Money to upgrade domestic violence shelter passes Senate Public Affairs Committee

A bill to appropriate $2 million to improve an aging shelter for victims of domestic violence passed 5-0 in the Senate Public Affairs Committee late Friday. SB 229, sponsored by Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Linda Lopez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, would provide the money from the general fund to the Department of Finance and Administration for the city of Albuquerque so the city could contract with S.A.F.E. House for significant renovations on its shelter. According to a statement provided by Katherine Croaciata, the expert witness and executive officer of Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, the money would upgrade the plumbing, heating and air conditioning and the electrical wiring, and close off the interior to create two private living areas instead of having one space separated by a curtain. There would also be two separate entrances instead of one and two separate and private bathrooms.

The facility is more than 100 years old and served 442 adults and more than 300 children from 2018 to 2019, according to the statement. “The victims are recovering from horrible situations,” Croaciata said during the committee meeting.

Legal settlement transparency bill breezes through first committee

The Senate Public Affairs Committee unanimously approved a measure that would eliminate a confidentiality period for legal settlements made with state departments. 

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, presented SB 64, which would make significant changes to a law that requires a confidentiality period for claims settled with the state. Currently, any claims settled by the state’s Risk Management Division must remain under wraps for 180 days. Rue’s bill not only changes the triggering events that start the 180-day clock, but also eliminates the confidentiality period all together. 

There was little discussion and no debate among panel members during the hearing. Members of the public who spoke in favor of the bill included representatives for good government groups like Common Cause New Mexico and the New Mexico Foundation for Government as well as the Office of the State Auditor. No one spoke against the bill. 

Prior to the committee hearing, Rue told NM Political Report that he decided to sponsor the bill after it was revealed last year that millions of dollars were paid out in secret legal settlements under the previous governor Susana Martinez.

Minimum wage bills advance, but Dems back off tipped wage increase

Democrats are backing off a proposal to phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers like restaurant waiters with a Senate committee voting Saturday to keep the separate rate in place but raise it. House Bill 31 would have eliminated the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour. Employers can currently pay that rate to workers as long as those workers receive tips amounting to the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. The restaurant industry says the tipped minimum wage is key to its survival and has launched an intense lobbying campaign against proposals to abolish it. But others argue that raising or eliminating the lower tipped wage would amount to a significant boost in the base pay for many restaurant workers.

Dueling bills lay out different visions for recreational marijuana

Very different visions for legalizing cannabis in New Mexico are a bit closer to becoming reality after legislative hearings on Saturday. A bill that would legalize recreational cannabis for adults over 21 and task the state with licensing retailers to sell the product is headed to a vote of the full House of Representatives after winning the approval of a key committee. Just a few hours later, a Senate committee backed a Republican-sponsored proposal to legalize cannabis and allow for sales from state-owned stores. It remains unclear whether the full Senate would approve either bill this year, making the campaign to legalize cannabis something of a long shot as the legislative session nears its end March 16. But with a new governor who has said she would sign a bill legalizing marijuana with the right provisions in place, both pieces of legislation have stirred a debate that was hypothetical a year ago.

Auto franchise bill passes first committee

A bill that would allow some car manufacturers to bypass local auto dealers and sell directly to consumers in New Mexico, passed its first committee Thursday afternoon. The Senate Public Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 243 along party lines, with only Democratic members voting to advance the proposal. The bill would allow companies like electric car manufacturer Tesla to open service centers and sales showrooms in the state. Current law mandates that vehicle manufacturers must sell through local, franchised dealers. The bill narrowly changes the state franchise law, and would only allow companies that do not have a franchise business model to sell in the state.

Measure allowing medical cannabis in public schools advances

Anthony Brick, whose confidence defies his tender age of 11, told state lawmakers Tuesday that he hasn’t been to public school for almost two years. Anthony has a state license to use medical marijuana to treat a neuropsychological condition. But state law prohibits public schools from allowing students to use the drug on campus. This combination of circumstances has led to his being home-schooled while his peer group goes on without him. “I miss my friends,” he told members of the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Senate panel backs bill to keep some spaceport business dealings secret

Spaceport America, which has generated plenty of controversy because of the tax subsidies it receives, now says its success depends on less public scrutiny. The Senate Public Affairs Committee obliged Friday, backing a bill to exclude many spaceport business dealings from the state’s public records law. Its members voted 5-2 to allow the spaceport to withhold information about clients in the space business. Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, dissented.

Senate panel unanimously approves ban on conversion therapy

In a bipartisan decision Friday, a Senate committee voted 5-0 in favor of a bill that would outlaw the use of conversion therapy to treat homosexual, bisexual or transgender minors. The vote by the Senate Public Affairs Committee for Senate Bill 121 came after emotional testimony from audience members, some of whom had undergone conversion therapy. Kei Cypher, a student at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, said she was raised in a religious family in Colorado Springs, Colo., that was confused when she came out at age 13. “They told me it was something I got from MTV or video games,” she told the committee. “They took me to a therapist who told me it was a perversion and that I should snap my wrist with a rubber band or hold ice in my hands every time I had such thoughts.”

Committee hears about problems with two-tier license system

New Mexico’s two-tiered driver’s license law that Gov. Susana Martinez celebrated as a political victory has been a horror show for ordinary people, Democratic state senators said Thursday. “We are making it really hard,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Santa Fe. “Immigrants, homeless people, elders … we’re really making it difficult for people in the state.” The law gives state residents without proof of immigration status an opportunity to obtain a driving privilege card.

Senate committee kills bill to keep government job applications secret

A state Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday to stop a bill that would have changed the public records law to allow state agencies to keep secret the names and résumés of most job applicants. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-0 to table Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. The bill would have restricted public access to most applications for government jobs. If an applicant didn’t become a finalist for a position, the application would be kept secret forever. “Some positions merit disclosure,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, a committee member.