Pregnant worker protection bill on its way to Guv’s desk after scare on Senate floor

A bill protecting pregnant workers nearly died on the Senate floor Tuesday night when a Democrat tried to introduce an amendment viewed as “unfriendly.” However, the Senate defeated the amendment and the bill itself passed unanimously. HB 25 seeks to protect pregnant workers and new moms in the workplace by amending the state Human Rights Act to include those employees. This would enable pregnant people and new moms to seek mitigation under the state’s Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been discriminated against if an employer refuses “unreasonable accommodations.”

An amendment that Senator Joseph Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, tried to attach to the bill took issue with the idea that pregnant workers and new moms belong under the Human Rights Act. Candelaria, who is openly gay, said the bill created a “new suspect class of people.”  He did not want the Human Rights Act to be amended. He said the bill would “erode decades of civil rights litigation and protections” reserved for immutable aspects of a person such as sexual orientation.

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.

Human trafficking bill with broad support moves forward

A bill that would increase penalties for human trafficking received bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. HB 237, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Georgene Louis and Liz Thomson, both of Albuquerque, passed 10-1. Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, voted against it. Louis and Thomson invited victims of trafficking to speak on behalf of the bill.

Bill aimed at preventing domestic terrorism advances

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.

Bill to protect pregnant workers passes House

HB 25, which advocates say protects pregnant workers from discrimination, passed the House unanimously on Thursday. There was very little debate around the bill on the House floor. House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, a Republican from Artesia, asked how the bill had changed since last year, when Rep. Gail Chasey, a Democrat from Albuquerque, brought a pregnant worker accommodation bill to the Legislature. Chasey said that she worked with the New Mexico Hospitality Association and New Mexico Counties so that the bill now falls under the Human Rights Act. The effect of that is that if a worker feels they have been discriminated against, they must take their case to the state’s Human Rights Commission before seeking a lawsuit.

Bill for pregnant workers passes committee with support from all sides

A bill to support pregnant workers brought both abortion rights and anti-abortion groups together and passed unanimously 13-0 in the House Judiciary Committee Friday. HB 25, the Pregnant Worker Accommodation bill, aims to protect pregnant workers and allow new moms to be able to ask for “reasonable accommodations” from an employer while pregnant or newly parenting. Advocates of the bill say those accommodations include things like asking for a stool to sit on or more bathroom breaks, additional water to drink and the ability to refrain from heavy lifting. If an employer does not comply, the pregnant worker could file a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The bill passed the House Labor, Veteran, Military Affairs Committee earlier this week.

A bill to protect pregnant workers passes first hurdle

A bill that advocates say protects pregnant workers passed unanimously through its first committee Tuesday with no opposition. HB 25, called the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Bill, went before the House Labor, Veteran, Military Affairs Committee. This isn’t the first time House committee members have heard this bill. Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill in past sessions, but she said the bill introduced during the 2019 session went through negotiation with the Hospitality Association and New Mexico Counties, an association that represents all 33 counties, and that took ten days. It then died on the House floor.

Agreement on NM probation, parole reforms seems stuck in the mud

Lawmakers and prosecutors appear as far apart as ever on reform proposals for New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, despite Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham admonishing them to find common ground in April. That’s when the first-term Democratic governor vetoed a reform bill — with significant consternation — that would have shifted the systems away from incarceration as a first resort and likely seen significantly fewer people returning to prison and jail. 

The disagreements center largely on who should be locked back up for violating their probation and who should not, and a change that would have required the Parole Board to issue detailed, written findings when it denies someone’s release after 30 years behind bars. If changes favored by legislators become law, potentially thousands of people in New Mexico who are currently locked up would remain under state supervision, but not behind bars. It could burden the justice system, creating the need for new jobs and monitoring mechanisms, but also save the public millions in lock-up costs, legislative analysts say. Lawmakers have pushed the changes because they say a shift toward rehabilitation and providing services to lower-level offenders can help them turn their lives around and stay out of the justice system.

Prosecutors oppose parole changes

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and all fourteen of the state’s district attorneys are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill that would change laws governing probation and parole for criminal offenders. The prosecutors said in a letter Friday to the governor that the measure approved by the Legislature would jeopardize public safety. Supporters of the bill said that isn’t accurate. The letter is, at best, disingenuous, said House Judiciary Chairwoman Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s four sponsors. “We are looking at a new day here and a lot of what is claimed in that letter, the exact opposite is true,” Chasey said Friday.

Birth pains accompany creation of ethics commission

Lawmakers and open government proponents on Friday raised questions about transparency and possible conflicts with other investigative agencies as New Mexico legislators try to flesh out details of the long-discussed creation of a state ethics commission. House Bill 4 would create an independent state agency overseen by seven commissioners with power to investigate and enforce compliance with laws on governmental conduct, election campaigns, lobbyists, gifts and financial disclosures by state officers, employees and contractors, among others. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Saturday. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who introduced the bill, presented it to the committee Friday but asked the members to give him another day to work on changes before voting on it. Ely said the bill’s goal is to “make sure we go after the bad people in this system and shine a light on these people.”