Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Reader-supported independent news for ABQ

Monday Legislative Roundup

Abortion Repeal, Restricting the Gov's Powers and Liquor Law Changes Keep the Legislature Busy


Abortion repeal bill could become law: Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-4 along party lines, with little debate, to approve a bill repealing a decades-old and currently unenforceable law making it a crime to perform an abortion in New Mexico. Senate Bill 10 — which the full Senate passed Friday — now goes to the House floor, where it is likely to pass. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has said she will sign the bill into law if it reaches her desk.

About 25 people spoke out against the bill during Monday's hearing, and more than 20 spoke in favor of it. Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, one of 28 sponsors of the bill, said it "trusts women" to make the right decisions for themselves. 

Abortion-rights advocates are concerned the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn or weaken the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that prohibits excessive government restrictions on abortion, which could give new enforcement power to the state's 1969 law criminalizing abortion.

Curtailing governor's power: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been calling all the shots when it comes to New Mexico’s much-debated public health order during the COVID-19 pandemic, which covers everything from restrictions on indoor dining and religious services to hotel occupancy rates and mask mandates. Legislation that seeks to give lawmakers more say over such matters cleared another hurdle when the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed it Monday. An amended version of Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, places a 45-day limit on an emergency health order and requires legislative approval to extend it past 45 days.

Baca said New Mexico is one of only 12 states that doesn’t have some form of legislative oversight of executive emergency powers. “This is not an opinion or a position statement on the health order itself,” Baca told the committee. “If you believe in the health order, that is great. If you do not, that is great. All this does is provide a wider balance of power between the health orders and the representatives of the people.”

Three people testified in support of the bill, including a woman who said New Mexicans “witnessed unbelievable actions from government officials” in the past year. “I've been disgusted and appalled at the tyranny perpetrated upon the American people,” the woman said. “We the people need to be heard. Our suffering has gone unanswered for way too long. Now is the legislators’ opportunity to act with the constitutional dignity needed to balance an overreach of power at the executive level.”

Sometimes you have to wait another day: Members of the House Education Committee agreed to postpone a decision on a bill that would compensate families of special education students for costs incurred while learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. House Bill 213, co-sponsored by two House Democrats and two House Republicans, would reimburse out-of-pocket expenses to those families. "Managing virtual learning for special ed students has been nearly impossible," said Rep. Candie Sweetser, D-Deming, one of the sponsors. 

Supporters of the bill, many of whom said they are parents of special education children, said the measure is necessary to help them maintain their children's education needs as they learn remotely. Opponents say the measure places an unfunded mandate on school districts, forcing them to draw from their operating budgets to cover those needs.

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said she has concerns with the bill because it could open the door for parents of low-income students and English-language learners to ask for similar help.

"I'm gonna argue for the schools," she said, noting the state is still trying to find ways to comply with the 2018 court ruling on the landmark Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, which said New Mexico must come up with more resources for at-risk students. "If we were to do this, I think a lot of parents would come forth and say, 'We need money for us to do that as well,' " Stapleton said.

The House Education Committee plans to meet again at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Pour me a drink: Legislators wanting to update the state's 40-year-old liquor license laws made enough amendments to win over members of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, who voted 10-3 to move it to the House floor for a vote. The legislation is one of several bills working their way through the legislative session that would not only allow restaurants and other businesses to provide delivery of beer and wine with food, but change the liquor license fees and allow more restaurants to buy a license at a cheaper rate than in the past.

That idea has raised the ire of longtime license-holders, who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past for licenses and feel lower fees will devalue their investment. 

House Bill 255, co-sponsored by two House Democrats and two House Republicans, gives those longtime license-holders a $200,000 tax deduction and waives five years of annual fees. Anyone who purchased a license within the last five years gets 10 years of fees waived. The bill includes a 2 percent customer excise tax on individual drink sales to raise money for the state's general fund to help cover deductions provided to license-holders and to increase funds for DWI prevention programs.

A prescription for a symbol (and simple) change: Not just pharmacies would be legally allowed use the “Rx” symbol under a bill unanimously approved Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 122, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, would amend the state Pharmacy Act by removing the prohibition against “non-pharmacists’ use of pharmacy insignias or devices.”

Ortiz y Pino called it a “simple” change.

“That ‘Rx’ symbol has become so widely used that it’s kind of lost its unique status as an indication of a pharmacy solely,” he said. “We see it in connection with diet plans, with spas, with food supplements, with all sorts of things, and yet we have it in our law that it is not legal for somebody to use it for anything other than a pharmacy.”

The legislation was spurred by Mona Ghattas, a pharmacist who is co-owner of Duran Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque. According to Ortiz y Pino, Ghattas was told she couldn’t use the “Rx” symbol on a coffee shop she opened in an adjacent building next door.

“This symbol has become a universal symbol for health beyond just medicines,” she told the committee. “I've seen it on soap, I’ve seen it on cannabis dispensaries, granola bars, even some hiking trails in Bernalillo County have the ‘Rx’ symbol on them.”

Quotes of the day: "This is my Miss America moment, perhaps, for this bill." — Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, as she prepared to explain why House Bill 12, which would legalize recreational cannabis use, is good for the state.

"Not everybody can be part of the bow tie elites, but we just do what we can to keep it at a high-class level in the New Mexico Senate." — Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, responding to Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who jokingly questioned whether a bow tie, which Pirtle was wearing Monday, could pass for a tie at the state Capitol, like a bolo can.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here