Senate passes bill to end life without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders

The New Mexico Senate  passed SB 43, which prohibits life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile offender, along party lines with a vote of 23 to 15. Sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, SB 43 allows a parole board to consider granting release after 15 years for juvenile offenders and prohibits life without parole for juvenile offenders. Currently there are no juvenile offenders serving a life without parole sentence, but Sedillo Lopez has said the judicial branch has asked that the Legislature weigh in on this potential sentence. Related: Bill to end life in prison without parole for juveniles clears committee

The bill, during the Senate floor debate, brought debate that fell along party lines with Republicans calling Democrats hypocritical because of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s comments during her State of the State address about her focus on crime during this Legislative session.  Republicans introduced several amendments to limit the bill but Sedillo Lopez called each amendment “unfriendly” and they all failed along party lines. Sedillo Lopez said the bill brings the possibility for “redemption” and said most perpetrators of violent crimes themselves have experienced trauma.

Voting rights expansion clears first hurdle

The Voting Rights Provisions bill, which would expand voting rights and access in New Mexico, passed the Senate Rules Committee hearing by party line vote of 7-4 Monday morning after a contentious, nearly nine hour hearing on Friday. SB 8, sponsored by Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in a number of ways, including improving voting access for Native Americans and allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to vote upon release from prison. Currently, formerly incarcerated individuals can register to vote after they complete parole or probation but many face hurdles even after eligibility. Related: Advocates hopeful voting rights legislation will help break down barriers for the formerly incarcerated

The bill would also make voter registration automatic when an individual registers for a license with the New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles. Anyone who would not wish to be registered could opt out, election officials have said.

Legislature sends spending bill to Governor’s desk (Updated)

Updated: The House concurred on HB 2 as amended by the state Senate by a voice vote on Thursday. This sends the legislation to the Governor’s desk for signature. HB 2 appropriates $478 million of the ARPA funds into various projects, such as road work, broadband expansion and conservation projects. The Legislative Finance Committee staff put the spending bill together based on requests from state agencies made during interim legislative committee hearings. The spending for some of the money, such as $10 million for smaller airports around the state, has not been appropriated in specific terms and will be left up to the agencies, in this case the Department of Transportation, to make the final decisions on the best use of the funds.

Senate committee tables bill to appropriate $335 million in relief funds on public health

The Senate Finance Committee tabled a bill request to spend $335 million of the $1.1 billion in America Rescue Plan Act money to the state on public health issues on a 6 to 1 vote, but committee members advised the bill sponsors to bring the bill back to the regular session. Sponsored by state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the bill, SB 9, would establish a school of public health at the University of New Mexico by appropriating $50 million to the UNM Board of Regents to build a school of public health facility at the UNM Health Sciences Center on campus. State Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, who is a co-sponsor, said a “center of excellence” school of public health would attract top researchers who would bring grant money with them and that, with student enrollment, would largely enable the school to pay for itself. Other money would go to pay for equipment to help with cancer treatment; expand behavioral health services statewide, expand nursing faculty and pay for the salaries and operational budget of the projected school of public health. An additional $10 million would go to the Department of Health to work with UNM on providing obstetric care in Las Vegas and Gallup.

Paid sick leave passes Senate after lengthy, acrimonious debate including a filibuster

The state Senate passed the Healthy Workplaces bill 25 to 16 after a lengthy debate that stretched into the early hours of Friday during which Democrats sparred against each other on the chamber floor over the treatment of the bill’s sponsor, while Republicans railed against the bill and one even held a lengthy filibuster. HB 20 would mandate that all private sector employers provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Private sector employees could accrue up to 64 hours a year of paid sick leave. The bill would not go into effect until July 1, 2022. Advocates had pushed for mandated paid sick leave for years, including at the local level in Albuquerque.

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.

In historic turn, state Senate passes abortion ban repeal

Two years after a group of conservative Democrats, along with  Republicans voted against  decriminalizing abortion care, the state Senate passed SB 10 Thursday, 25 to 17. SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is called the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act and has a mirror bill, HB 7, sponsored by Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla. The two bills remove three sections from the criminal code which, in 1969, banned abortion with some limited exceptions. The law has repeatedly been called archaic and advocates for its repeal said it included language contrary to how medicine is currently practiced. While the law is currently unenforceable, reproductive rights advocates have said that given the conservative bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade could be gutted in the next few years.

Abortion ban repeal bill clears first hurdle Monday

Senate Bill 10, which would repeal the 1969 abortion ban on state law books, passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee 5-3 Monday. The vote fell along party lines with the three Republican state Senators voting against and the five Democrats on the committee voting in favor. After a two hour wait due to technical difficulties, the committee hearing ran for nearly 2.5 hours due to the length of the debate on the issue. Members of the public for both sides gave impassioned speeches both for and against. “(The bill) makes sure that women, in collaboration with their provider and families, can make decisions for themselves.

Medical cannabis qualified patient clarification bill breezes through committee

The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that would specify that only New Mexico residents can enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. 

All but one member voted to approve Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino’s SB 139, which Ortiz y Pino said is an attempt to “clarify” that a qualified medical cannabis patient must be a resident of New Mexico. 

Up until last year, the statutory definition of a qualified patient included the words “resident of New Mexico.” Ortiz y Pino told the committee that one of his bills last year struck those words and replaced them with “person.” He also told the panel that his intention was to establish a path towards reciprocity with other medical cannabis states.  

“Not being a lawyer, I don’t understand how that wasn’t clear,” he said. Ortiz y Pino’s bill last year, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law, had a separate definition for reciprocal patients. Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel helped to present the bill and answer questions. She told the committee that one of her bigger concerns, other than having enough medical cannabis for New Mexico patients, is that residents of Texas are getting New Mexico cannabis patient cards and taking cannabis across state lines, which is against federal law. 

“We have now essentially given license to non residents to transport a controlled substance across our state borders,” Kunkel told the committee. 

Kunkel said there are currently more than 600 patients enrolled in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program who are residents of other states and one person from Mexico with a pending application. For context, there are about a dozen counties in the state with fewer patients.

Mixed bag for cannabis legislation in 2019

After Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected and New Mexico’s House of Representatives saw a major increase of Democrats last fall, many New Mexicans speculated whether the state would also see cannabis legalization in 2019. The short answer was ultimately, no. But, the legislature enacted some major changes to the existing medical cannabis law and took at least one step towards decreasing jail time  for the use or possession of cannabis. Medical cannabis in schools (SB 204)

Senate Bill 204, sponsored by Albuquerque Sens. Candace Gould, a Republican, and Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, would allow some students to use medical cannabis while at school.