Compromise redistricting bill advances unanimously from Senate committee

Lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee came to a quick compromise Monday on a measure they hope will set the state’s sometimes controversial redistricting process on a smooth path via an independent, bipartisan panel of people to redraw voting district boundaries. A substitute bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, gained the committee’s unanimous approval, replacing two competing Senate bills — including one sponsored by Ivey-Soto. Monday’s deal came only after Ivey-Soto took a verbal swipe at critics who accused him of opposing the idea of an independent redistricting committee because his initial bill called for a committee composed of legislators. “I take a little personal some of the comments that have been made about the perspective of the Legislature in the redistricting process,” he said. 

He said his name had been used as a “barrier to independent redistricting. Shame on you, shame on you for doing that.”

Lujan Grisham says she’d veto bill limiting executive power

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday she would veto legislation that would curb the power of the executive branch over extending public health orders. “In their current context, yes,” she said when asked whether she would veto such a bill. That’s not to say governors should be “omnipotent,” Lujan Grisham. “That’s why you have three branches of government. That’s why you have elections.

Redistricting reform bills await movement in session

Three bills lighting the way for the creation of a redistricting plan in New Mexico are waiting for their moment in the legislative spotlight. 

But as the legislative clock moves closer to deadline — Thursday was the midway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session — supporters and sponsors of some of those bills worry they might not get a hearing in time. 

Kathleen Burke, project director of Fair Districts for New Mexico, an Albuquerque advocacy group pushing for a fair redistricting plan, said she doesn’t want to see Senate Bill 199 “go where legislation goes to die.” Like its mirror image in the House of Representatives — House Bill 211 — SB 199 wold create a seven-member redistricting commission and lay out requirements for choosing members. It also would require the commission to hold at least six public meetings to generate input and would give it the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting. The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval.

Bill on filling vacant congressional seat advances in narrow vote

A bipartisan bill that would create new procedures to fill a vacant congressional position in New Mexico — perhaps soon enough to apply to the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland — cleared its first committee Monday. The Senate Rules Committee, on a 6-5 vote, advanced Senate Bill 254, sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. The measure would add a special primary election and special general election to fill a congressional vacancy. Under existing state law, the New Mexico secretary of state calls for a special election after a vacancy occurs, and then each major political party’s central committee nominates a candidate. The bill was born out of the possible vacancy that would be created in the 1st Congressional District if the U.S. Senate confirms Haaland to serve as President Joe Biden’s interior secretary.

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.

Bill to let college athletes earn money from their likeness clears committee

A piece of legislation designed to create a cash flow for New Mexico’s college student-athletes cleared its first significant hurdle Wednesday. Introduced by a bipartisan trio of two state senators and a high-profile member of the House, SB 94 cleared the Senate Education Committee with unanimous approval Wednesday morning. According to one of its authors, it has gained the kind of momentum required to make it become a law before the end of the session. Similar measures have been adopted in California and Colorado, which have five schools in the Mountain West Conference, 10 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and one in the Western Athletic Conference — leagues that are home to, respectively, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands and New Mexico State. “In this day and age of politics, this is a bill that passed unanimously with Republicans and Democrats in California,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.

Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

“I apologize.

Red flag bill passes Senate

The New Mexico Senate approved high-profile gun legislation in a narrow vote Friday, likely clearing the way for the bill to become law. The chamber voted 22-20 to pass an amended version of Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. Under the legislation, law enforcement officers would be able to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if they are found to pose a threat to themselves or others. The measure now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass and make New Mexico the 18th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to have a similar so called red flag law on the books. A comparable bill passed the House in last year’s session but didn’t make it to the Senate floor.

Senate committee passes red flag legislation

So-called “red flag” legislation narrowly cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 6-5. Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, now moves to the Senate floor for consideration. It would allow law enforcement officers to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms. A judge would require the person to give up their guns for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if probable cause is found that the person poses a threat to themselves or others. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, is one of the most contentious of this year’s legislative session. But it is one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s key crime-fighting initiatives, and gun-safety proponents say it will save lives and reduce gun violence.

Bill to fund mental health programs for university athlete advances

Teton Saltes said he will always remember the text message he received from his friend Nahje Flowers on an early November morning. 

Flowers texted to say “he loved me and he was sorry for what he was about to do, that he couldn’t fight it anymore and had nothing left,” Saltes told legislators on the Senate Education Committee  during a Monday hearing on a mental health measure. Flowers, a 21-year-old University of New Mexico football player, then used a gun to take his own life. He left his dreams and ambitions “splattered on the walls” of his bedroom, said Saltes, who also plays football for UNM. He was testifying for a bill that would provide additional funding for mental health programs for student athletes at both UNM and New Mexico State University. 

Senate Bill 56, introduced by Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, would allocate $500,000 to each school in the coming fiscal year to expand mental and behavioral health programs. Among other initiatives, the funding would pay for more counselors and psychologists, and cover the costs of educational campaigns to let college athletes know help is available. 

The committee voted 8-0 to advance the bill to the Senate Finance Committee following almost an hour of often-emotional testimony about difficulties young athletes face in an era when social media can make them a star or a forgotten hero almost overnight. Moores, who played football at UNM years ago, along with college athletes, athletic directors and other administrators from both schools told lawmakers about the pressure athletes face as they strive to maintain good grades while achieving success on the court or field, and dealing with increasing media attention and criticism. 

It’s not easy for those athletes — male or female – to ask for help, Moores said.