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.
Open primaries bill in limbo: Legislation that would allow voters not registered with a major political party to cast ballots in primaries is, as one of the sponsors put it, “on life support.” House Bill 79, which would open New Mexico primaries to independent voters, stalled in the House Judiciary Committee after two 6-6 votes on whether to endorse or reject the measure. “It’s in limbo in committee — that’s the bottom line,” Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, said after the hearing. “It’s just sitting there, so it doesn’t move unless we can figure out a way to get it out of committee.” Ely said he planned to spend the weekend trying to figure out how to get support for the bill, which would allow independent voters and those registered with a minority party to simply request a ballot from one of the major parties, with no requirement to alter the party affiliation on their registration. Ely wasn’t optimistic. “Its fate is up in the air, although it’s on life support right now,” he said.
Public health orders: A bill that would give lawmakers more say over public health orders and emergency declarations made it out of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee with no recommendation on a 7-1 vote. Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, would set a limit of 14 days on any declared state of emergency and require either the full Legislature or leaders from both chambers to act to maintain the declaration for a longer period of time. “This bill is not a Democrat versus Republican issue,” Baca said in a statement after the vote. “Rather, it is an opportunity for the Legislature to recover and share some of the rightful authority given to us by the Constitution and our voters.” The measure, which has been described as a limit on the governor’s power, will be considered next by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sex trafficking bill: Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, scored a victory when House Bill 161 earned unanimous approval from the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. The bill would allow people charged with prostitution who were victims of sex trafficking to claim an “affirmative defense.” That means they may own up to the charge but can provide facts that prove there were mitigating circumstances, which could lead to leniency. “The defendant can assert, ‘Maybe I was involved in an act of prostitution, but here’s why you cannot find me guilty of it — I was in human trafficking,’ ” Lane explained to the committee during Thursday’s hearing. State lawmakers have long struggled with imposing tougher fines on sex traffickers and protecting and helping those who were victims of those trafficking rings. Lane’s bill next goes to the House Judiciary Committee.
No veteran discrimination: Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants, is a U.S. Marine Corps and Vietnam War veteran. The longtime legislator said he has heard from too many veterans who felt they were discriminated against while seeking a job — particularly combat vets who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s why he introduced House Bill 113, which would prohibit businesses from discriminating against military veterans. The bill passed its second legislative hurdle when members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 11-1 to support it. It now goes to the House floor for a vote of the full 70-member body. Assuming the House approves it, the bill would then make its way to the Senate.
Quote of the day: “I told him the other night in jest, ‘What goes on in Santa Fe stays in Santa Fe.’ ” — House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia, recalling a conversation he had with Rep. Phelps Anderson about Anderson siding with Democrats in the House Health and Human Services Committee in support of repealing a half-century-old, unenforceable law that makes it a felony to perform an abortion in New Mexico.