Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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Thursday Legislative Roundup

Fracking Ban, Teacher Pensions And a Push For Schools to Reopen


Dear Mr. President: In an effort to diminish the impact of climate change, President Joe Biden signed an executive order late last month placing a 60-day halt on oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. On Thursday, members of the state House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee debated a measure that would waive that ban in New Mexico.

"The well-being of the state is, in my opinion, being jeopardized because we are not doing this in an orderly and systematic effort," said Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, one of the sponsors of House Joint Memorial 3. He said the effort would "show the current administration that we have concerns, that it is a significant part of our income and that it needs to be re-looked at."

Democratic members of the committee did not agree, arguing that even if the memorial made its way through both the House and Senate and was signed by the governor, the 60-day ban would be nearly over. The committee voted 8-3 to table the motion, with Montoya joining the majority. Still, he said, he plans to draft a letter to the president and will ask other lawmakers to sign it.

Teacher pension fund: Legislation that would raise the employer contribution rate to the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board by 1 percent a year for the next four years narrowly cleared the Senate Finance Committee on a 5-4 vote Thursday.

Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, will be considered next by the full Senate. Stewart has said the bill would help the pension system's solvency and also create equity with another public retirement fund.

The employer contribution rate to the Educational Retirement Board’s pension system currently is 14.15 percent. For the Public Employees Retirement Association, the employer contribution will be 19.24 percent by July 2023. Under Stewart’s proposal, the ERB’s employer contribution rate would climb to 18.15 percent in the fourth year.

Defending the shield: New Mexico's 112-member Legislature is made up of citizen lawmakers, volunteers who take no pay (just per diem). Questions on whether they find themselves in conflict-of-interest situations — a school superintendent voting on a bill that could make things better in his or her district, for example — come up all the time.

The issue came up again this week, when Sandra Price, a retired state judge, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Ethics Commission against House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Her argument is that as an attorney, Egolf stands to benefit if a bill he is co-sponsoring — the proposed New Mexico Civil Rights Act — becomes law. If passed and signed, it would allow people to sue governmental agencies for violating their civil rights. It also would ensure that attorneys who represent plaintiffs in those cases get paid.

During a news conference Thursday, Egolf said legislators' professional backgrounds are an advantage in creating law. "In New Mexico, we have legislators from every walk of life, from every profession. Legislators bring to this body, their expertise, their knowledge, and that is a benefit to the body," he said. 

He spoke of other lawmakers working in different industries who also bring their personal and professional perspective to the debate arena. "That is the design of the Legislature, for members to bring their perspective, expertise inside, to share it with the body to help us make better decisions on how legislation that we pass will impact the people of New Mexico," Egolf said.

Quote of the day: "The governor’s science seems to be political science rather than medical science." — Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, during a news conference in which House Republicans once again pushed for ways to safely reopen businesses and schools. Many Republicans have criticized Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, , a Democrat, for her decisions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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