The New Mexico Supreme Court denied a request by two state senators to stop Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham from further spending federal COVID-19 relief funds. But the high court also gave the governor and the state treasurer until Oct. 15 to respond to the original petition.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, filed a petition last month asking the state supreme court to issue an order to stop Lujan Grisham from further appropriating money that New Mexico received as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The two senators also asked the court to issue a stay in order to stop any further spending until the court case is settled.
State Republicans have largely been critical of Lujan Grisham’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Candelaria, although a member of the same political party as Lujan Grisham has often criticized the governor as well as Democratic Senate leadership.
In a move, not likely surprising to political insiders, a Democratic New Mexico state senator who has been a vocal critic of the governor joined one of his Republican colleagues in an attempt to block further spending of federal relief money.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, along with Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, filed a petition over the weekend with the New Mexico Supreme Court in an attempt to stop Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham from further spending federal money without legislative input.
In a statement, Candelaria said no one person should have the authority to handle federal funds sent to New Mexico.
“When I became a senator almost a decade ago, I took an oath to defend the Constitution and laws of the state of New Mexico. We have filed this petition to halt the Governor’s unconstitutional efforts to usurp the Legislature’s appropriations power by claiming that she, and she alone, has the power to decide how billions of dollars in federal grant funds are spent,” Candelaria said. “In our country, no one is above the law and no one person should ever have the power to decide, unilaterally, how much people are taxed or how public money is spent.”
At issue is $1.75 billion of federal funds New Mexico received as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Some state lawmakers have repeatedly called for legislative control of federal stimulus money and during the regular 2021 legislative session, lawmakers attempted to appropriate money from ARPA in the state budget. Lujan Grisham issued a partial veto of that budget bill and cited a 1974 New Mexico Supreme Court case in her explanation for not giving the Legislature oversight in ARPA 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.
Part of that case, which was filed by then-Republican state Sen. William Sago, also involved federal appropriations.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators spoke about legislative successes and what they expect to happen with bills that didn’t cross the finish line, including a pending special session to pass recreational cannabis.
Lujan Grisham said she was proud of how much work was done in a session marred by a pandemic.
“It’s incredibly difficult and challenging, to debate, to draft, to engage in policy making,” she said. “It’s everything from economic relief, education and health care in an environment where you absolutely have to meet the COVID safe practices.”
Particularly, Lujan Grisham praised lawmakers for passing a liquor law reform, approving a proposed constitutional amendment to use state funds to pay for early childhood education and decriminalizing abortion.
Democratic House of Representatives leadership held a press conference a few minutes after adjourning sine die on the House chamber floor to discuss Democratic accomplishments for this session. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, said the focus for this session was recovery.
The three-pronged approach to recovery, Egolf said, was education, health and the economy. Of the more than 170 pieces of legislation that passed this year, some of the bills highlighted during the press conference included passage of SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which repealed the 1969 statute banning abortion, as well as HB 4 the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense in the state and allows for financial remedy up to $2 million and the potential to recover attorney’s fees if a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. Lujan Grisham signed SB 10 into law in February.
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.
A bill that would allow the state of New Mexico to adopt air quality and hazardous waste rules more stringent than federal regulations survived a challenge Friday from Senate Republicans, who had previously stalled the measure with a procedural maneuver that kept it in limbo for days. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, the bill would amend the Air Quality Control Act and the Hazardous Waste Act to allow rules more rigid than federal standards. “In each case … there must be substantial evidence that the proposed state rules are more protective of public health and the environment,” said Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat. The bill passed along a mostly party-line 23-15 vote. Democrat George Muñoz of Gallup sided with Republicans in opposing the measure, which goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.
Wirth argued that Senate Bill 8 would provide what he called consistent, New Mexico-focused environmental oversight.
Leaders of Black communities and organizations in New Mexico are asking for public apologies and stronger condemnation of recent remarks and actions by Republican lawmakers that dozens of African Americans say represent long-standing systemic racism in the Roundhouse. Earlier this month during a confirmation hearing, Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, questioned Cabinet nominee Sonya Smith’s ability to represent New Mexicans while leading the Department of Veterans Services as a Black woman. “Do you expect after your time here over the years, that you’ve been immersed in this culture enough in this state? That you feel comfortable entering a position where we’re a state with 2.6 percent of the population is African American in this state. And 48 percent is Hispanic or Hispanic mix?” Baca asked.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen said Monday he had apologized to Veterans Services Secretary-designate Sonya Smith for what he called “that insensitive line of questioning.” Baca has been under fire for questions and comments with racial overtones he made during a Friday confirmation hearing for Smith. “Do you expect that in your time here, in seven years, that you’ve been immersed in this culture enough in this state that you feel comfortable entering a position?” Baca had asked Smith, who is Black. He noted 2.6 percent of the state’s population is African American, while “48 percent is Hispanic or a Hispanic mix.
The top-ranking Republican in the state Senate has come under fire for what some said was an undercurrent of racism during his questioning of a Black woman who heads the Department of Veterans Services. The encounter occurred Friday during a confirmation hearing for Secretary-designate Sonya Smith, when Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, asked Smith if she felt “comfortable adequately representing” New Mexico’s various races and ethnicities, including Hispanic, white and Black residents.
The question followed some interplay between Smith and Baca about the need to communicate with all cultures about different issues, including the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine for the virus.
“That really isn’t what I’m — I mean that is an immutable trait, as I’m a Hispanic man, so I guess what we do in our everyday life we do as that,” Baca said, telling Smith she could answer the question as she wished. “Are you asking do I feel comfortable representing the Department of Veterans Services as a Black woman? Is that what you are asking?” Smith asked Baca.
The ocean. Greg Baca had never seen anything like it. A product of desert terrain — he was born in Belen in 1971 — Baca looked out over the watery expanse of the Atlantic from the deck of the USS Nimitz and saw a whole new world around him. “It was just bigger and more beautiful than I could have imagined,” recalled the onetime machinist’s mate. “It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen, and I’ve seen water all over the world, from deep gray to bright blue.”
New Mexico state Senate Republicans saw a somewhat unexpected leadership shake-up Tuesday.
Senate Republicans announced Tuesday evening that Sen. Greg Baca of Belen was elected as the Senate Minority Leader over Sen. Stuart Ingle, who had been minority leader since 2001.
In 2016, Baca defeated incumbent Michael Sanchez, a Democrat also from Belen. Sanchez was the Senate Majority Leader. Senate Republicans were still unable to take the majority of the chamber that year and Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe was elected by his caucus to the majority leader position and one he still holds.
According to an announcement from Senate Republicans, Baca served in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War.
Also elected to Senate Republican leadership is Rep. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho. Brandt was picked to continue in his role as Senate minority whip, a role he’s had since this summer when former-whip Bill Payne stepped down from the position when he announced his retirement. Brandt is also a veteran, having served in the U.S. Air Force.