The bill to protect abortion and gender-affirming providers and patients from out-of-state entities passed the state Senate by a 26-6 vote. SB 13, would codify Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order from last summer. The bill would protect both providers and patients seeking abortion care and gender-affirming healthcare from other states or individuals out of state who try to seek information about the patient or provider. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, also a bill sponsor, said the bill will “ensure no one is criminalized for safe and legal healthcare.”
“It privileges certain healthcare information so patients and providers can go without fear of out-of-state criminal or civil liability,” she said. Related: First of two abortion right bills heads to Guv’s desk
Republicans argued that the bill is not constitutional, that it conflicts with both the U.S. Constitution and with the state’s constitution.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to protection abortion and gender-affirming health care rights by a 6-to-3 party line vote after a tense tie-breaking vote to amend the bill on Saturday. HB 7 is sponsored by state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe. She said the bill “ensures we’re not adding fear so that people don’t seek life-saving healthcare.”
“It prohibits public bodies from discriminating against individuals seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare,” she said. The bill prevents public bodies, such as municipalities and counties, from passing or enforcing anti-abortion ordinances. Clovis, Hobbs, Lea and Roosevelt counties have passed such ordinances in recent months.
The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill that will, if enacted, allow a complainant who files an ethics complaint to speak publicly by a vote of 9-1 on Friday. HB 169, Disclosure of Legislative Ethics Complaints, would fix a constitutional issue in a law enacted in 1993, bill sponsor state Rep. Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, said. The current law prohibits both the complainant and committee staff from speaking publicly about a complaint even though the respondent to a complaint can speak publicly, she said. Szcepanski said the current law has “an uneven requirement,” and that passing HB 169 would make the law more equitable and restore the complainant’s constitutional right to free speech. The bill generated a discussion around the constitutional right to free speech.
As could be expected, some parts of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address that drew standing ovations among her supporters Tuesday were attacked by Senate Republicans.
“We heard more and more and more about all these problems we have, and the [governor’s] one answer is money and spending,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca said at a news conference after the speech. “The answer isn’t throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into education, hundreds of millions of dollars at renewable energy.”
Baca, R-Belen, acknowledged the Legislature has ample money this year, but he contends it still must be spent prudently and not treated as a cure-all. The governor has proposed a $9.4 billion budget, about 12 percent more than the $8.3 billion in the current fiscal year.
Increased funding has failed to deliver on Lujan Grisham’s vow upon taking office to greatly improve education, which she termed a “moonshot,” Baca said. “We were promised a moonshot,” Baca said. “That moonshot blew up on the launching pad.”
Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said during Lujan Grisham’s tenure, New Mexico’s schools dropped from 48th to 51st in the nation.
Incarcerating more people won’t cut down on the state’s rising rate of violent crime, a longtime New Mexico trial lawyer told legislators looking for a solution.
Randi McGinn of Albuquerque, who has worked as both a prosecuting attorney and public defender for over 40 years, spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday about proposed changes to the state’s pretrial detention system for defendants accused of violent crimes and other measures touted by the governor and Democratic lawmakers who have taken a tough-on-crime stance to tackle what many see as an out-of-control problem. McGinn instead urged the committee to invest money in New Mexico’s judicial system, which she said is underfunded and understaffed. As a result, she said, police in the state arrest about 10,000 people a year, but prosecutors charge only 3,000 of them and judges hear only 1,000 cases.
She pointed to the fiscal impact report for a bill that would alter New Mexico’s pretrial detention system — putting the burden on a defendant to prove they aren’t likely to commit further violence if they are released from jail while awaiting trial, rather than requiring prosecutors to prove the defendant poses too high a risk to be released. The report estimates it would cost $13.8 million annually to detain up to 1,262 more defendants until their trials. McGinn said lawmakers should instead invest that money “in the courts, in the district attorneys and public defenders and the Albuquerque Police Department.”
State Rep. Jim Townsend, the House minority leader, said for a second he thought the governor “almost became a Republican.” In a news conference Tuesday at the Roundhouse after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address, the Artesia Republican said the most “heartening” part of her 25-minute speech was the talk on fighting crime. The governor reiterated her plan to push for a package of measures to toughen penalties for certain violent crimes and make it more difficult for defendants in violent crime cases to be released from jail before their trial. “That must be addressed, and it must be addressed quickly,” Townsend said. Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, the Senate minority leader said the governor’s “tough-on-crime” rhetoric seemed like an effort to court state residents fed up with rising crime rates.
