Pretrial detention measure tabled by Senate committee

A key “tough-on-crime” initiative supported by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hit a roadblock Monday. Members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 5-3 to table Senate Bill 189, which would make a major change to the state’s pretrial detention process for defendants suspected of certain violent crimes. Under the measure, a defendant would have to prove to a judge they are not at risk of committing further violence if they are allowed to remain free until their trial. It is one of the most contentious bills in this year’s legislative session, despite its bipartisan support. Republicans have long pushed for similar legislation, arguing the current system, in which prosecutors must show evidence a defendant poses too great a danger to be released, has led to some heinous crimes by repeat offenders.

Effort to eliminate Social Security tax gains momentum

The push to eliminate New Mexico’s income tax on Social Security benefits is gaining traction at the Roundhouse. Two senators, Democrat Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Republican David Gallegos of Eunice, introduced separate bills Thursday that would eliminate the tax on Social Security income. Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, previously introduced a bill to repeal the tax, but it would still affect higher earners and increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to make up the loss in state revenue. Padilla said his proposal, Senate Bill 108, has been endorsed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called on lawmakers Tuesday during her State of the State address to end the tax and whose office issued a news release late Thursday reiterating the request. “We have never had a better opportunity to eliminate income taxes on Social Security like we do right now,” Padilla said.

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.

Stansbury wins special election

New Mexico state Rep. Melanie Stansbury will soon officially become a U.S. Representative. 

Stansbury won easily on Tuesday over three other opponents on the ballot in a special election: Republican Mark Moores, Libertarian Chris Manning and independent candidate Aubrey Dunn. 

The special election was held in order to replace former congresswoman Deb Halaand after she was appointed and confirmed to the position of U..S. Secretary of the Interior earlier this year. 

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, as of 11:46 p.m. Tuesday night, Stansbury’s votes accounted for 60 percent of all votes cast, while Moores had slightly 36 percent, Manning had one percent and Dunn had three percent. 

Even though there were four candidates in the running, much of the unusually timed and expedited election cycle was largely focused on Moores and Stansbury. Both Stansbury and Moores are state legislators, Moores in the state Senate and Stansbury in the House, each serving moderate districts in Albuquerque. Two other candidates qualified as write-in candidates. At an event in Old Town Albuquerque, where Stansbury supporters gathered to watch the results, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández rallied the crowd with chants of “¡Que viva Melanie Stansbury!”

In her victory speech, Stansbury spoke about tearing up when she saw Halaand sworn in as Secretary of Interior, signalling what Stansbury said is a movement towards progressive change.

NM congressional candidates take part in the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative forum

Three candidates running in the race to fill the 1st Congressional district vacancy fielded questions on Tuesday night in the election’s first public forum. The New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative organized and moderated the forum, which took place just hours after a Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. 

Democratic candidate and current state Representative Melanie Stansbury, Libertarian candidate Chris Manning and independent candidate and former state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn took part in the forum. Republican candidate and current state Senator Mark Moores was notably absent from the forum. According to a press release from the Black Voters Collaborative prior to the forum, Moores originally agreed to participate but later withdrew. 

Questions for the candidates mostly covered ongoing issues in the state and country and how they impact people of color. While the candidates kept a civil tone with one another, they still had different opinions on the issues. 

When asked about police brutality towards people of color and the high rates of death at the hands of police, all three candidates said they were in favor of ending qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that is often used to protect police from facing civil legal action. 

Dunn said he thinks money towards police training should be a priority and that police who violate the law should be held accountable. 

“I know we have a serious problem and we need to make it a priority and it’s gone for years,” Dunn said. 

Manning said in addition to ending qualified immunity, he would like to see more trust from the public in the justice system. 

“We also need to have faith in our system, that even those who are accused of the most egregious crimes, they get their day in court,” Manning said.

NM’s congressional race is on a tight deadline

In about three weeks, registered voters in the 1st Congressional District can start casting ballots to fill the vacant seat. The rushed and non-traditional nature of this election could prove difficult for the candidates. 

Complicating issues, the state is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that emerged last year, meaning candidates may not see the normal kind of campaign rally turn-out and some will likely not hold in-person rallies at all. Of the candidates for the Albuquerque-area seat that NM Political Report spoke to, only one cited the expedited timeline as a possible challenge to their campaign. Others anticipated their biggest challenges will be getting the word out about their campaigns and raising money. 

Melanie Stansbury, who currently serves as a Democratic legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said the short election period may end up being her biggest challenge. 

“It is a scramble to get out the vote and help educate the public to know that a special election is happening, to introduce ourselves to the broader community and make sure that people know the election is happening and when and how to vote,” Stansbury said. 

Stansbury is currently serving her second term in the state Legislature, but previously worked in the White House as well as a U.S. Senate staffer. 

Republican candidate Mark Moores also serves in the Legislature, as a state senator. Despite numerous scheduling attempts from NM Political Report, Moores could not be reached for an interview. 

Aubrey Dunn, who is running as an independent candidate, seemed to agree that getting people out to vote would also be a challenge, but he said he thinks his biggest challenge will be fundraising.

Republicans name Moores as CD1 nominee

Republicans picked State Sen. Mark Moores as the party’s candidate for the upcoming special election to fill the 1st Congressional District vacancy. Moores, a Republican from Albuquerque, announced his entry into the race in mid-March. Moores owns a laboratory that, over the last year, collected samples of COVID-19 testing. The election will take place on June 1. Democrat Deb Haaland resigned from the seat earlier this month after she was confirmed to the position of Secretary of the Department of the Interior in the Joe Biden administration.

Senate passes bill protecting hair and hair styles in schools and workplace

A bill to protect people in school or the workplace from discrimination based on their hair or hairstyles passed 37 to 0 in the Senate Thursday. SB 80 would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on cultural or religious headdresses and protective hairstyles and would prevent school districts and charter schools from disciplining children based on their hair, hairstyle or cultural or religious headdresses. Sponsored by state Sen. Harold Pope Jr., D-Albuquerque, who talked about discrimination he faced as a child because of his hair, the bill received virtually no debate on the Senate floor. Pope is the first Black state Senator in New Mexico history. State Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said he supported the bill but asked if a school coach or referee would be able to address safety issues if the bill passed.

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.

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.”