"Vote Here" signs in front of the Otero County Administration Building on New York Avenue in Alamogordo.

Voter rights bill passes first senate committee

A bill that would expand the state’s Election Code passed the Senate Rules Committee on a party-line 5-2 vote on Monday. 

HB 4 aims to expand automatic voter registration, restore convicted felons’ right to vote upon release from prison, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter list, and enact the Native American Voting Rights Act to the state Election Code. “Despite a lot of recent progress in strengthening voting opportunities for all New Mexicans, New Mexico still lags behind other states and our percentage of citizens that are registered to vote, and the number of folks who exercise that right at election time and this tells us that despite the the excellent work that our secretary of state has done for many years, we still have more work to do. Which is why the New Mexico Voting Rights Act is here before you,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque said. More: Voting rights expansion passes House

Duhigg offered an amendment that passed the committee

A section of the bill could leave the state open to litigation under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The amendment removed section three of the bill which concerns voter information dissemination.

Screenshot of Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, during a Senate floor session on Feb. 25, 2023, discussing SB 180 which updates elections in New Mexico.

Election code update passes Senate

The state Senate approved a bill seeking to update the state election code on a 23-13, party-line vote. SB 180 seeks to update the state’s Election Code including, but not limited to, specifying when the Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA, can be used in election-based disclosures, allowing electronic nominating petition signatures, creating an election security program, requiring training for election challengers and watchers, revising requirements for the impoundment of ballots, audits, voting machine rechecks and recounts, revising election-related crimes and authorizing taxpayer information to be revealed to the secretary of state for purposes of maintaining voter registration records. “This is a bill that should look very familiar to this body because we’ve seen it for three years now,” Duhigg said. “SB180 is simply a pared down version of last year’s rendition, which was SB 6, which passed this body unanimously… But all of the changes that are in this bill, are borne from actual experiences that our election administrators have been navigating. Many of them have already been bug tested.”

Many of the bill’s provisions were activated on a temporary basis during the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Bill to end gag on ethics complainants clears committee

The Senate Rules Committee passed a bill that will, if enacted, allow a complainant who files an ethics complaint to speak publicly by a vote of 9-1 on Friday. HB 169, Disclosure of Legislative Ethics Complaints, would fix a constitutional issue in a law enacted in 1993, bill sponsor state Rep. Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, said. The current law prohibits both the complainant and committee staff from speaking publicly about a complaint even though the respondent to a complaint can speak publicly, she said. Szcepanski said the current law has “an uneven requirement,” and that passing HB 169 would make the law more equitable and restore the complainant’s constitutional right to free speech. The bill generated a discussion around the constitutional right to free speech.

Anti-donation clause constitutional amendment approved in Senate Rules Committee

The state Senate Rules Committee passed a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to change the anti-donation clause. The state’s anti-donation clause prevents governmental agencies from city councils and school districts to the state legislature from giving funding to individuals or private entities. SJR 9 seeks to amend the clause to allow for exceptions such as disaster relief, supporting affordable housing and helping with economic development by providing land, buildings or other infrastructure. The Senate Rules Committee approved the legislation Friday on a 4-2 vote. Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, were the two votes against.

Bill to eliminate statute of limitations in civil cases for child sexual abuse clears first committee

A bill that will, if enacted, eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in child sexual abuse incidences passed a Senate committee unanimously. SB 126, Child Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations, is sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque. She said the current law gives the victim until their 24th birthday or three years after they disclose during treatment to file a civil case against the perpetrator. “This allows folks to get to the courthouse door. We know from extensive studies, trauma can last a long time.

Senate Republicans kill omnibus voting rights bill in final hours of session

The omnibus voting rights bill, SB 144, which would have expanded voting rights to many formerly disenfranchised and given protections to election workers passed the House in the final hours of the legislature but the bill ultimately failed after a filibuster by Senate Republicans . After a nearly 24-hour House debate on various bills, the House turned to the omnibus voting bill SB 144 around 7 a.m. Thursday in the final hours of the Legislature. 

SB 144 began as a two-page bill ensuring the safety of election workers from intimidation. It had broad bipartisan support, receiving a unanimous due pass in the Senate chamber earlier this month. But state House Rep. Daymon Ely, of Corrales, and state Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, both Democrats, amended SB 144 to include measures from two other election bills, SB 6, which cleaned up and modernized language in the election code and SB 8, the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, which expanded voting rights to many who have historically been disenfranchised and would have made voting easier and more streamlined for many. 

The grafting of the three bills led to complaints from Republicans about “log rolling,” which is combining more than one unrelated bill together and is unconstitutional.  Another complaint, made by state House Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, that the bill, once amended with provisions from SB 6 and SB 8, had not been vetted. Related: House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions

Grafting the three bills together was similar in process, Ely said on the House floor Thursday morning, to the omnibus crime bill which the House just sent to the governor by concurring with Senate changes.

House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions

The House Judiciary Committee passed an omnibus voting bill, SB 144, that includes provisions of two other voting bills, SB 8 and SB 6, on a party line vote of 9-3 Tuesday evening. After Senate Republicans blocked a Senate floor debate and vote on SB 8 over the weekend, House Democrats moved the provisions from that bill into another voting bill, SB 144. SB 144, sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, initially aimed to protect election workers from intimidation, threat or use of force or violence, damage or harm while carrying out their duties during an election. The penalty for the crime is a fourth degree felony. The bill also has already passed the Senate, removing a barrier with less than two days left in the session.

Legislators seek to remove statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases

Another try at lifting the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases sits in limbo in the Legislature. A bill introduced by Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, would remove restrictions on how long a victim of such abuse has to file a civil lawsuit. Many experts say statutes that narrowly limit the time survivors of child abuse have to sue a perpetrator or an organization are unfair because it takes many victims years to acknowledge or come to terms with the abuse. “This bill seeks to ensure that the trauma that survivors endure no longer outlives their ability to access the justice they deserve,” Duhigg wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. The Legislature’s web page said the bill, which applies to civil and not criminal cases, has been referred to the Senate Committees Committee.

Ethics watchdog issues report on payday loan industry lobbying

It has become a cycle of despair for low-income residents with poor credit scores: They take out a high-interest installment loan to tide them over in tough times and soon accumulate an unmanageable load. They pay off old debt with new loans at rates of up 175 percent. For years, state lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to introduce legislation capping the interest rate for such loans at 36 percent. Their efforts have failed repeatedly. An attempt last year to forge a compromise — with a 99 percent cap on the smallest loans, of up to $1,100, and 36 percent on higher amounts — stalled in the House of Representatives.

Citizen lawmakers find work in new cannabis industry

Cannabis legalization in New Mexico was sold as, amongst other things, a job creator. Those who are eyeing the new industry are navigating proposed rules and regulations and making plans for real space, how many plants they will be able to grow and how to get their applications approved by the state. Now there seems to be a niche market for cannabis adjacent businesses, particularly those aimed at guiding business owners through the process. 

Even prior to the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act in the New Mexico Legislature, a handful of consulting and legal firms specializing in cannabis regulations and law existed. But since the Cannabis Regulation Act passed, there are at least three elected officials who are currently, or plan to, sell their knowledge to those interested in getting in at the ground floor of what is expected to become a booming new industry. 

That raises questions about the ethics of state and local lawmakers selling their services in an industry they sometimes have a hand at creating. But some of those elected officials who operate cannabis adjacent businesses say they are keeping things ethical but that the dilemma could be avoided if lawmakers are paid an actual wage.    

On the evening of March 31, which was the last day of New Mexico’s special legislative session, the state Senate was deep in a debate over cannabis legalization.