Community solar bill passes first committee

A proposal to expand access to solar energy for New Mexico residents through the development of community solar projects passed its first committee Tuesday. Community solar projects, also referred to as “solar gardens,” are programs in which the energy generated by local solar systems are shared among energy subscribers. The power generation is typically located in a central location and distributed to subscribers in the area. Albuquerque Democrat and bill sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero presented HB 9 to the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Santa Fe Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero and the Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who also represents Santa Fe, are co-sponsors of the bill, along with Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

Effort to bring transparency to House tabling votes advances

A Republican lawmaker who often challenges legislation and decisions by Democrats said he was somewhat happy when an amended version of his resolution calling for more transparency in how lawmakers’ votes are recorded won bipartisan support Thursday. 

House Resolution 1, introduced by Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, would require the New Mexico House of Representatives to publish a record of legislators who make or vote on a motion to table a bill. 

In most cases, a motion to table a bill means it quietly dies in committee while a legislative session plays out, without ever getting further consideration. While those tabling votes are recorded in committee hearings, they do not go into the official House of Representatives record and cannot be found on the legislative website. 

“The people of New Mexico expect ethical transparency,” Townsend told the committee members. “This is just one more step … in making our processes much more transparent to the public.” Though all but one member of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee voted to endorse HR 1, the action came with a price: An amendment would exclude two committees from having to participate in the process.

A bill to protect pregnant workers passes first hurdle

A bill that advocates say protects pregnant workers passed unanimously through its first committee Tuesday with no opposition. HB 25, called the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Bill, went before the House Labor, Veteran, Military Affairs Committee. This isn’t the first time House committee members have heard this bill. Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill in past sessions, but she said the bill introduced during the 2019 session went through negotiation with the Hospitality Association and New Mexico Counties, an association that represents all 33 counties, and that took ten days. It then died on the House floor.

Minimum wage hike advances despite restaurant industry’s fight

Democrats campaigned last year on a promise to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage, which has remained at $7.50 an hour for a decade. How high it will go, exactly, is a question that quickly has become wrapped in a battle waged by the restaurant industry and could get caught in a tug-of-war between the state House and Senate. The issue has raised a series of other questions as well. Should there continue to be a lower minimum wage for workers who traditionally earn tips from customers, such as restaurant servers? Should employers be allowed to offer a lower minimum wage to younger workers, like high school students?

Election Day voter registration clears first committee

A bill to allow voters to register on the same day they vote cleared its first House committee Wednesday. The House, State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee advanced the proposal on a party-line vote. The bill aims to let voters register or update their voter registration during early voting or on Election Day, and vote on the same day. Currently, voters must register four weeks before the election to be eligible to vote. One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, said the legislation “is the ultimate access bill to allow voters to access the electoral process as openly as possible.”

The bill would allow new voters to register on Election Day and those already registered to change their address.

Sanctuary bill advances on party-line vote

A panel of Democrats in the New Mexico Senate used their superior numbers Friday to advance a bill that would prohibit state and local police agencies from using any resources to enforce federal immigration law. The Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 for the measure, Senate Bill 196. All the Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, but didn’t bother debating it. Immigrants and their advocacy groups packed a hearing room to support the bill. New Mexico’s chief law enforcement officer, state Attorney General Hector Balderas, sent a surrogate to announce that he favors it.

House committee passes some voting bills, while another awaits action

The process is taking longer than Democrats would hope, but bills to expand voting rights are moving through the state legislature. Democrats advanced two voting bills—one, to automatically restore voting rights to felons and another to expand automatic voter registration—out of the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grants Committee on party-line votes Friday. But a bill to allow same-day voter registration failed to come up for a vote, with a visibly frustrated committee chair saying they’ll  meet again on Saturday. The debate on the bill to allow felons to vote began Wednesday, including substantial public comment. Felon enfranchisement

In its current form, HB 57 would remove a felony conviction from the list of reasons why the Secretary of State could cancel a voter’s registration.

Democrats’ competing bills aim to boost state’s minimum wage

How high will the statewide minimum wage go? Or will it go at all? For many business owners, that is a key looming question during the 60-day legislative session. The minimum wage in New Mexico, unchanged since 2009, could see an upward adjustment from $7.50 an hour. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, wants to double that to $15 an hour Jan.

What the 2018 midterms could mean for Native voting

Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West. Patricia Roybal Caballero was a freshman lawmaker in New Mexico’s House of Representatives when she walked into a popular Santa Fe restaurant in 2013 for a meeting with some of her colleagues. Roybal Caballero, a community and economic developer of Piro-Manso-Tiwa ancestry, was by then used to dealing with negative perceptions about her race, but what happened next astounded her. “Before I had a chance to ask for a table, the hostess said, ‘I am sorry, but we’re not taking applications right now,’” Roybal Caballero told me recently. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.

House GOP leader retirement shock on legislative filing day

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.