This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
COVID-19 testing: The news that at least five people working in the state Capitol had tested positive for COVID-19 set off alarms late last week. On Thursday, 114 people showed up at the Capitol for tests. On Friday, 107 did. All those tests came back negative, Raúl E. Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, wrote in an email Monday.
The state Department of Health offers testing on a regular basis to staffers, police officers and members of the media who are in the building regularly during the session.
What, no Algebra 2? A new bill proposing changes to the state’s high school graduation requirements cleared the House Education Committee on a 12-3 vote Monday. House Bill 83, introduced by Rep. G. Andrés Romero, heads to the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee for consideration. It would drop the number of required credits to 23 from 24. It also would allow students more leeway in choosing elective courses and let them bypass Algebra 2 by taking another math or computer course.
Some physical education teachers and supporters argued against a provision allowing students to use programs like marching band or ROTC in place of a PE credit. New-er Mexico: Sen. Cliff Pirtle, (R-Roswell), introduced a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment “to establish procedures to allow counties to petition the Legislature and Congress to form a new state or join an adjoining state.”
Pirtle said it would be a “very difficult process” for counties to form another state or become part of an existing one. “The idea of this bill came from my constituents, and basically it’s a belief that Santa Fe doesn’t really listen to the rural parts of the state and that the rural voice isn’t being heard,” Pirtle said. “The people who are creating the fiber, the food and the fuel aren’t being taken seriously and respected, and so it’s just the feeling of the rural parts of the state that it may be time to move in a different direction with people who are like-minded and think like they do.”
Abortion objections: Senate Republicans, who are outnumbered in the chamber by Democrats nearly 2-to-1, tried unsuccessfully to reject a committee report on Senate Bill 10, which would repeal an old, unenforceable law that criminalizes abortion in New Mexico.
Members of the GOP raised several objections, two of which were contradictory. Sen. Crystal Diamond, (R-Elephant Butte), said her concerns centered on limited public comment, “but specifically the inability for our doctors to participate in the conversation for legislation that ultimately criminalizes New Mexico’s doctors.”
Sen. Gregg Schmedes, (R-Tijeras), said the testimony “from multiple types of health care providers in the state” sparked his concern: a repeal of “conscience protection,” which allows a provider to object to a practice based on moral or religious grounds.
“This bill is going to greatly endanger health care access because of the desire, unilaterally, to destroy conscience protections in New Mexico,” said Schmedes, who is a doctor. “So my question to this body is, ‘Are we so strongly objected to conscience protections we’re willing to push out health care providers in this state?’ Are we willing to go there?”
The motion to reject the committee report died 25-14, and the report was adopted.
Good Lord: State Sen. David Gallegos, (R-Eunice), introduced a bill “requiring the national motto ‘In God We Trust’ to be displayed on all public buildings in New Mexico and on all registration vehicle plates.” A similar effort spearheaded by Gallegos failed during last year’s legislative session. Senate Bill 246 was referred to the Health and Public Affairs, Judiciary and Finance committees.
Tax break bills on hold: The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two tax measures Monday that would put more money in some New Mexicans’ pockets. But that did mean, as Democratic Rep. Christine Chandler put it, “a kiss of death.”
Chandler’s House Bill 42 would amend a 22-year-old tax rebate for low-income residents. The measure would increase the amount of the rebate for a household and would raise the income threshold to $36,000 from $22,000. The bill’s financial impact report says it would cost the state $48 million.
The committee also temporarily tabled House Bill 45, sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia D-Albuquerque. The bill would amend a tax credit for rural health care professionals, increasing the amount of the credit to $5,000 from $3,000 per year and adding pharmacists, social workers and other providers to the list of eligible recipients. The fiscal impact report says it will cost the state $5 million.
Who says nobody’s tuning in? Some members of two major political parties have expressed concern that an all-virtual legislative session would limit the number of people who could watch and offer public comment.
But Zoom tracking data collected by House Democrats suggest that so far, the number of people watching is substantial. Daniel Marzec, a spokesman for House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Monday at least 2,400 people logged into House committee hearings between Monday and Friday last week. This does not include the number of people who may may have been following along via livestream on the Legislature’s website — nmlegis.gov
Quote of the day: “We drink from the fire hydrant almost every day … so good luck to all you guys who get days off and the rest of us gotta work five days a week.” — Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, after the announcement of committee schedules. Unlike other committees, his meets daily.