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.

Lujan Grisham signs body camera bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed into law a requirement for all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, regardless of jurisdiction. According to the new law, agencies must also keep footage for at least 120 days. 

Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, SB 8 would also allow the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board to revoke certification from any law enforcement officer who is found guilty of using illegal use of force while on duty. 

The law comes amid a national push for police accountability, but also after years of pushing from advocates to get local police departments to start using body cameras. 

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, is one example of an agency that resisted supplying officers with body cameras. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzalez has long argued that body cameras present an unnecessary cost to his department. 

Lujan Grisham added the issue of police body cameras to the list of proposals the Legislature could consider during the special legislative session that took place last month. 

According to a press release sent out by Lujan Grisham’s office, the governor added body cameras to the call after George Floyd died while a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.   

Prosecutors have charged the officer, Derek Chauvin, with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and charged three officers who were nearby and did not intervene with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Video of the killing prompted worldwide protests, including in New Mexico, against police brutality and calls to defund police departments.

A bill to prohibit requiring NDAs for sexual harassment settlements headed to Guv’s desk

A bill that supporters say will prevent serial sexual harassers in the workplace passed the Senate floor 23 to 13. HB 21 will enable victims of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination in the workplace to determine if a nondisclosure agreement should be part of a settlement with a former employer. Backers of the bill say it levels the playing field and prevents serial abuse. The bill is now headed to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. According to Christopher Papalco, a University of New Mexico law student, 38 percent of sexual harassment claims in New Mexico involve repeat offenders.

Bill to aid pregnant workers clears committee after debate over perceived vagueness

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to protect pregnant workers but killed a proposed amendment that some lawmakers said would have protected workers who allege a violation of the proposed law from further discrimination. HB 25 aims to protect pregnant workers or new moms from discrimination in the workplace. Under the proposed law, New Mexico employers with four or more employees would have to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a pregnant worker or new mom. Examples of “reasonable accommodations” are defined as reprieve from heavy lifting, providing water or a stool at a workstation and extra bathroom breaks, according to backers of the bill. The bill has received wide support from industry, anti-abortion groups and abortion rights organizations.

Cannabis legalization stalls in committee

A recreational cannabis legalization bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, while a bill that would limit who can become a medical cannabis patient moved on. Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who has pushed for legalization in various ways for a number of years. 

Ortiz y Pino’s legalization bill, SB 115, by far received the most debate and criticism, particularly from the committee’s chairman Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. Cervantes, who has long pushed for decriminalization, but has said he does not favor full legalization, said he was more concerned with problematic language in the almost 200-page bill. He spent more than 30 minutes going through some of his concerns, one of which was fairness. 

“This bill reflects one of the weaknesses in this state which is the propensity to pick winners and losers,” Cervantes said. 

He meticulously picked apart the bill and cited provisions that he said seemed unfair like a section that aims to include organized labor in cannabis production companies and a section that would create a subsidy program for indigent medical cannabis patients. Cervantes also said he didn’t like that the bill would allow those with previous drug convictions to get into the industry, even invoking the name of infamous drug lord El Chapo. 

The bill was tabled on a 6-3 vote.