SANTA FE – A proposal that would bar New Mexico counties from enforcing local “right-to-work” ordinances is on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The state Senate voted 23-19 on Sunday to approve legislation stipulating that only the state government can establish a law barring labor unions from collecting fees from nonunion members in unionized workplaces.
Approval comes after about 10 counties adopted their own right-to-work laws – at least one of which has triggered a legal challenge.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who presented the bill Sunday, said local governments are already prohibited from adopting those ordinances. But the state legislation will make it clear to counties and cities that the state itself is the only authority on right-to-work proposals.
“This is about avoidance of litigation,” Cervantes said.
But opponents of the measure said it’s another example of state lawmakers ignoring elected officials in more-conservative, rural areas.
“Not everybody up here knows what’s best for some of our communities,” Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said. “Our areas are sick and tired of it.”
The vote was largely along party lines. Three Democrats – Clemente “Meme” Sanchez of Grants, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and John Arthur Smith of Deming – opposed the bill, joining all 16 Republicans.
Sanchez said he was being consistent – because he hasn’t pushed to pre-empt local governments from setting their own minimum wages.
“I don’t think I’m above them or better than them,” Sanchez said of the local officials in his district.
Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat who supported the bill, argued that she was being consistent, too, by supporting anti-poverty legislation.
“My consistency is doing everything we can to alleviate poverty in this state,” she said, “and that’s what unions have done around the country and what they have done in this state.”
The proposal, House Bill 85, was cosponsored by Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely of Corrales and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe.
It passed the House in February, and the Senate approval will send it to Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.
Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this article.