Lobbyist accuses Dem senator of sexual harassment, calls for his removal

A New Mexico lobbyist and policy advocate in an open letter issued on Tuesday accused a Democratic state senator of sexual assault and harassment and has called for him to resign from the Legislature. 

Marianna Anaya, who lobbied during the 2022 legislative session, including for a voting coalition made up of a number of organizations*, issued an open letter detailing instances where she said she received unwanted sexual comments and advances from Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.  

“Over the last eight years, my advocacy work has focused on helping individuals and families gain access to what they need – from better working conditions and quality education to access to healthcare and expanded voting rights,” Anaya wrote. “Over the years, I have collaborated with legislators who share these values and honor their positions by doing good work for the people of our community. Unfortunately, several of my interactions with you have made it clear that you do not respect the authority you have as a legislator, but rather, abuse the position.”

According to Anaya’s letter, her first concerning encounter with Ivey-Soto was in 2015 when Anaya worked for then-congresswoman and current Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Anaya wrote that she and Ivey-Soto were separately attending a reception hosted by the National Education Association. When she and Ivey-Soto were alone at a cocktail table, Anaya said, Ivey-Soto allegedly “slid [his] hand across [her] side and disgustingly groped and pinched [her] buttocks.”

“I did not know what to do or what to say – I just hoped that it would not happen again,” she wrote. 

Then, Anaya wrote, towards the beginning of the legislative session in January 2022, she and Ivey-Soto met to discuss a voting rights bill that Anaya was lobbying to pass.

After heated debate over race, NM Senate approves its own redistricting map

The New Mexico state Senate approved a proposal to redraw its own districts on Thursday by a 25-13 vote. SB 2, sponsored by Sens. Linda Lopez and Daniel Ivey-Soto, both Albuquerque Democrats, would redraw the state Senate districts and also adopt a Native American consensus map that tribes and pueblos spent months crafting. 

Much of the contentious debate was carried over from the night before and focused on two Hispanic Republican incumbents that would be paired together in one district. After hours of inaction due to a call of the Senate that required all members to be present before any more substantive business continued, several Republican Senators accused Senate Democrats of being racist for pushing a map forward that would pair the two Hispanic Republicans in the same district. 

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen and Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Veguita, the two senators in question, live about 10 miles, or a 15 to 20 minute drive from each other, according to financial disclosure information. But Baca and Sanchez represent two different districts.

Senate Dems at odds with Native American governments over Senate redistricting

The New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 on Sunday to change a bill aimed at redrawing its own Senate districts, despite pleas from numerous Native American pueblos and tribes not to do so. 

The original proposal, SB 2, adopted a Native American consensus plan that was recommended to the Legislature by the state’s Citizen Redistricting Committee to create stronger Native American voting districts. 

The new version of the bill shifted district boundaries in order to protect six Republican senators from being paired with each other. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who brought the substitute forward, told the committee that the replacement bill was a result of working with Senate Republicans to avoid the pairing of Republicans who represent districts in the western and southeastern parts of the state. 

“In the Senate, we try very hard to be collaborative and to work as an entire body, not just one party,” Stewart said. “And so I was approached by the minority party with ideas.”

Earlier this year, a statewide Native American coalition presented a consensus map to the newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee. That consensus map was included in SB 2. 

During Sunday’s committee meeting, many representatives from numerous tribal nations and pueblos spoke out against the substitute bill on the basis that they spent months of effort to come up with a map that was agreeable to them all. 

Conroy Chino, a registered lobbyist for the Pueblo of Taos, asked committee members to consider the amount of time and effort it took for the coalition to come to an agreement and urged them not to adopt the substitute bill. 

“You can only imagine the challenge of bringing together 22 sovereign governments and having them arrive at a consensus and an agreement,” Chino said. “It was quite challenging and required careful deliberation and meaningful discussion in order for them to arrive at an agreement on a map.”

Pueblo of Zia Governor Jerome Lucero expressed the importance of lawmakers honoring the wishes of Native governments and asked them to adopt a state Senate map that includes the result of the months of work from the coalition. 

“For many redistricting cycles throughout history, our voice was often ignored from this important democratic process,” Lucero said.

