Special session for economic relief coming in April

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an upcoming special session beginning on April 5 after an agreement with legislative leaders. At issue is a “junior” spending bill, which Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed. The governor said legislators would bring up a “revised” spending bill. She also indicated that she will ask the Legislature to provide further economic relief in light of rising inflation and soaring gas prices. “As prices remain high nationwide, it is clear that we must act swiftly to deliver more relief to New Mexicans,” the governor said.

Voters’ Rights Provisions bill headed to Senate floor

The Senate Finance Committee passed the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill by a narrow vote of 6-5 on Thursday after a tie vote failed to strike a $20 million allocation into a state election fund. State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, sided with Republicans to vote against the bill. This was the third Senate committee hearing for the bill. The previous committees amended the bill, striking some voter expansion provisions including allowing 16-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and statewide elections and backend automatic voter registration. Muñoz introduced the amendment to strike the provision allowing the Secretary of State’s office to create a permanent election fund of $20 million.

Senate committee passes Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, but strips it further

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass a committee substitute to the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill that strikes back end automatic voter registration. The 6-3 vote came along party lines. The Democrats voted in favor of the SB 8’s committee substitute, introduced by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. The Republicans on the committee voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill.

Voting rights expansion clears first hurdle

The Voting Rights Provisions bill, which would expand voting rights and access in New Mexico, passed the Senate Rules Committee hearing by party line vote of 7-4 Monday morning after a contentious, nearly nine hour hearing on Friday. SB 8, sponsored by Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in a number of ways, including improving voting access for Native Americans and allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to vote upon release from prison. Currently, formerly incarcerated individuals can register to vote after they complete parole or probation but many face hurdles even after eligibility. Related: Advocates hopeful voting rights legislation will help break down barriers for the formerly incarcerated

The bill would also make voter registration automatic when an individual registers for a license with the New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles. Anyone who would not wish to be registered could opt out, election officials have said.

Supporters of voting rights legislation hold virtual rallies

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she is optimistic the bill aiming to expand voting rights will be passed and signed during this legislative session. SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in the state in a number of ways, including by allowing 16- and 17-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and state elections, allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to be eligible to vote upon release from prison and allowing individuals to automatically be registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles with the option to opt out if they choose. Related: Advocates hopeful voting rights legislation will help break down barriers for the formerly incarcerated

“I’m extremely optimistic about SB 8 going through the legislative process,” Toulouse Oliver said during one of the two virtual rallies hosted by Progress Now New Mexico* on Wednesday to support the bill. “We’re in a really good position even in this late hour first hearing in committee.”

SB 8 was heard in the state Senate Rules Committee Wednesday. Toulouse Oliver gave an overview of changes to the language being introduced in a substitute bill that clarified language from the first bill.

Committee advances salary proposal for lawmakers

A proposed constitutional amendment that would task the State Ethics Commission with setting the salaries for all state elected officials — from the governor to lawmakers, who are now unpaid — cleared its first committee hearing Monday. The legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 8, also would change how commission members are chosen, allowing the New Mexico Supreme Court to make two of the seven appointments. The Senate Rules Committee advanced the proposal 7-1. The lone Republican attending the hearing, Sen. Greg Baca of Belen, cast the dissenting vote but didn’t explain why. The push to set a salary for lawmakers comes as the Legislature considers a separate proposal to increase the pay of New Mexico’s statewide elected officials by five figures; though, lawmakers aren’t included in that bill. 

As members of the only Legislature in the nation that serves for free, New Mexico lawmakers have long broached the idea of giving themselves a salary.

2022 Legislative session preview

Budget? What budget? Though 30-day sessions are specifically designed for lawmakers to create and approve a financial blueprint for the next fiscal year, the state’s growing crime problem, public education woes and continuing efforts to battle the pandemic likely will take center stage when the New Mexico Legislature goes into action Tuesday afternoon. With more than $1 billion in new revenue, plus additional federal pandemic relief funds to distribute, the 2022 session won’t be a battle over crumbs, but more likely a tug-of-war of ideas and ideals as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and many members of the Legislature prepare to run for re-election in November. In all, New Mexico’s budget will approach $8.4 billion to $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2023.

Civil rights bill passes Senate but must return to House (Updated)

The New Mexico Civil Rights bill passed the state Senate 26 to 15 but with only three-and-a-half days until the end of the legislative session, the bill must return to the House floor for concurrence because the Senate amended the bill. Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the House concurred with the Senate changes on a 41-26 vote and sent it to the governor’s desk. This story continues as originally written below. HB 4 would end qualified immunity as a defense in state civil courts and allows individuals whose civil rights have been violated to bring a case for remedy in state court. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is the lead sponsor for the bill in the Senate, amended the bill to make attorney’s fees subject to judicial review and added that a claimant suing law enforcement must notify the police of the lawsuit within one year after an alleged event occurs.

Working to get the word out from the New Mexico Senate

Chris Nordstrum was in third or fourth grade when he was called to the Governor’s Office for the first time. 

He wasn’t in trouble. He had won a school poster contest through the Secretary of State’s Office and went to the Roundhouse to claim his award. 

“I remember being in complete awe of this place and the grandeur of that office,” said Nordstrum, a 50-year-old Santa Fe native who serves as communications director for the New Mexico Senate Democrats. 

His office is located behind a nondescript door off one of the main hallways on the ground floor of the Capitol. A long window panel allows him to look down at the Senate floor while a couple of computer screens give him access to Senate committee hearings. 

You may see him walking through the building, but he does not have the high-profile physical presence of a lawmaker. He — like his counterpart in the Senate Republican caucus — is one of those people who helps drive the inner engine of the machine known as the state Legislature. 

As communication directors, their jobs go beyond just coordinating interviews with the press and making sure websites are updated and brimming with fresh news about legislative successes. They are messengers who have a story to tell. 

Nordstrum’s background includes 20 years in marketing and advertising for Cisco Systems in the San Francisco Bay Area and some work in linguistics, which is what he majored in at Pomona College.

Environment protections bill passes New Mexico Senate

A bill that would allow the state of New Mexico to adopt air quality and hazardous waste rules more stringent than federal regulations survived a challenge Friday from Senate Republicans, who had previously stalled the measure with a procedural maneuver that kept it in limbo for days. Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, the bill would amend the Air Quality Control Act and the Hazardous Waste Act to allow rules more rigid than federal standards. “In each case … there must be substantial evidence that the proposed state rules are more protective of public health and the environment,” said Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat. The bill passed along a mostly party-line 23-15 vote. Democrat George Muñoz of Gallup sided with Republicans in opposing the measure, which goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration. 

Wirth argued that Senate Bill 8 would provide what he called consistent, New Mexico-focused environmental oversight.