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.

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.