Gun safety, criminal justice issues, a minimum wage battle and a proposed booze ban for state senators were all up for discussion this week as New Mexico lawmakers wrapped up the second week of this year’s 60-day legislation.
Follow Journal Capitol Bureau reporters Dan Boyd and Dan McKay for daily coverage of the session. Here’s a recap of some of the major stories this week:
Return of the Dans. If you like awkward videos, tune in soon to see @DanBoydNM and I give Facebook Live a try. https://t.co/90rsSamlhl
— Dan McKay (@mckaydan) January 27, 2023
GUNS: Gun safety is top of mind at the Roundhouse this year. House Bill 9 would make it a crime to store a firearm in a way that negligently disregards the ability of a minor to access it. The bill includes exemptions intended for good-faith efforts to safely store guns, including protections for adult gun owners who stored firearms in secure containers, kept their weapons locked and inoperable, gun owners whose home was broken into by a minor, or those whose gun was used in self-defense. The measure, sponsored jointly by five Democrats, passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee this week on a 4-2 party-line vote. Other proposals range from banning the possession of AR-15-style rifles to instituting a 14-day waiting period for gun purchases.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The thorny debate around how best to handle pre-trial detention is back this year as lawmakers search for ways to stem rising crime rates. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday scrutinized the Arnold Tool, which analyzes the likelihood an arrestee will, if released, show up for court hearings and avoid new criminal charges. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairman of the committee, is skeptical of proposals favored by the governor that would overhaul New Mexico’s pretrial law more directly to hold more defendants in jail while they await trial. The debate promises to continue. And a separate proposal that would have allocated $20 million for a statewide warrant roundup was paused in committee after state representatives questions how the money would spent and whether it could overwhelm county jail populations. That push stemmed in part from an initiative from a number of Albuquerque leaders hoping to improve the criminal justice system.
FOOD ON THE TABLE: Free school meals could be on the menu for all K-12 students of New Mexico public and charter schools if lawmakers approve a $30 million plan. Senate Bill 4, proposed by Democratic Sens. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Leo Jaramillo of Española with the governor’s support, would require all public and charter schools to provide a free breakfast and lunch to students every school day. It also encourages private and tribal schools to follow suit. Among other changes, the bill would offer extra funding to schools that buy New Mexico-grown produce.
SPIRIT CULTURE: A proposal from freshman Sen. Harold Pope Jr. would put a cork in his fellow chamber-members’ on-the-job drinking. The Albuquerque Democrat has pitched a rule that would prohibit senators from drinking alcohol before committee meetings or floor sessions — or during meetings. For many lawmakers, imbibing is part of the culture of the legislative session, with days that often stretch into nights. But, against the backdrop of New Mexico’s dismal alcohol death rate — the highest in the nation in 2020 — Pope contends that lawmakers need to focus on the job at hand.
For some legislators, drinking is part of the Roundhouse culture. But first-term Sen. Harold Pope Jr. is pushing for an alcohol ban after seeing some things “I think are unprofessional for us to be doing on the job” https://t.co/z0eKXZQ6z3 #nmleg
— Dan McKay (@mckaydan) January 24, 2023
MINIMUM WAGE: The next major battle over New Mexico’s minimum wage is upon us, with two separate proposals circulating calling for future increases and a stiff opposition mounting. The state’s current minimum wage is $12 per hour. House Bill 28, sponsored by Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, would tie future minimum wage increases to inflation, adjusting annually each January. A legislative analysis of the measure said it could boost the minimum wage to $15.55 per hour by 2034. Meanwhile, latest version of House Bill 25 — sponsored by Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos — would hike the minimum wage to $13.50 per hour starting next year, then again to $15.50 an hour in 2025, with future increases tied to inflation. Small business owners and industry lobbying groups have massed against the measures, saying the proposals will place an additional burden on employers and lead to higher prices for consumers.
FIRE RESPONSE: Up to $100 million of state money could flow through to communities trying to recover from last year’s devastating Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire if Senate Bill 6 finds passage. Sponsored by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas and supported by the governor, the measure would offer no-interest loans to towns, villages and counties to fix damaged roads, culverts and acequias. Meanwhile, a proposal from Alamogordo Republican Sen. Ron Griggs to ban prescribed burns in New Mexico in the springtime was shown the door.
While northern #NM waits for federal recovery funds to arrive, a bill backed by the Governor’s Office would provide up to $100 million in zero-interest loans for repair work in burn scar of last year’s Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire: https://t.co/RPSESteMLO via @ABQJournal #nmpol
— Dan Boyd (@DanBoydNM) January 23, 2023
TRANS RIGHTS: Lawmakers have proposed bolstering legal protections for transgender people by prohibiting school districts, government agencies and public contractors from discriminating on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories, when providing services. Advocates say House Bill 207 — sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, Sen. Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces, Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe and Rep. Kristina Ortez of Taos, all Democrats — is needed to close a state loophole that permits discrimination by public agencies in some circumstances.
SAME CHAMBER, DIFFERENT PARTY: After a lengthy closed-door meeting Friday, House Republicans voted to remove Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho from his role as caucus whip, replacing him with Rep. Greg Nibert of Roswell in a move that Harper said “wasn’t my choice.” Harper, a six-term legislator and Sandia National Laboratories engineer, was the lone House Republican to speak last week in favor of a measure spending $2.5 million to study full-time staffing and field offices for legislators that was tucked into a session spending bill. The shake-up came the week after newly installed House Speaker Javier Martínez made waves by replacing fellow Democratic Rep. Patricia Lundstrom with Las Cruces Democrat Nathan Small as chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.