Two years after a group of conservative Democrats, along with Republicans voted against decriminalizing abortion care, the state Senate passed SB 10 Thursday, 25 to 17. SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is called the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act and has a mirror bill, HB 7, sponsored by Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla. The two bills remove three sections from the criminal code which, in 1969, banned abortion with some limited exceptions. The law has repeatedly been called archaic and advocates for its repeal said it included language contrary to how medicine is currently practiced. While the law is currently unenforceable, reproductive rights advocates have said that given the conservative bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade could be gutted in the next few years.
Three pandemic relief bills designed to provide New Mexico residents and business owners an economic lifeline cleared the state Senate with bipartisan support Wednesday. All three measures, the first substantial pieces of legislation to make it out of a chamber during this year’s 60-day legislative session, will head next to the state House of Representatives. “There have been some who have questioned why we’re doing this session — today is the answer,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said afterward. “This is the start of critical recovery,” he said. Senate Bill 1 would give restaurants, bars and other food and beverage establishments most affected by business restrictions under the state’s public health orders a one-time gross receipts tax holiday for four months, from March to June.
Since the early part of the 20th century, the number of liquor licences in New Mexico have largely been finite. As a result, those licenses are now worth roughly half a million dollars. In recent years, state lawmakers have tried various ways to reconfigure the state’s liquor laws that would both make it less costly for potential new liquor license holders while also not devaluing current licenses.
This year, there are a handful of bills aimed at creating a new type of liquor license for restaurants to add spirits to their menus, instead of adding more liquor licenses to the mix. The general idea is that restaurants would be able to obtain a license to sell mixed drinks as long as a certain percentage of sales is for food, much like a beer and wine license. But even the idea of increasing the number of restaurants that can serve alcohol beyond beer and wine has some current liquor license holders concerned.
ByRobert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Two weeks into the 2021 legislative session, it looks like no one is home at the state Capitol. The hallways and hearing rooms — which normally would be bustling with activity by this time in a 60-day session — were empty Tuesday, aside from the rare sighting of a staff member or New Mexico State Police officer. Perhaps more surprisingly, Tuesday’s House floor session ran quickly and quietly, with no sign of the partisan rancor of the previous week, when party leaders bickered. House Republicans have questioned and criticized rules for running the session in a hybrid format, which allows members to participate in person or to log in online from home or their Capitol offices. And late last week, some members of the House GOP petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to halt those rules, arguing they are unconstitutional.
Senate Bill 10, which would repeal the 1969 abortion ban on state law books, passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee 5-3 Monday. The vote fell along party lines with the three Republican state Senators voting against and the five Democrats on the committee voting in favor. After a two hour wait due to technical difficulties, the committee hearing ran for nearly 2.5 hours due to the length of the debate on the issue. Members of the public for both sides gave impassioned speeches both for and against. “(The bill) makes sure that women, in collaboration with their provider and families, can make decisions for themselves.
Unlike 2019 when the New Mexico State Senate blocked repealing the 1969 abortion ban, more than half of the 2021 state Senate have signed on to cosponsor SB 10, this year’s effort. SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a bill that will run parallel to HB 7, sponsored by state House Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla. Co-sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D- Santa Fe, said during a press conference Monday morning held by Respect New Mexico Women, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, that 25 state senators have signed onto the bill for the 2021 Legislature.
The Senate bill was scheduled to be heard in its first committee Monday afternoon. “This shows how far we’ve come with this legislation,” Wirth said, alluding to the 2019 repeal effort which failed when eight state Senate Democrats sided with Republicans to defeat the bill. One of those Democrats died while in office and five of the others lost to more progressive Democrats in 2020 primaries, three of whom won in the general election.
The New Mexico state Senate will likely start the official push for full cannabis legalization as late as next week, according to the top member of Democratic leadership.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the Senate will not meet for its second floor session until Feb. 1, but that he expects “a huge bucket of bills” to be officially introduced then. At least one of those bills is expected to be a cannabis legalization proposal.
“We just had a very long day on Tuesday,” Wirth said in the first episode of the second season of Growing Forward, the collaborative podcast between NM Political Report and New Mexico PBS. “But we’ll be back on the first and I think at that point you will see exactly what’s there and can analyze those and discuss them and certainly we welcome input.”
At least one recreational legalization bill is expected in the New Mexico House of Representatives within days.
Wirth said a new class of progressive Senators elected last year who are in favor of legalization could help push the issue through the Legislature and to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. But, he said, that hinges on Senators’ willingness to work together on specific issues.
“So that, of course, is contingent upon us getting through all the details and seeking compromise amongst the various proposals, and the good news is that we’ve been having those conversations already,” Wirth said.
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.
The 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday at noon, against a bizarre backdrop that’s never been contemplated, much less seen. The Capitol building remains surrounded by fencing, concrete barriers and blocked roads. On Monday, it was guarded by state police officers and at least a dozen National Guard soldiers, who were seen patrolling the facility and manning entrance checkpoints. The annual State of the State speech, which usually highlights the opening day of the session, is off, at least on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said it eventually will be delivered, “likely remotely,” due to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Mexico Senate Democrats picked their leadership Saturday and made their nomination of who they want in the Senate president pro tem spot.
The majority party in the Senate picked Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque as their choice for pro tem, but the full Senate will still vote when they meet for the 2021 legislative session in January.
In a statement through the Senate Democrats, Stewart said she hopes Democrats and Republicans can work together next year.
“I am honored to have the support of the Democratic Caucus for President Pro Tempore as we enter what will undoubtedly be a difficult session that will require us to solve New Mexico’s many problems under unprecedented circumstances,” Stewart said. There’s still no guarantee that Stewart will be elected by the body as a whole. In 2013, for example, Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, was the Demcratic nominee for the pro tem spot, but a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans had enough votes to put Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, into the spot. Papen lost in this year’s Democratic primary to Democrat Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces. Hamblen went on to win in the general election.
Earlier this week, there seemed to be some tension among some Senate Democrats leading up to Saturday’s caucus meeting.