Bill to overhaul hunting, wildlife management hits roadblock in committee

Legislation to reform hunting regulations and wildlife management in New Mexico stalled in the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday. Senate Bill 312 appears doomed for this session after members tied 4-4 on a vote to reconsider debate and vote on the legislation in the absence of Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who serves on the committee. 

A vote earlier in the week also resulted in a tie. “Right now it just seems like there is a stalemate in the committee,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, a Cerrillos Democrat who chairs the committee. Currently, 84 percent of hunting tags go to residents, 10 percent are set aside for outfitters and 6 percent go to nonresidents. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, both Las Cruces Democrats, 90 percent would be reserved for residents and the rest for out-of-state hunters with none for outfitters.

Bill to revamp New Mexico wildlife management stalls in committee

Legislation that supporters say would modernize wildlife management in New Mexico but opponents counter would hurt outfitters who operate on public lands has stalled on a tie vote in a Senate committee. “My district is parts of six counties — it is all rural — and I, in this case, I’m going to have to support my constituents,” Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, told other members of the Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday before joining with three Republicans to table the 241-page bill. Senate Bill 312 is now stuck in the committee with just over three weeks left in the session. Some lawmakers struggled over whether or not to support the measure, which included changes they supported wholeheartedly but others that gave them pause. “I hate bills like this,” said Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces.

Environment Department says they need more funds for inspections, more

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney told state lawmakers his agency needs more staffing to inspect worker safety violations, ensure businesses are preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus and better protect the state’s air and water quality. Kenney implored members of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday to approve a $3.7 million increase in the Environment Department’s budget for fiscal year 2022, saying it would beef up understaffed teams that probe workplace safety issues. 

The increase would raise the agency’s general fund budget to $16.8 million and be on par with the 28 percent bump the governor has proposed. 

“That is, all things considered, a very modest increase,” Kenney said. “That investment in the Environment Department — $3.7 million — will definitely save lives [and] protect public health and the environment.” 

In all, the agency’s revenue last year was $90.7 million, counting grants and fees collected.  

The Legislative Finance Committee recommended keeping the agency’s general fund allocations the same as last year’s, which Kenney argued was not enough to provide effective oversight.  

Kenney said the requested funding increase is the difference between the agency being able to investigate workplace complaints and deaths and leaving those incidents unchecked. 

Probing workplace violations through the state office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is imperative in New Mexico, where worker deaths are 77 percent higher than the national average, Kenney told the committee. 

The agency’s budget was cut by 42 percent in the last three years that former Gov. Susana Martinez was in office, Kenney said. It has regained about 22 percent of its spending but is still operating at a lower funding level than it requires, he said. 

The agency has a vacancy rate of 17.7 percent, which adds up to 63 jobs that should be filled, Kenney said. 

None of the committee members spoke against the requested increase. 

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, expressed strong support, saying the agency’s mission should be a priority in New Mexico. 

The committee is considering hefty increases in spending on economic development and tourism, he said. 

“And those are great things, but I would hope we’d all agree that environmental protection and protecting public health are at least equally important,” Steinborn said. 

Subpar environmental oversight can hurt economic development because companies don’t want to locate in places that are unhealthy and unsafe, he added. The proposed budget includes a $1.7 million for rapid responses to workplaces where one or more employees tested positive for COVID-19.

‘Forever deadly’: State officials, communities scramble to fight a proposal to house high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico

Rose Gardner is not giving up. 

A Eunice resident, Gardner has spent the past few years fighting a proposal to store high-level nuclear waste in southeastern New Mexico. 

“I was born here in Eunice, New Mexico, and have lived through a lot of ups and downs, oil booms and busts,” Gardner told NM Political Report. “But never have I ever felt that we needed an industry as dangerous as storing high-level nuclear waste right here.”

Gardner, who co-founded the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, is part of a groundswell of opposition to a project currently under consideration by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that would see the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facility be built along the Lea-Eddy county line.  

Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the NRC in 2017 to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico that would hold waste generated at nuclear utilities around the country temporarily until a permanent, federally-managed repository is established. The license application is making steady progress in the NRC’s process, despite the pandemic. 

