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.
After a midterm election in which Democrats wrested back control of the Governor’s Office and expanded their majority in the state House of Representatives, Kelly Fajardo feels almost invisible at the Roundhouse this year. Fajardo, you see, is a Republican representative in a Democrat-dominated House, where members of the GOP are now outnumbered by the largest margin in two decades. “It just feels like we don’t matter,” said Fajardo, R-Los Lunas. “Our job is to create good policy, and when you’re going, ‘I don’t need you. I don’t need to listen to you,’ that creates a problem,” she said.
The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.
A panel of New Mexico legislators discussed a draft version of an updated sexual harassment policy Friday, a month ahead of the 2018 legislative session. This marks the first time the policy has been updated since 2008. Legislators have not undergone sexual harassment training since then, before many current legislators were even elected. The Legislative Council expects to vote on a final version on Jan. 15, the day before the start of the session.
The New York Times reported a former state representative in New Mexico told a female lobbyist he would vote for a bill a client supported if she had sex with him, then kissed her. That was part of a story the newspaper wrote about lobbyists facing sexual harassment in state capitals around the nation. The allegation brought up by Vanessa Alarid, still a prominent lobbyist, accused former State Rep. Thomas A. Garcia of making the proposition and the unwanted kiss. Garcia was a member of the Legislature for three terms, from 2006 to 2012. The Democrat denied the allegation.
Legislative leadership in both chambers and of both parties announced a bipartisan group of legislators will address the state’s sexual harassment policy. The sexual harassment policy was last revised in 2008, which was also the last time legislators underwent sexual harassment training. The group of legislators will work with the Legislative Council Service as well as outside attorneys to review the existing policy and recommend an updated draft policy to the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council, which is made up of members of each chamber, will then vote on adoption of the new policy in January. Leadership announced that the working group will look at applying the policy to staff, contractors, lobbyists and outside vendors in addition to legislators as well as “clearly outlining terms of enforcement” and outlining protections for those reporting sexual harassment from any retaliation.
One state representative says the Legislature needs to do more to address sexual harassment. Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, wrote a letter to leadership in both the House and Senate, saying there is an “anything-goes” culture in the Roundhouse. She described “deliberate, often serial, offensive actions intended to intimidate, humiliate, or coerce” in the Roundhouse. She said that she has “personally experienced harassment in her time as a legislator.”
“I have also witnessed instances of harassment where colleagues and lobbyists have been subject to repeated profane comments and innuendo,” Fajardo wrote. “I heard stories of sickening quid pro quo propositions where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors.” Fajardo did not name who harassed her or others.
The state minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour from $7.50 by April 2018 if Gov. Susana Martinez signs a bill that has been passed by both houses of the Legislature. The House of Representatives on Thursday night voted 41-27 to pass Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. The bill would increase New Mexico’s hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018. It also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October. The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.
Spurred by a Four Corners-area water company that for months provided phony information to state regulators, the state House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill making it a crime for owners or operators of public water systems to knowingly give false reports to the Environment Department. House Bill 511, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, passed on a 66-0 vote Monday night and now goes to the Senate. There was virtually no discussion about the reason for the bill during a brief floor hearing. Complaints last year from customers of the Animas Valley Water Co. eventually prompted the state to order thousands of households to boil their water.
Cloudy, brown and rank water flowed from the taps of homes in the northwest corner of New Mexico. Some of those who drank it say they became nauseous. They complained of cramps, headaches and diarrhea. Thousands of people were told to boil their water to guard against illness. Farmington-area residents whose homes are hooked up to the Animas Valley Water system said the water also damaged their water heaters, washing machines and clothes.