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.

Civil Rights bill heads to Senate floor

A bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense for claims under the state’s Civil Rights Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday night with a tie-breaking vote from the chairman of the committee. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, broke the tie on HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Rights bill, when he voted in favor. All three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, as did Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who said after the vote that he supports the aims of the bill but has concerns with the fact that the bill nearly aligns with the federal civil rights law “and yet there are differences.”

“I think we need to listen to some of the concerns of people who’ve tried to offer constructive commentary about the bill,” Ivey-Soto said. Testimony from the opposition came largely from county officials who continued to argue that counties will not be able to qualify for liability insurance. The bill allows lawsuits to be brought against a governmental agency if a plaintiff’s constitutional rights, as defined by the New Mexico bill of rights, has been violated.

Legislation to curb governor’s power during emergency moves forward

Legislation that would let voters decide whether to curb the governor’s authority over emergency orders slipped past its second hurdle Wednesday when the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted to move it forward. Committee members, who were divided on House Joint Resolution 6, initially stalled it on a 4-4 vote. However, at the urging of a sponsor, Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely of Albuquerque, the committee then voted 7-1 to move it to the House Judiciary Committee with no recommendation for approval. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, the committee’s chairwoman, cast the lone vote against the move. Under HJR 6, voters would decide whether they want to add a new section to the state constitution to set limits on the length of time a governor’s emergency order can remain in effect without legislative approval.

Bill that would end qualified immunity heads to Senate Judiciary Committee

A bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense in civil rights cases advanced from the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee. HB 4, known as the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed without recommendation in a 5 to 3 vote along party lines. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, amended the bill to remove acequias, land grants and other small units of government from the definition of a public body, said Daniel Marzec, communications director for House Speaker Brian Egolf’s office. Egolf is a co-sponsor of the bill. The lead sponsor is Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque.

Bill to increase penalties for human trafficking passes House

A bill to increase the penalties for human trafficking and expand protections to victims of the crime advanced out of the House of Representatives Monday with a nearly unanimous vote. HB 56 passed 63 to 3 and now heads to the Senate. Sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, the bill increases the penalty for human trafficking from a third degree penalty to a second degree penalty for perpetrators if their victims are 18 or older. For human trafficking crimes that involve a victim under the age of 18, the penalty for the perpetrator would be increased to a first degree penalty. Louis said human trafficking is not limited to one type of victim.

Retired judge files ethics complaint against House speaker

As retired Judge Sandra Price watched the state House of Representatives debate a bill that would allow people to sue government agencies over civil rights violations, one particular moment grabbed her attention. It was when Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, rose to ask the bill’s sponsors — House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque — to accept a substitute bill. 

The amended legislation would have required any lawmakers who work as attorneys to agree not to represent clients in complaints that might fall under the proposed New Mexico Civil Rights Act. Lane, Louis and Egolf are all attorneys. 

Just days before Tuesday’s debate on the House floor, Price had filed a complaint against Egolf with the State Ethics Commission, claiming he stands to benefit if the bill is passed into law. She argued he should have disclosed that at least 20 percent of his business concerns civil rights litigation. Watching Lane — an attorney who, Price said, knew nothing about her claim — argue the point on the chamber floor made her “almost fall out of my chair.”

New Mexico Civil Rights Act passes House

The bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense for police officers who infringe on a victim’s civil rights passed the House of Representatives Tuesday. HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed 39 to 29 after a three-hour debate on the House floor. The bill sponsor, Democrat Georgene Louis, of Albuquerque and Acoma, said the bill has been amended as it made its way through the legislative process to address some concerns of those opposed to the bill. The bill does two things. It allows individuals in the state whose civil rights have been violated to sue a governmental body, whether municipality, county or the state, in state district court for monetary damages up to $2 million.

Once denied a necessary abortion, Indigenous Women Rising co-founder speaks out

One of the recurring arguments raised by opponents decriminalizing abortion in the state is that healthcare providers might leave out of fear they will be forced to perform an abortion. But that’s not the case, advocates say. HB 7 and SB 10 would remove three sections of the criminal code, ensuring medical workers would not be penalized with a fourth-degree felony for providing an abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is overturned. Lawmakers criminalized abortion in 1969 and though it has been federally legal since 1973, the state law has remained on the books. Legal and health experts have repeatedly said in committee hearings that there are protections in place in various state and federal laws that allow a health care provider to refuse treatment based on personal conviction.

Bill to keep Native children within their community receives bipartisan support

A bill to keep Native children within their tribe or pueblo when the state separates them from their parents passed the House State Government and Indian Affairs Committee unanimously on Monday. Sponsored by state Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, HB 209 has overwhelming support from various organizations and Tribal and pueblo governments in the state. 

If it becomes law, the bill would codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which was passed in the 1970s but is poorly enforced, according to experts. The bill would guide the state Children, Youth and Families Department to notify tribes and pueblos when a child removal occurs and to work with the Tribal community to place a Native child with extended family or friends or foster families within their own sovereign nation. Related: Bill to codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law an important step, say advocates

Keeping a Native child within the world of their language, culture and traditions helps with the healing process, advocates of the bill have said. “They have the potential to lose their language, culture and ties to their family.