The House of Representatives approved amendments made by the Senate to a bill expanding the state Election Code on a 42-25 vote Monday. This is the final step for the bill before it goes to the governor’s desk. HB 4 would expand automatic voter registration, restore convicted felons’ right to vote upon release from prison, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter list, and enact the Native American Voting Rights Act to the state Election Code. One of the Senate amendments to the bill is a definition of incarceration. “‘Correctional facility’ means a jail, prison or other detention facility that is used for the confinement of an adult, whether operated by the state or a political subdivision of the state or a private contractor on behalf of the state or a political subdivision of the state,” the bill states.
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 scope of the New Mexico Human Rights Act to include protections for the LGBTQ community passed the House by 47-to-20. HB 207, Expand the Human Rights Act Scope, is sponsored by state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos. It updates language in the state Human Rights Act to better reflect current language for the LGBTQ community and for the disabled community. The words “handicap” would be replaced with “disability” and the bill includes words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” It would also define the words “sex” and “gender.”
The bill would also expand the scope of current statute to prohibit public bodies and government contractors who receive public funding from discriminating against LGBTQ individuals. The New Mexico Human Rights Act was written in 1971 and updated in 2003, Ortez said.
A bill to end life without parole as a sentencing option for juveniles passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 4-to-2 party line vote Tuesday. SB 64, No Life Sentence for Juveniles, is sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who said the New Mexico Supreme Court has been asking the Legislature to “do something about this since 2009.”
The bill will, if enacted, retroactively impact adults who are already serving long sentences because of crimes committed as juveniles, as well as juveniles sentenced as adults going forward. Currently, there is no one in New Mexico serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed while a minor, but it would end the sentence as an option, Sedillo Lopez said. State Sen. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor on the bill, said “this is not a get out of jail free card.”
Incarcerated individuals serving time for crimes committed as juveniles ages 14 to 17 can be eligible for parole at 15 years, 20 years or 25 years. State Sen. Bill O’Neill, also a co-sponsor, said that the parole boards take public safety in mind, as well as the victims, when determining if an incarcerated individual is eligible for parole. Incarcerated individuals who commit first degree murder other than a felony murder, parole eligibility comes at 20 years.
The state House of Representatives voted to pass a bill expanding voting rights in New Mexico 41-26 following three hours of a far-reaching debate. HB 4 seeks to expand automatic voter registration, restore released convicted felons’ right to vote, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter list and enact the Native American Voting Rights Act. “There are threats to our sacred right to vote in this country. In this country, the franchise is a birthright or it’s the right of naturalized citizens of this country. It’s not a privilege.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care bill with two amendments by a party line vote of 7 to 4. HB 7 will, if enacted, ensure that all individuals in the state can access reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care and that if an individual is discriminated against in seeking that care, the individual can seek legal remedy. Rep. Linda Serrato, a Democrat from Santa Fe, sponsored the bill and has said frequently that the bill will, if enacted, prevent a patchwork of healthcare across the state. The cities of Clovis and Hobbs and Lea and Roosevelt counties have passed anti-abortion ordinances that impact abortion clinics’ ability to apply for licenses in those political subdivisions and also place restrictions on medication abortion. Clovis Mayor Mike Morris spoke during public comment on the bill and said the bill “takes away home rule.”
He asked that the committee, if unable to vote no on the bill, “preserve our local authority to reflect the values of the citizens,” he said.
A bill to ensure New Mexico children are taught affirmative consent – that affirmative consent is necessary before and during sexual activity – during their mandatory health class passed the House Chamber 49-12. HB 43, Affirmative Consent Policy in the Schools, will require the health class taught in either eighth grade or high school in New Mexico public and charter schools to include a discussion of affirmative consent. House Rep. Liz Thomson, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and one of the bill’s sponsors, said while presenting the bill that “yes means yes,” as a shorthand way of describing what the bill, if enacted, would require the health class to teach. There is also a section of the bill that would require institutions of higher education to include trauma-informed policies that meet an affirmative consent standard. Thomson said she’s heard from many adults, both men and women, who have said they wished they had heard this information years ago.
A routine budget bill to pay staff salaries and fund other operations of a legislative session usually sails through both chambers of the Legislature when lawmakers reconvene in Santa Fe every year. Not this year, though. The so-called feed bill, the first piece of legislation considered by both chambers, continued to sow division between Republicans and Democrats on Thursday over a $2.5 million special appropriation to fund a study on the feasibility of creating district offices for legislators with full-time staff. As it currently stands, New Mexico is one of only two states without full-time staff assigned to each legislator. Nevada is the other. Several Republicans said they aren’t opposed to the concept of having staffed offices in each of their districts, part of a larger effort to modernize the Legislature.
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.
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.