NM Senate committees advance two redistricting maps

Two New Mexico state Senate committees advanced two redistricting maps on Thursday, one for Congress and one for the state Senate. A New Mexico Senate bill that would redraw the state’s congressional districts inched closer to a full Senate vote on Thursday after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would make significant changes to the three congressional districts by grouping much of northern New Mexico with a portion of the southeast part of the state. The bill also suggests including rural areas like Carrizozo with much of the urban Albuquerque area. But more rural areas of Albuquerque would be included in the southern congressional district. 

The proposed map is similar to what is largely being referred to as the “people’s map” which was backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups. Proponents of “the people’s map” have also added their support of SB 1, arguing that it would group together large populations of Hispanic and Latino voters.

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.

Senate Republicans stall environmental protections

A bill that would allow the state and certain local authorities to enact environmental protections more stringent than federal regulations stalled Monday when Republicans pulled a legislative maneuver that requires every member of the chamber to be physically present in the Roundhouse. “We’re gonna roll over this bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “At this point, it doesn’t make sense to have us just standing in place.” Wirth, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 8, said the “call of the Senate” will remain on the measure. He noted that “this little procedural maneuver is certainly part of the rules.”

Multiple cannabis legalization bills expected during the NM Legislative session

New Mexico’s 2021 legislative session will surely be marked with debates over education issues, state finances and abortion rights. But the Legislature is also set to weigh the pros and cons of recreational-use cannabis. In recent years,  generally speaking, Democrats have pushed for legalization while Republicans have opposed it. This year, though, Democratic lawmakers expect to see multiple legalization bills, with some technical differences. 

Senate leadership, along with at least two expected sponsors of legalization proposals, told NM Political Report that the goal this year is collaboration and to avoid bogging down the process. 

In the House, all eyes are on Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque. 

Martínez has sponsored a bill aimed at legalization nearly every year he’s been in office. His 2019 attempt arguably saw the most progress.

Legislature passes COVID relief bill during quick special session

The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide over $300 million in relief provided by the federal CARES Act in a very short special session that lasted less than eight hours. The bill included $194 million to provide $1,200 for those who qualify for unemployment and lost work because of the pandemic. It also would provide $100 million in grants to local small businesses and nonprofits, with smaller amounts to provide aid for rent and mortgage payments, money for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine rollout and money for households that did not receive federal stimulus money earlier this year. Update: Lujan Grisham signs COVID-19 relief package into law

The bill ultimately passed with widespread majorities in both the House and Senate, though many legislators voiced concern about the proposal and said they wished they had more input. Only one amendment to the introduced legislation passed, one that would include 501(c)8 organizations to be eligible for funds.

Which legislative races could decide the fate of marijuana legalization

It is unlikely that recreational-use cannabis legalization will be the sole deciding factor for New Mexico voters when they fill out their ballots this year. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a proponent of legalization and the state Legislature is expected to take up the issue next January. And according to a poll commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal this summer, a large majority of New Mexicans are in favor of legalization. At least two major medical cannabis producers contributed almost $35,000 collectively to Democratic candidates or Democratic political committees. 

With the entire Legislature up for election this year, it’s hard to pinpoint whether there will be enough votes to pass any legalization attempts. But, there are a handful of state Senate and House races that could be deciding factors.

Bill would protect cannabis patients who live on federal trust land

A New Mexico state senator is trying for a second time to pass a bill that would protect medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land. 

Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, said his SB 271 would protect patients from federal law enforcement scrutiny. 

“We have native patients that are under this program and so when they’re off the reservation they’re legal, but as soon as they get on the reservation, federal trust land, it’s illegal because the federal government still has that as a federal violation,” Shendo said. 

Shendo said he hopes that an agreement between the state Department of Health and tribal leaders will at least lower the chances of federal charges for medical cannabis patients who live on tribal land. 

“We had a meeting with the feds and they felt that having some agreement with the state would be really helpful,” Shendo said. 

The state’s medical cannabis law allows for patients to purchase up to about eight ounces of dried flower or buds in a rolling three month period. And even though the tribal land is physically in New Mexico, the state government has little say in what happens on or to that land. 

Shendo said he isn’t sure how many medical cannabis patients live on tribal land, but that the change is still long overdue. 

“This is an issue that we probably should have taken care of when the [Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use] act was enacted, but it wasn’t so we’re just trying to make that correction,” Shendo said. 

The Senate Committee’s Committee, which determines whether bills fit into the governor’s legislative agenda during 30-day sessions, has not ruled the bill germane yet. But, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive message earlier this week, authorizing the Senate to consider the bill. 

Shendo introduced a similar bill last year that only made it through one committee before the session ended.