Cutline: From left, state Sens. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, and Siah Correa] Hemphill, D-Silver City, who often are confused for each other at the state Capitol, showed up Monday in matching blouses and skirts. Daniel J. Chacón/The New Mexican

The Santa Fe New Mexican Staff Report

Police pay: Lawmakers say one way to address rising crime rates in the state is to ensure it has enough law enforcement officers on the job. Members of the House Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee on Monday voted unanimously to move forward House Bill 86, which would provide 5 percent pay raises every five years for New Mexico police officers.

The raises, aimed at retaining officers, would come at the five-, 10-, 15- and 20-year marks. Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the retention pay proves “we value [police officers] and value them staying in the state.”

The bill’s fiscal impact report says New Mexico has struggled to increase its law enforcement officer pool, with growth of only 1.8 percent at the local and state level between 2012 and 2021. The report says law enforcement agencies nationwide employ 2.4 officers per every 1,000 residents, while agencies in New Mexico employ 2.2 officers per 1,000. To reach the national level, the state needs to hire another 408 officers, the report says.

Masks and tests: The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee advanced companion bills that would appropriate a combined $60 million from the state’s federal coronavirus relief funds to buy and distribute at-home COVID-19 testing kits and masks to the public.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, is sponsoring both pieces of legislation.

“It’s a very prudent thing to give our Department of Health resources to be able to meet the threat of the future, including and especially having the best masks available for the citizens of the state,” Steinborn said.

Senate Bill 15 would appropriate $10 million to the Department of Health to buy and distribute KN95 or equally effective masks, as well as to create an educational campaign about the importance and proper use of face coverings.

Senate Bill 16 would appropriate $50 million, also to the Department of Health, for at-home testing kits. The state already makes at-home testing kits available to the public under a contract with a private vendor.

Medical center union: Employees at the University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center would be allowed to unionize under a bill the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee endorsed on a 5-1 vote.

Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would amend the University Research Park and Economic Development Act.

Labor lawyer Shane Youtz told lawmakers the legislation would fix a “historic error.”

“The workers at the [medical center] cannot currently organize under the Public Employees Bargaining Act, but because they are employees of the University of New Mexico, they also cannot organize under the private sector law, the National Labor Relations Act, so they are put in an unbelievably unique position in New Mexico that they’re the only workers who presently can’t have representation in the workplace,” he said.

Several people testified in support of the bill, including labor leaders and a handful of medical center employees.

“We have taken care of this community and this state of sick COVID patients through a pandemic, and now when we stand up and ask for our rights to be recognized, University of New Mexico, once again, is standing against the people of New Mexico,” a registered nurse told the committee.

Quote of the day: “I just wanted to take a moment to compliment my friend and colleague on the other side of the aisle. Sen. [Siah Correa] Hemphill always looks so classy, but today she looks exceptionally stylish.” — Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, who was wearing the same blouse and skirt as Hemphill, a Silver City Democrat.

Diamond added: “This is also a reminder to the few staff that remains in the building that still continues to get Sen. Hemphill and I confused when we have our masks on, that instead of making it easier, we’re stepping up our game, so level up.”