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.

NM Senate committees advance two redistricting maps

Two New Mexico state Senate committees advanced two redistricting maps on Thursday, one for Congress and one for the state Senate. A New Mexico Senate bill that would redraw the state’s congressional districts inched closer to a full Senate vote on Thursday after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would make significant changes to the three congressional districts by grouping much of northern New Mexico with a portion of the southeast part of the state. The bill also suggests including rural areas like Carrizozo with much of the urban Albuquerque area. But more rural areas of Albuquerque would be included in the southern congressional district. 

The proposed map is similar to what is largely being referred to as the “people’s map” which was backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups. Proponents of “the people’s map” have also added their support of SB 1, arguing that it would group together large populations of Hispanic and Latino voters.

Senate committee advances alternative to ‘people’s map’

As part of New Mexico’s redistricting special legislative session, a panel on Wednesday approved a congressional map proposal that would significantly change the make-up of all three of the state’s congressional districts. The Senate Rules Committee approved the map concept along party lines, by a 7-4 vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, closely resembles a map known as “the people’s map” that has been gaining traction in the Legislature, but Cervantes told the committee he went out of his way to not consult with any advocacy groups. 

“I’ve not met with the people’s map proponents,” Cervantes said. “I’ve done these things deliberately, very candidly, and they probably think I’m inaccessible to them. But I wanted to be able to tell you that this was not somebody’s dream put together.”

The SB 1 map, much like the “people’s map,” would group parts of the urban Albuquerque area with rural communities like Carrizozo and Capitan into the First Congressional District. It would also group oil-rich areas like San Juan and parts of Lea counties into the Third Congressional District.

Civil rights bill passes Senate but must return to House (Updated)

The New Mexico Civil Rights bill passed the state Senate 26 to 15 but with only three-and-a-half days until the end of the legislative session, the bill must return to the House floor for concurrence because the Senate amended the bill. Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the House concurred with the Senate changes on a 41-26 vote and sent it to the governor’s desk. This story continues as originally written below. HB 4 would end qualified immunity as a defense in state civil courts and allows individuals whose civil rights have been violated to bring a case for remedy in state court. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is the lead sponsor for the bill in the Senate, amended the bill to make attorney’s fees subject to judicial review and added that a claimant suing law enforcement must notify the police of the lawsuit within one year after an alleged event occurs.

Paid Sick Leave bill passes Senate Judiciary by slim margin

After a lengthy debate around some of the language and regulatory details of the Healthy Workplaces bill, the Senate Judiciary passed the paid sick leave proposal on a 5 to 4 vote. HB 20 would enable all private employees to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year with an effective date of July 1, 2022. Earlier this week, the day before it was expected to be heard on the Senate floor, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, pulled the bill and asked that it be assigned to his Senate Judiciary Committee for an amendment. Cervantes said he wanted to strike a section of the bill that stated its purpose, which the committee did so through an amendment. Republicans also added an amendment.

Senate Judiciary Chair awaiting changes to cannabis legalization bill

The chairman of a New Mexico Senate committee that is key to getting a House-backed cannabis legalization effort to the Senate floor said he is still waiting on expected changes before scheduling a hearing. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes said he was told by Senate leadership that HB 12, a bill sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, was undergoing changes before its final committee before the Senate floor. 

“I haven’t even heard from the bill sponsor,” Cervantes, a Democrat from Las Cruces, said. “My understanding is there’s a Senate Judiciary Committee sub that is in the works. That’s the only thing I’ve been told.”

A spokesman for the Senate Democratic leadership confirmed that Cervantes was indeed told there are changes being made to the bill. 

Martínez did not respond to an inquiry about what parts of his bill are being changed. And while legalization proponents may be anxiously wondering if there is still enough time in the last days of the session to get a cannabis legalization bill to the governor’s desk before the session ends on Saturday at noon, Cervantes said the bigger concern should be whether changes to the bill will be approved by the Judiciary Committee. 

“The issue will be the caliber of the bill as it gets amended,” Cervantes said. “The bill in its present form is not ready to become a law.”

Cervantes did not specify which parts of the bill he thinks should be changed or how.

Civil Rights bill heads to Senate floor

A bill that would end qualified immunity as a defense for claims under the state’s Civil Rights Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday night with a tie-breaking vote from the chairman of the committee. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, broke the tie on HB 4, the New Mexico Civil Rights bill, when he voted in favor. All three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, as did Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who said after the vote that he supports the aims of the bill but has concerns with the fact that the bill nearly aligns with the federal civil rights law “and yet there are differences.”

“I think we need to listen to some of the concerns of people who’ve tried to offer constructive commentary about the bill,” Ivey-Soto said. Testimony from the opposition came largely from county officials who continued to argue that counties will not be able to qualify for liability insurance. The bill allows lawsuits to be brought against a governmental agency if a plaintiff’s constitutional rights, as defined by the New Mexico bill of rights, has been violated.

Abortion ban repeal bill passes Senate Judiciary Committee

With a vote along party lines, SB 10 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday in what has been the shortest committee hearing on repealing the 1969 abortion ban so far. The bill now heads to the Senate floor. Six Democrats on the committee voted yes and the three Republicans voted no. Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, allowed each side 10 minutes for public comment and both the proponents of the bill and the opponents of the bill 10 minutes to give presentations. Cervantes said an email account had been published that allowed additional public comment and those emails had been shared with committee members.

Tension among Democrats over pro tem race

The alleged involvement of a progressive political group in the race for state Senate president pro tem seems to be causing some consternation among some New Mexico Senate Democrats.   

According to sources familiar with the Senate Democratic Caucus, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, announced during a recent caucus meeting that he was approached by an unnamed political group that offered something in exchange if Cervantes voted for the groups choice for pro tem. 

Sources NM Political Report spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said Cervantes did not specify what was offered or which political group offered it. 

Cervantes declined to discuss the matter, but did not deny that it happened. 

“I think it’s important that I work through the channels and the process we have for ethics issues,” Cervantes said. “So I’d tell you that I wouldn’t talk with you about that publicly until the appropriate time to do so.”

When asked which authority he reported the possible incident to, Cervantes didn’t give any more details. 

“I have spoken with individuals in a confidential way and in the appropriate way that we have for reporting things of concern,” he said. 

The pro tem position is voted on by the full Senate, but Democrats will have a 27-15 majority when the next legislative session begins in January. 

One source said several caucus members have been approached by representatives from the New Mexico Working Families Party to discuss potential legislation, with the conversation quickly turning to the pro tem race. 

Working Families state director and former state senator Eric Griego called the notion that his group would try to drum up votes with a bribe “absurd.”

“First of all, we’ve not talked to Senator Cervantes at all,” Griego said. 

Griego said his group has been meeting with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to discuss legislation and that occasionally the pro tem race comes up in conversation. But, he said, his group has only offered up their list of preferred Senators in those conversations and that the implication of quid pro quo is “super libelous.”

“It’s patently false, we just don’t work that way,” Griego said. 

The Working Families Party is a national organization that operates as both a political party in some states and also as a political advocacy group. 

Griego said the local chapter worked hard this year to oust what the group calls “corporate champions.” The group endorsed a list of candidates this year and helped get moderate Democrats out of office during the primary. Griego said his group wanted to follow through with that effort.    

“We worked our butts off to elect good people, both in the primary and the general,” Griego said. “And we’re not just going to hope that it turns out ok, in terms of leadership.