Former legislator seeks appointment to vacant state House seat

Idalia Lechuga-Tena announced on Friday she is seeking appointment to House District 28 amidst a growing list of women interested in the seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury. Bernalillo County Commissioners meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a special meeting to decide who will replace Stansbury. Bernalillo County Commissioners appointed Lechuga-Tena in 2015 to represent House District 21. At that time, she replaced state Sen. Mimi Stewart. But Lechuga-Tena moved into HD 21 just days before her appointment in 2015, though she owned another home in another district.

NM Senate leadership clears senator of ethics violation allegation

A dust-up between an outspoken New Mexico state senator and a state cabinet secretary over ethics related to cannabis legislation has come to a resolution, at least temporarily. 

According to a letter from Senate leadership last month, sent to New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins, there will be no legislative investigation of Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, over his professional involvement with a prominent medical cannabis business.  

In the letter, sent on May 19, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, wrote that she, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen determined there was no reason for the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee to investigate the issue further. 

“I convened a meeting with Senators Wirth and Baca to review and deliberate the allegations and other information contained in your complaint and in the State Ethics Commission’s dismissal and referral,” Stewart wrote. “After our extensive evaluation, we have determined that the complaint and information did not warrant further investigation by the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, and therefore the complaint is dismissed.”

Four days after this year’s regular session and six days before a special session, Collins filed an ethics complaint with the newly formed State Ethics Commission, alleging that Candelaria  violated the state Governmental Conduct Act by voting on a bill that would have limited medical cannabis patient reciprocity. Candelaria, who is also an attorney, represented medical cannabis producer Ultra Health months prior, challenging DOH over the same issue. 

In September 2020, the Medical Cannabis Program, which is overseen by DOH, issued a directive that medical cannabis reciprocity only applied to patients with authorization from their respective home state to use medical cannabis. The department was attempting to close what it saw as a loophole in which Texas residents reportedly received recommendations from doctors in California and then crossed state lines to buy medical cannabis in New Mexico. By October 2020, Candelaria, on behalf of Ultra Health, successfully petitioned a state judge to overrule the department’s emergency rule change.

Guv signs two health-related bills that advance equity, say advocates

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two health-related bills Wednesday that will advance equity, advocates have said. Lujan Grisham signed the Healthy Workplaces Act. 

HB 20, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Albuquerque, mandates that all private sector employers must provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave a year. Starting July 1, 2022, employees will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The fine for noncompliance is $500. The bill sparked controversy when Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, continued a line of questioning to the Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, that some have called bullying during a Senate floor debate.

Governor signs Environmental Database Act

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Wednesday that will make it easier for the public to access environmental data. HB 51, the Environmental Database Act, will lead to the creation of a map-based database hosted and managed by Natural Heritage New Mexico, which is a division of the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. The information that will be included in the database is already available through seven New Mexico agencies. However, the database will put all the information in a single user-friendly location. Related: Environmental Database Act aims to increase transparency for publicly-available state data

This includes information about waterways, the location of oil and gas wells and rates of childhood asthma.

Environmental Database Act aims to increase transparency for publicly-available state data

A transparency bill that would make it easier for the public to access environmental data is awaiting the governor’s signature. HB 51, the Environmental Database Act, aims to make data that is already available through state agencies easily accessible at a single location. While the information that would be included in the database is already publicly available, Judy Calman, New Mexico Director of Policy for Audubon Southwest, said there is a difference between available and accessible. Calman drafted the bill, which was sponsored by state Representatives Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.. The bill would create a central map-based database where the public could freely view the information.

Governor, legislators speak about end of session

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislators spoke about legislative successes and what they expect to happen with bills that didn’t cross the finish line, including a pending special session to pass recreational cannabis. 

Lujan Grisham said she was proud of how much work was done in a session marred by a pandemic. 

“It’s incredibly difficult and challenging, to debate, to draft, to engage in policy making,” she said. “It’s everything from economic relief, education and health care in an environment where you absolutely have to meet the COVID safe practices.”

Particularly, Lujan Grisham praised lawmakers for passing a liquor law reform, approving a proposed constitutional amendment to use state funds to pay for early childhood education and decriminalizing abortion.   

Democratic House of Representatives leadership held a press conference a few minutes after adjourning sine die on the House chamber floor to discuss Democratic accomplishments for this session. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, said the focus for this session was recovery. 

The three-pronged approach to recovery, Egolf said, was education, health and the economy. Of the more than 170 pieces of legislation that passed this year, some of the bills highlighted during the press conference included passage of SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which repealed the 1969 statute banning abortion, as well as HB 4 the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense in the state and allows for financial remedy up to $2 million and the potential to recover attorney’s fees if a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. Lujan Grisham signed SB 10 into law in February.

Paid sick leave bill heads to Guv’s desk

The House voted 41 to 26 to agree with Senate changes to the paid sick leave bill on the final morning of the Legislature on Saturday.  

HB 20, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Christine Chandler, a Democrat from Los Alamos, would mandate that all private employers provide up to 64 hours of paid sick leave per year for employees. Private sector employees would accrue one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the bill. Getting HB 20 to final passage was called “one of the most difficult lifts this session,” by Rep. Susan Herrara, D-Embudo. The debate around HB 20, mostly entailed concerns about the business community’s, particularly small businesses, ability to absorb the cost.

Paid sick leave passes Senate after lengthy, acrimonious debate including a filibuster

The state Senate passed the Healthy Workplaces bill 25 to 16 after a lengthy debate that stretched into the early hours of Friday during which Democrats sparred against each other on the chamber floor over the treatment of the bill’s sponsor, while Republicans railed against the bill and one even held a lengthy filibuster. HB 20 would mandate that all private sector employers provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Private sector employees could accrue up to 64 hours a year of paid sick leave. The bill would not go into effect until July 1, 2022. Advocates had pushed for mandated paid sick leave for years, including at the local level in Albuquerque.

Senate passes clean fuel bill despite concerns about higher gas prices

A proposal to reduce New Mexico’s carbon footprint by going after greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector fueled a spirited debate Thursday in the state Senate. At issue is whether Senate Bill 11, which would create a statewide clean fuel standard, would lead to higher prices at the gas pump for consumers, who lately have been experiencing sticker shock when they pull up to the pump. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who disputed the notion that gas prices would shoot up, ultimately cleared the chamber on a party-line 25-14 vote — but only after a two-hour discussion that left some lawmakers wondering whether a push to protect the environment would cost consumers. “My biggest concern is what we’re going to do to gas prices in the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs. “It will take a little while, but we’re going to get to a point where the people that it’s going to impact the most are low-income people.”

Speaker: House will debate abortion ban repeal Friday

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham could have the bill that decriminalizes abortion care on her desk as early as late Friday, House Speaker Brian Egolf said during a Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico event. Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, an arm of Planned Parenthood, held a remote event called “Toast of the Town” Wednesday evening. The Santa Fe Democrat was one of several speakers, including Lujan Grisham as the keynote speaker. Most of the talk during the hour-long event was about HB 7 and SB 10, mirror bills that would repeal the 1969 statute that bans abortion with few exceptions. SB 10 passed the state Senate in a historic win of 25 to 17 on February 12.