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.
The New Mexico Supreme Court, in a ruling from the bench, ordered Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to stop using any unspent federal COVID-19 stimulus money without approval from the state Legislature.
New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Michael Vigil, after a brief deliberation by the justices, read the ruling.
“The court grants standing to the petitioners on the basis of great public importance,” Vigil said. “One, the court determines that a writ is appropriate in this case, and the court will order that a writ of prohibition and mandamus, prohibiting the governor and the state treasurer and all other state officials subject to their authority from transferring, encumbering, committing or appropriating any additional funds out of the state [American Rescue Plan Act] account in the state treasury absent legislative appropriation.”
The court’s decision was the culmination of weeks of court filings in a case filed by two state senators. Democratic State Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque and Republican Sen. Greg Baca of Belen jointly filed a petition with the state’s high court, arguing that the governor overstepped her constitutional authority by appropriating federal funds without legislative oversight.
Candelaria told NM Political Report that the state supreme court “Ultimately did the right thing,” by placing the responsibility with the Legislature instead of one person. “As a citizen of this state, it gives me great comfort to know that decisions about this money are going to be made through a transparent open and public appropriations process and not behind closed doors where the governor gets to consult with her political favorites on how to dole out these funds in her political interests,” Candelaria said. “That would have been a really dangerous precedent for New Mexico.”
Four other Democratic state senators joined the case as intervenors, echoing the argument that federal funds, such as the COVID-19 stimulus money, should be controlled by the Legislature.
The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over who has the authority to distribute federal pandemic aid funds in November. The case, which will have oral arguments on Nov. 17, is brought by legislators who say the governor’s veto of language that directed the use of federal COVID-19 pandemic aid is illegal and that the Legislature should have the authority to direct where the money goes.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Republican from Belen, filed the petition in September.
At the time, the two said the governor’s action was unconstitutional. The Lujan Grisham administration said that previous state supreme court precedent allowed the governor to direct federal funds. “The Supreme Court of New Mexico has concluded that federal contributions are not a proper subject of the Legislature’s appropriative power, and the Legislature’s attempt to control the use of such funds infringes ‘the executive function of administration,’” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message regarding the funds.
When asked about the dispute when State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, said he believed the money should be handled by the Legislature, a spokeswoman for the governor said she believed the Legislature had the authority to dispense state, not federal funds.
The New Mexico state treasurer agrees that federal COVID-19 relief funds should be handled by the state Legislature and not the governor, according to a response filed on Tuesday by his attorney.
Treasurer Tim Eichenberg was named as a party of interest in a case filed last month by state Sens. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, and Greg Baca, a Republican. Candelaria and Baca asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to order Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to stop appropriating any more money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and to leave the rest of the spending decisions to the state Legislature.
In a response on behalf of Eichenberg, his attorney wrote that while the ARPA funds can be spent legally on a variety of different issues, the Legislature should decide where it would be best spent.
“The Treasurer respectfully submits that the question of whether some or all funds should be used for any or all of these areas requires considerations of public policy and public priorities that must be conducted in the open with opportunity for public participation, which can and will only happen in a legislative process,” the response reads.
During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers tried to include spending of the federal money in the state budget. Lujan Grisham line-item vetoed that appropriation on the grounds that a previous state supreme court case ruled that the spending of certain federal funds is the responsibility of the governor, not the legislature.
In their initial petition to the state supreme court, Candelaria and Baca argued that the case Lujan Grisham cited in her veto message was narrowly focused on federal funds specifically designated for higher education. In this case, the two senators argued, the federal funds had a wide range of acceptable uses.
Eichenberg’s lawyer also argued that Congress approved the relief money to be used in a wide variety of ways, “according to needs assessments made by state decision-makers, driven by state considerations, and priorities.”
And those decision-makers, Echineberg’s lawyer argued, are legislators.
“Legislative action—the power to make law and appropriate money from the State Treasury—rests exclusively with the Legislature,” the response reads.