House-backed cannabis legalization bill heads to Senate Floor

After a series of successful and attempted amendments and three hours of debate, a House-backed legalization effort passed its last Senate committee by a 5-4 vote and is now headed to the chamber’s floor. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee debate started Wednesday night and ended early Thursday morning, though Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, reiterated his belief that HB 12 was still not ready for the Senate floor. 

HB 12, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, went through a number of changes that include prohibiting cannabis producers from stacking licenses, an adjustment to how production is monitored and limited, a prohibition on cannabis producers testing their own products for potency and contaminants, and a change to how the cannabis excise tax would be structured.  

But even after an extensive debate and detailed amendments, Cervantes said the bill was riddled with errors and ambiguity. 

After Cervantes went through each section and pointed out numerous instances that he said would be problematic, Romero said she and Martínez would be willing to go through them and make changes during the meeting. But Cervantes said making those changes would take too long. 

“There are a number of things in the bill that should be of great concern to you that, frankly in many cases, are just contrary to law,” Cervantes said. Cervantes voted, along with the three Republican committee members, against the measure 

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who sponsored a legalization attempt in 2019 agreed that the bill was not ready and called the current version “half-baked.” Moores criticized proponents of the bill for not working with him to come up with an agreeable bill. 

“My phone has been silent from the advocates on this for three years now,” Moores said. “It doesn’t seem like they wanted to get it right and there were agendas there.” 

Senate Minority Floor Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, praised the committee for meticulously going through the bill, but said there were still “glaring issues.”

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, did not offer any comments on the final bill that passed the committee, but he also sponsored a legalization bill this year. His bill, though, would still need to pass another Senate committee and the Senate floor before going through the process again in the House.

Lawmakers upset at Senate Judiciary bottleneck

In the sometimes Byzantine world of the New Mexico Legislature, there might be nothing that rankles a lawmaker more than when their bill lingers in a committee, waiting days or even weeks for a hearing. Many delays are caused by the sheer number of bills lawmakers consider in a legislative session. More than 900 were introduced in this year’s unprecedented 60-day session, held amid a pandemic that prompted remote proceedings and other precautions. But some holdups are intentional, two Democratic state lawmakers said in a virtual news conference Wednesday. Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Rep. Patricia Roybal-Caballero, both Albuquerque Democrats, accused Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, of deliberately obstructing a pair of environmental-protection measures they believe he doesn’t support.

Senate Judiciary Chair awaiting changes to cannabis legalization bill

The chairman of a New Mexico Senate committee that is key to getting a House-backed cannabis legalization effort to the Senate floor said he is still waiting on expected changes before scheduling a hearing. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes said he was told by Senate leadership that HB 12, a bill sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, was undergoing changes before its final committee before the Senate floor. 

“I haven’t even heard from the bill sponsor,” Cervantes, a Democrat from Las Cruces, said. “My understanding is there’s a Senate Judiciary Committee sub that is in the works. That’s the only thing I’ve been told.”

A spokesman for the Senate Democratic leadership confirmed that Cervantes was indeed told there are changes being made to the bill. 

Martínez did not respond to an inquiry about what parts of his bill are being changed. And while legalization proponents may be anxiously wondering if there is still enough time in the last days of the session to get a cannabis legalization bill to the governor’s desk before the session ends on Saturday at noon, Cervantes said the bigger concern should be whether changes to the bill will be approved by the Judiciary Committee. 

“The issue will be the caliber of the bill as it gets amended,” Cervantes said. “The bill in its present form is not ready to become a law.”

Cervantes did not specify which parts of the bill he thinks should be changed or how.

Liquor law overhaul headed to Senate floor

A sweeping liquor license reform bill is on its way to the Senate floor after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 to move it forward Wednesday. But the committee approved a number of amendments that changed some aspects of the bill. 

Gone is a provision that would have given a $100,000 tax break to retailers who currently hold liquor licenses. 

But a clause giving longtime liquor license owners who run restaurants and bars a $200,000 tax break — $50,000 per year for four years — remains. Gone, too, is a deal that would have waived all future annual license renewal fees for those longtime liquor license owners. 

But much of House Bill 255, which passed through the House of Representatives earlier in the session, remains intact. The bill still allows for home delivery of alcohol along with food orders. 

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the bill is meant to update the decades-old liquor license law that has increased liquor license fees to well over $500,000. It is also meant to encourage new restaurateurs to get into business at an affordable price.

Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’

Called historic, New Mexico decriminalized abortion on Friday when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act into law, after years of efforts by abortion rights supporters. SB 10 repeals the 1969 statute that criminalized abortion by banning it with very few exceptions. 

Lujan Grisham said “a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body.”

“Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “New Mexico is not in that business – not any more. Our state statutes now reflect this inviolable recognition of humanity and dignity. I am incredibly grateful to the tireless advocates and legislators who fought through relentless misinformation and fear-mongering to make this day a reality.

Produced water bill dies in committee

A bill that would have made it illegal for oil and gas operators to spill produced water died in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. Produced water is the toxic flowback water generated in oil extraction. 

SB 86, sponsored by Democratic Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque and Liz Stefanics of Cerrillos, sought to address many of the issues the state is now facing in managing scarce freshwater supplies and increasing volumes of produced water. “This bill does two things,” Sedillo Lopez told legislators. “First, it compels industry to reduce the volume of and reuse its waste by prohibiting freshwater use in fracking when produced water can be used instead. And second, it fulfills the original intent of the Produced Water Act of 2019 by mandating safeguards to protect public health, the environment and freshwater from this waste stream.”

Norm Gaume, a water expert and former director of the Interstate Stream Commission, and who currently sits on the Produced Water Research Consortium’s technical steering committee, spoke in support of the bill.

In historic turn, state Senate passes abortion ban repeal

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.

Abortion ban repeal bill passes Senate Judiciary Committee

With a vote along party lines, SB 10 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday in what has been the shortest committee hearing on repealing the 1969 abortion ban so far. The bill now heads to the Senate floor. Six Democrats on the committee voted yes and the three Republicans voted no. Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, allowed each side 10 minutes for public comment and both the proponents of the bill and the opponents of the bill 10 minutes to give presentations. Cervantes said an email account had been published that allowed additional public comment and those emails had been shared with committee members.

New SCOTUS conservative bloc could overturn ACA, with big impacts on NM

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act during the 2020-2021 judicial term, the result for New Mexicans could be catastrophic, according to various officials and experts. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas on November 10. If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Monday, as is expected, this will be among the first cases she will hear as a Supreme Court justice. If she is confirmed, she will create a new 6-3 conservative bloc on the court bench which could lead to a ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional. If this happens, 20 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage, according to a report by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Guv signs bill banning requirements for NDAS in settlements for sexual harassment

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Wednesday that makes nondisclosure agreements for harassment, retaliation or discrimination no longer a bargaining tool for employers in settlements. HB 21, a nondisclosure agreement bill, levels the playing field, according to bill sponsor Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, a Democrat from Albuquerque. When a victim of harassment, retaliation or discrimination files a lawsuit against an employer, the employer can no longer require the victim to sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement. Hochman-Vigil and other proponents of the bill said during the legislative session that more often than not the victim is no longer employed when they bring suit and are forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement as a condition for settling. That silences the victim, proponents said during the legislative session.