Bill to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination heads to Guv desk

A bill to expand the New Mexico Human Rights Act to update its language and ensure public bodies cannot discriminate against LGBTQ individuals heads to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. HB 207, sponsored by state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, passed the state Senate by a vote of 26-10. 

The bill updates the language in the Human Rights Act, which was written in the 1970s. The updated language replaces the word “handicap” with “disability,” and updates the definition for sexual orientation and gender identity. It also ensures that public bodies, which receive public dollars, cannot discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. An individual who alleges discrimination would take their grievance to the state Human Rights Commission.

A "Vote Here" sign at the Otero County Fairgrounds in Alamogordo.

Bill prohibiting firearms at polling places passes first House committee

A bill that would ban firearms at all polling places passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a party-line 4-3 vote Monday. “The premise of SB 44 is straightforward and it’s as follows: guns and elections don’t mix,” bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe said. “What this bill does is prohibit the carrying of a firearm within 100 feet of a polling place. It is drafted to contain exemptions for a peace officer and for security authorized by the local government to be stationed within 100 feet of the polling place.”

The bill was co-sponsored by House Majority Whip Rep. Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe. More: Bill prohibiting firearms at polling places moves to House

Many public commenters who spoke against the bill asked why this bill was needed and if the issue of people carrying firearms at polling places was, indeed, a problem.

Sen. Peter Wirth

Wirth tests positive for COVID-19

New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. Wirth is currently self-isolating at home per state and CDC COVID-19 guidelines. Wirth may continue participating in the legislative floor sessions and committee meetings remotely, per senate rules. “Thankfully, I am experiencing only mild symptoms after being fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19,” Wirth said in a statement. “Per medical guidance, I will be self-isolating for the next several days but intend to continue my work on behalf of my constituents and all New Mexicans via remote participation.

Bill to give tax rebates to New Mexicans clears Senate committee

A bill that would provide rebates to tax filers in 2023 passed its first Senate committee on a 10-0 vote on Thursday. SB 10, Additional 2021 Tax Rebates, faced no opposition in the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee from the public or in committee vote. State Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, is the primary sponsor of the bill. The bill, if enacted, would provide $750 in tax rebate to single filers and $1,500 in tax rebate to joint filers, head of household and surviving spouse filers who filed tax returns for tax year 2021. The estimated cost for the state is $1 billion for Fiscal Year 2023 and $10 million in Fiscal Year 2024. The funds are nonrecurring and would take advantage of the state’s oil and gas revenue surplus.

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.