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.

Senate Judiciary committee hears crime presentation

Incarcerating more people won’t cut down on the state’s rising rate of violent crime, a longtime New Mexico trial lawyer told legislators looking for a solution. 

Randi McGinn of Albuquerque, who has worked as both a prosecuting attorney and public defender for over 40 years, spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday about proposed changes to the state’s pretrial detention system for defendants accused of violent crimes and other measures touted by the governor and Democratic lawmakers who have taken a tough-on-crime stance to tackle what many see as an out-of-control problem. McGinn instead urged the committee to invest money in New Mexico’s judicial system, which she said is underfunded and understaffed. As a result, she said, police in the state arrest about 10,000 people a year, but prosecutors charge only 3,000 of them and judges hear only 1,000 cases. 

She pointed to the fiscal impact report for a bill that would alter New Mexico’s pretrial detention system — putting the burden on a defendant to prove they aren’t likely to commit further violence if they are released from jail while awaiting trial, rather than requiring prosecutors to prove the defendant poses too high a risk to be released. The report estimates it would cost $13.8 million annually to detain up to 1,262 more defendants until their trials. McGinn said lawmakers should instead invest that money “in the courts, in the district attorneys and public defenders and the Albuquerque Police Department.”

Senate Dems at odds with Native American governments over Senate redistricting

The New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 on Sunday to change a bill aimed at redrawing its own Senate districts, despite pleas from numerous Native American pueblos and tribes not to do so. 

The original proposal, SB 2, adopted a Native American consensus plan that was recommended to the Legislature by the state’s Citizen Redistricting Committee to create stronger Native American voting districts. 

The new version of the bill shifted district boundaries in order to protect six Republican senators from being paired with each other. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who brought the substitute forward, told the committee that the replacement bill was a result of working with Senate Republicans to avoid the pairing of Republicans who represent districts in the western and southeastern parts of the state. 

“In the Senate, we try very hard to be collaborative and to work as an entire body, not just one party,” Stewart said. “And so I was approached by the minority party with ideas.”

Earlier this year, a statewide Native American coalition presented a consensus map to the newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee. That consensus map was included in SB 2. 

During Sunday’s committee meeting, many representatives from numerous tribal nations and pueblos spoke out against the substitute bill on the basis that they spent months of effort to come up with a map that was agreeable to them all. 

Conroy Chino, a registered lobbyist for the Pueblo of Taos, asked committee members to consider the amount of time and effort it took for the coalition to come to an agreement and urged them not to adopt the substitute bill. 

“You can only imagine the challenge of bringing together 22 sovereign governments and having them arrive at a consensus and an agreement,” Chino said. “It was quite challenging and required careful deliberation and meaningful discussion in order for them to arrive at an agreement on a map.”

Pueblo of Zia Governor Jerome Lucero expressed the importance of lawmakers honoring the wishes of Native governments and asked them to adopt a state Senate map that includes the result of the months of work from the coalition. 

“For many redistricting cycles throughout history, our voice was often ignored from this important democratic process,” Lucero said.

NM Senate committees advance two redistricting maps

Two New Mexico state Senate committees advanced two redistricting maps on Thursday, one for Congress and one for the state Senate. A New Mexico Senate bill that would redraw the state’s congressional districts inched closer to a full Senate vote on Thursday after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, would make significant changes to the three congressional districts by grouping much of northern New Mexico with a portion of the southeast part of the state. The bill also suggests including rural areas like Carrizozo with much of the urban Albuquerque area. But more rural areas of Albuquerque would be included in the southern congressional district. 

The proposed map is similar to what is largely being referred to as the “people’s map” which was backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups. Proponents of “the people’s map” have also added their support of SB 1, arguing that it would group together large populations of Hispanic and Latino voters.

Senate committee advances alternative to ‘people’s map’

As part of New Mexico’s redistricting special legislative session, a panel on Wednesday approved a congressional map proposal that would significantly change the make-up of all three of the state’s congressional districts. The Senate Rules Committee approved the map concept along party lines, by a 7-4 vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, closely resembles a map known as “the people’s map” that has been gaining traction in the Legislature, but Cervantes told the committee he went out of his way to not consult with any advocacy groups. 

“I’ve not met with the people’s map proponents,” Cervantes said. “I’ve done these things deliberately, very candidly, and they probably think I’m inaccessible to them. But I wanted to be able to tell you that this was not somebody’s dream put together.”

The SB 1 map, much like the “people’s map,” would group parts of the urban Albuquerque area with rural communities like Carrizozo and Capitan into the First Congressional District. It would also group oil-rich areas like San Juan and parts of Lea counties into the Third Congressional District.

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.