Proponents of the project tout the estimated $3 billion in capital investments and 100 new jobs that it would bring to the area. But opponents — including the governor of New Mexico, most tribal nations in the state, state lawmakers, 12 local governments and a number of local associations — worry that the proposed interim storage facility would become a de facto permanent storage solution for the nation’s growing nuclear waste. “There’s a great concern that this waste, should it end up in New Mexico, will really never move from here,” state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, told NM Political Report.

Two contraception bills advance

A bill that would go beyond both the governor’s and Legislative Finance Committee’s appropriation recommendations for long-acting reversible contraceptive training to medical professionals passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee 4-2 Thursday. The vote fell along party lines for SB 40, which would provide $1.2 million from the general fund to the state Department of Health to mentor health care providers on long-acting reversible contraception. Democratic Senators Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez of Albuquerque, Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerrillos, Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces voted in favor. Republican Senators Candace Gould of Albuquerque and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho opposed the bill, while Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was absent. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, is sponsoring this bill as well as another, SB 41, which provides $500,000 to the Department of Health to raise public awareness on long-acting reversible contraception.

Coyote-killing contest ban now up to governor

The Legislature has sent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would outlaw coyote killing contests in New Mexico. A 37-30 vote late Tuesday by the House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 76 came after the Senate approved the measure last week on a vote of 22-17. As to whether the governor plans to sign it into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki on Wednesday said only that, “At this point, we’re reviewing the legislation.” The House vote came after a two-hour plus debate that was often punctuated with imagery of bloodshed, ambushes and shootings and which highlighted the divide between rural and urban communities when it comes to dealing with coyotes. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Bill 76, saying they see such contests as inhumane.

Senate committee spikes lobbying disclosure bill

There are about 700 registered lobbyists bustling around the Capitol this year. What are they working on? They don’t have to say. A Senate committee shot down legislation on Wednesday that would have required lobbyists to report which bills they are working on. House Bill 131 also would have barred lobbyists from making any expenditures on legislators while they are in session.

Senate votes to raise cap on film credits, measure moves to House

The New Mexico Senate voted Tuesday night to raise the limit on tax credits paid to the film industry and pay off a mounting backlog. Senate Bill 2 has been a priority for newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a burgeoning sector of the state’s economy that has brought a certain renown to New Mexico. But budget hawks on both sides of the aisle have been wary of eliminating the current $50 million annual limit on tax credits, arguing that the state needs some sort of cap for reliable budgeting. And critics contend efforts to subsidize the film industry here just aren’t worth it and amounts to sending money to out-of-state corporations. Still, when it came times to vote, the bill passed by a vote of 32-8, with several Republicans joining Democrats to back the measure.

Senate committee moves national popular vote bill

As the 2020 presidential election kicks into gear, New Mexico is a step closer to joining a group of states in upending how the country selects its leader. The Senate Rules Committee backed a bill Sunday that would allow New Mexico to join a compact of several other states committed to putting its electoral college votes behind whichever candidate wins the most votes nationwide. Known as the national popular vote, the idea is part of a movement to remove what backers argue is an outdated vestige of American democracy but which critics of the bill argue would undercut the political power of smaller states like New Mexico. Under the U.S. Constitution, each state gets an electoral college vote commensurate to the number of representatives it has in Congress. Under the formula, smaller states are over-represented.

After Senate vote, wage issue heads for showdown with House

The lowest paid New Mexicans are closer to getting a raise. The Senate passed a bill Friday night that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 from in October, phasing in increases all the way up to $11 in 2022, which would still be below the wage floor established in cities like Santa Fe. While it passed 25-17, Senate Bill 437 represented a messy compromise after the state House of Representatives had approved a higher increase backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and in turn stirred heavy opposition from the business sector, particularly the restaurant industry. The Senate’s industry-backed proposal goes now to the House. But even though it would allow Democrats to follow through on a central campaign promise from last year’s election, several lawmakers from the party argued Friday night it does not go far enough.