But Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the bill, said Sen. Sander Rue, D-Albuquerque, is carrying a bill that would address government employers. Nibert continued to express opposition to the bill.
The state House Judiciary Committee on Monday approved legislation aimed at preventing domestic terrorism in the wake of a deadly mass shooting in August at an El Paso Walmart that targeted Hispanics. The panel also advanced legislation toughening the state’s cyberterrorism law. Supporters of House Bill 269, which resulted from discussions among New Mexico officials about how to guard the state against such an incident, argued it will offer prosecutors the proper legal tools in a case of domestic terrorism. The bill, which now advances to the House floor, defines the state crime of terrorism and would make it a second-degree felony to commit an act meant to intimidate or coerce the public, including mass violence in a public place, or an attempt to influence policy or politics using intimidation or coercion. Under the measure, it also would become a second-degree felony to make or possess a weapon “designed or intended to cause death or serious physical injury by the release, dissemination or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals” or biological or radioactive weapons.