Weather stations in New Mexico tend to be located at airports, which leaves some rural parts of the state without good weather monitoring. That impacts agricultural producers who need weather data to apply for federal disaster relief through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies. House Bill 108, sponsored by Rep. Martin Zamora, R-Clovis, and Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, would change that by appropriating $2.578 million from the state’s general fund to New Mexico State University. This would allow the office of the state climatologist to expand the network of weather stations throughout the state. The House Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee unanimously gave the bill a do pass recommendation on Thursday.
Budget? What budget? Though 30-day sessions are specifically designed for lawmakers to create and approve a financial blueprint for the next fiscal year, the state’s growing crime problem, public education woes and continuing efforts to battle the pandemic likely will take center stage when the New Mexico Legislature goes into action Tuesday afternoon. With more than $1 billion in new revenue, plus additional federal pandemic relief funds to distribute, the 2022 session won’t be a battle over crumbs, but more likely a tug-of-war of ideas and ideals as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and many members of the Legislature prepare to run for re-election in November. In all, New Mexico’s budget will approach $8.4 billion to $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2023.
A bill to draw new lines for state House districts statewide passed two committees on Wednesday and is now headed to the House floor. On Wednesday evening, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4, party-line vote.
During the hearing, a number of representatives of sovereign nations, pueblos and tribes expressed their unified support for the map put forward by Daymon Ely, D-Corrales. “This has not been an easy process trying to reach a consensus among sovereign governments,” Pueblo of Acoma Governor Brian Vallo said.
He and others said that Native governments worked for months to find a preferred map that would allow for representation in the Legislature. And others said that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated chronic undercounting during the 2020 census, which led to why the districts had a lower number of residents than other districts, particularly those in northwestern New Mexico. Republicans on the House State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee had expressed concern over the “deviation” of the different districts, or how much each district differs from the ideal equal population.
After another lengthy and contentious debate around, the Healthy Workplaces, HB 20, bill passed the House Judiciary Committee along party lines. With a vote of 7 to 4, the Healthy Workplaces bill will now move to the House . All of the Republicans in the committee opposed the bill and provided lengthy debate around it.
Members of the business community also spoke in opposition to the bill during public comment while workers stood in support, telling stories of going in to work with COVID-19 during the pandemic due to a lack of sick leave policy provided by their employers. Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, said he heard repeatedly that businesses weren’t able to participate in the crafting of the bill but said many businesses don’t provide sick leave so “it’s up to us legislators…to take care of people who work for business.”
“We should have had a sick leave policy 15 years ago,” Alcon said. Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said that a person his wife hires to pet sit the family dog on occasion will, because of the bill’s language, be able to accrue sick leave and call in sick.
A lively debate in the House Judiciary Committee around a proposal for New Mexico to stop renewing contracts with private detention centers ended with one Democrat voting against the bill, along with all Republicans, but it passed 7 to 5. HB 40, the Private Detention Moratorium Act, would phase out the state’s reliance on private companies to house its prison population within 3 to 5 years. New Mexico incarcerates more people per capita than any other state and, disproportionately, the people housed are Black and Latino, advocates for the bill have said. But House Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, a Democrat from Milan and a former magistrate judge, voted against the bill. He said he used to work in the state prison system and he questioned whether people housed in public detention centers are really better off.
A day after revelations of several people with ties to the Roundhouse testing positive for the novel coronavirus, including a Republican lawmaker, House leaders in both parties traded accusations and verbal jabs, creating more strife in their already rocky relationship while also politicizing COVID-19. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said some members of the GOP are consistently flouting the rules and putting others at risk. He said he is “constantly having to remind members to put on a mask” and “physically locking committee rooms as the only means to prevent certain Republican members from congregating.” “I had one member who was in a room with other Republican members not wearing a mask,” Egolf said during a virtual news briefing Friday morning. “I instructed him to follow the rules and put the mask on.
It took members of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee about four hours Friday to lay out the rules for how the House of Representatives will run this year’s legislative session. But it only took 90 minutes for Republicans and Democrats to accuse each other of launching attacks.
The final 11-5 vote went along party lines, with Democrats voting to approve House Rule 1 and Republicans voting against it. The rules set up new procedures for working virtually in the age of COVID-19. The conflict began when Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, questioned why Democrats want to require everyone participating in House floor debates to communicate via Zoom on computers, even if they are sitting in their chairs on the floor.
Townsend said it was because the majority party is concerned about viewers at home watching the event and seeing Republicans on-site in the Capitol debating while Democrats take part virtually from their offices or homes — which is what happened, to a large degree, during last year’s brief special sessions. “The majority is hesitant for the public to see the optics of the minority on the House floor doing what they were elected to do and the other side of the chamber empty,” Townsend said.
ByAndrew Oxford and Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Brian Egolf, speaker of the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives, says the body is moving legislation faster than ever, clearing the way for reform of every level of state government. The House minority leader, Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, says Egolf doesn’t ask for input or collaboration. He simply reveals what’s coming and how it’s going to play out, Townsend said. Welcome to the halfway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session. Proceedings in the House often are angry and combative, as outnumbered Republicans say their side is being ignored or steamrolled.
The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.
A member of the state House of Representatives is asking for an investigation of a legislative committee, charging that several of its members met privately without him to craft part of the annual state budget and omitted his proposal to restore about $41 million cut from the reserves of school districts last year. Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, said the meeting left legislators like him out of part of the process of preparing the spending plan. In an unusual move, Townsend asked the Legislative Council Service to investigate why the meeting did not include him and many other members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “I don’t believe it’s in any of our interest, whether it be a Democratic majority or a Republican majority, to have a process that prevents your constituents or my constituents from being represented,” he said on the House floor Thursday before heading to the council’s offices on the fourth floor to file what the representative described as a verbal complaint. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, the Gallup Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said the panel did nothing improper or out of the ordinary.