House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions

The House Judiciary Committee passed an omnibus voting bill, SB 144, that includes provisions of two other voting bills, SB 8 and SB 6, on a party line vote of 9-3 Tuesday evening. After Senate Republicans blocked a Senate floor debate and vote on SB 8 over the weekend, House Democrats moved the provisions from that bill into another voting bill, SB 144. SB 144, sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, initially aimed to protect election workers from intimidation, threat or use of force or violence, damage or harm while carrying out their duties during an election. The penalty for the crime is a fourth degree felony. The bill also has already passed the Senate, removing a barrier with less than two days left in the session.

‘Second chance’ passes House committee on narrow vote

The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee passed a bill on a party line vote that would prohibit life without parole for children in New Mexico on Thursday. The members passed the bill on a 3 to 2 vote. SB 43 would end the sentencing possibility of life without parole for a child and allow a parole board to decide if a child convicted of serious offenses could be released on probation or parole after 15 years. State Sen. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington, tried to amend the bill so that a parole board hearing could not happen before the inmate reached 20 years of prison time. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said this was not in the spirit of the bill.

New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs requests $5 million in funding

During an interim committee hearing, the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs asked for $5 million to be added for state budget consideration in the 2022 Legislature. Alexandria Taylor, deputy director of the coalition, said the state ranks seventh in the nation in rates of sexual violence and called the rates of sexual violence in New Mexico an “epidemic.” She asked that any crime package “prioritize” the crime of sexual violence. The $5 million request includes $2 million for sexual assault programs to increase services, address gaps across the state and focus on rural and underserved areas, including a 12-month wait list in some counties for services; $1 million to address sexual assault mental health programs to address that gap in services; $1.3 million to sustain satellite children advocacy centers in rural areas; $500,000 for operation of the statewide sexual assault hotline and $200,000 for Indigenous research and coordination of tribal services, Taylor said. She said 41 percent of reported assaults in New Mexico are children who are under the age of 18. She also said that while reports of sexual violence to law enforcement are trending downward, there has been an increase in requests for sexual assault services.

Governor signs Environmental Database Act

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Wednesday that will make it easier for the public to access environmental data. HB 51, the Environmental Database Act, will lead to the creation of a map-based database hosted and managed by Natural Heritage New Mexico, which is a division of the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. The information that will be included in the database is already available through seven New Mexico agencies. However, the database will put all the information in a single user-friendly location. Related: Environmental Database Act aims to increase transparency for publicly-available state data

This includes information about waterways, the location of oil and gas wells and rates of childhood asthma.

Environmental Database Act aims to increase transparency for publicly-available state data

A transparency bill that would make it easier for the public to access environmental data is awaiting the governor’s signature. HB 51, the Environmental Database Act, aims to make data that is already available through state agencies easily accessible at a single location. While the information that would be included in the database is already publicly available, Judy Calman, New Mexico Director of Policy for Audubon Southwest, said there is a difference between available and accessible. Calman drafted the bill, which was sponsored by state Representatives Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.. The bill would create a central map-based database where the public could freely view the information.

Bill to amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act passes House

A bill that would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to include public agencies passed the House 52 to 14. HB 192, sponsored by Rep. Brittany Barreras, D-Albuquerque, had a quick debate during the Saturday House floor session. The bill would amend the state’s Human Rights Act to clarify that public bodies and state agencies are subject to its provisions prohibiting discrimination because of race, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth, physical or mental disability, serious medical condition or spousal affiliation. The bill would also modernize the language for individuals with disabilities in the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, Barreras said. Rep. Randall Crowder, R-Clovis, asked about potential additional costs to the state if the bill passes.

Lawmakers to introduce criminal justice reform bills

Attempts at criminal justice reform are not new for the New Mexico Legislature, but success in lessening criminal penalties and revamping processes has seen mixed results. But reform advocates and some lawmakers said they are confident this is the year criminal justice reform proposals will gain more traction and possibly be signed into law. 

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, who has been a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform said a politically progessive shift of the Legislature could help move those types of bills forward.  

“I think a lot of champions have emerged,” Maestas said. “So I anticipate a whole slew of criminal justice type bills to increase public safety and make the system more accountable”

One issue Maestas said he plans to address is language in state law that gives law enforcement officers who are under investigation arguably more rights than other citizens under investigation have been afforded in practice. 

The law Maestas plans to address details rights of officers subjected to internal investigations and includes things like limiting interrogations to two in a 24 hour period, limiting interrogation time limits and requiring no more than two interrogators at a time. Maestas said the language in the law is unusually similar to language in most police union contracts. 

“It’s like an HR protection in state statute,” he said. 

Maestas said the law itself is antithetical to basic freedoms afforded by the U.S. Constitution. 

“It’s even referred to in popular culture as the peace officer bill of rights,” Maestas said. “Which totally contradicts the premise of the U.S. Bill of Rights, which is protections against the government not protections for government.”

Maestas said he also wants the regulation of law enforcement licensure moved from the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy to the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department and plans to sponsor a bill to do so. 

Maestas said law enforcement is one of the few professions, including teachers and lawyers, in the state that is self-regulated. 

“The Law Enforcement Academy has to be re-reworked,” he said.

Democrats introduce police ‘use of force’ reporting requirements

Four Democratic state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation during the special session this week that they say would offer greater transparency and more accountability when it comes to police use of force. Amid calls from protesters in New Mexico and nationwide to defund law enforcement agencies and stop insulating officers from possible consequences over excessive and lethal use of force, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and others have asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to prioritize the bill. The measure would increase oversight of officers’ use of force, including requiring reports to the district attorney, attorney general and Governor’s Office following an incident in which a law enforcement officer’s action causes “great bodily harm” or death to an individual. The proposal also would allow the top prosecutor of a judicial district where an incident has occurred to request selection of a district attorney from another jurisdiction to review the case and decide whether to bring charges against an officer. Investigations into police use of force would be handled by the state Department of Public Safety, according to the legislation, which has not yet been assigned a bill number.

Pregnant worker anti-discrimination law goes into effect

The Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act, signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March, went into effect Wednesday. Terrelene Massey, executive director of Southwest Women’s Law Center, said the new law could affect anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 workers in New Mexico each year. The law amends the state’s Human Rights Act to make pregnancy, childbirth and conditions related to either a protected class from employment discrimination. Sponsored by two Democrats, Rep. Gail Chasey, of Albuquerque, and Sen. Liz Stefanics, of Cerrillos, the new law allows pregnant people to ask their employer for “reasonable accommodations,” to enable the pregnant worker to keep working. The “reasonable accommodations” could be things like asking for more bathroom breaks, a stool to sit on, the ability to get time off for prenatal care or having water at a workstation, according to the law’s advocates.

Guv signs bill protecting pregnant workers

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law Friday that protects working mothers and new moms from discrimination in the workplace. HB 25, or the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Bill, amends the state’s Human Rights Act to make pregnancy, childbirth and conditions related to either a protected class from employment discrimination. “It’s good to sign a bill that does what is so obviously the right thing to do,” Lujan Grisham said through a written statement. “There is no world I can imagine in which it would be right or fair to discriminate against a woman for becoming a mother.”

The bill allows a pregnant person or new mom to ask for “reasonable accommodations” such as a stool, extra bathroom breaks, or time to make prenatal visits. The new law prohibits an employer from forcing a pregnant worker or new mom to take time off because of their condition unless requested by the employee.