I want to begin by giving a huge thank you to everyone for all your email and phone messages urging our legislators to support legislation of importance to the progressive community. It is heartening to receive feedback from legislators agreeing with our sentiments. Sure, there were the occasional responses disagreeing with our requests, but that just added evidence that they hear us and know that they have to deal with us.
There was a boatload of progressive legislation this year, as was expected because of the increase in number of progressive legislators. We ended up following about one hundred bills, memorials, and joint resolutions. About 60 of those were scheduled for committee hearings, and you emailed or called committee members about them. Because of the progressive trend in the Legislature and the support of the governor’s office, much of the legislation of importance to us passed. There were exceptions, often caused by conservative Democrats joining with Republicans to defeat good bills.
Both the good and the bad are discussed below:
- This legislature was finally able to pass a bill for a State Ethics Commission (SB 668). This bi- or multi-partisan commission receives and investigates complaints against public officials and employees, government contractors and lobbyists.
- Renewable energy, climate crisis:
- SB 489, the Energy Transition Act, passed. It includes strong Renewable Portfolio Standards with a target of, among other things, zero carbon dioxide emissions from retail sales of electricity by 2045. A disappointment was that this Act also included a provision for the costs of abandoning the current, fossil fueled generating plants to be borne solely by the public, rather than sharing those costs by the public and by the shareholders of the plant owners.
- SB 518, New Solar Market Development Tax Credit, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, had passed its last committee in the House, but never got a vote on the House floor. Another casualty of more bills to consider than time to hear them for a floor vote.
- HB 210, Community Solar Act, passed the House but didn’t make it through the Senate committee process in time to be heard on the Senate floor. This bill would have established requirements for community solar systems that subscribers could use to meet their energy needs. A community solar system would supply its power to the public utility serving the area, which would bill subscribers at rates determined by the Public Regulation Commission.
- Health care:
- HB 416 and SB 405, Medicaid Buy-In, to allow members of the public to participate in Medicaid by paying the costs, was tabled in House Appropriations while the Senate worked on the budget. There is $142,000 in the budget for the “study and administrative development of the Medicaid Buy-In plan.” This allows HSD to prepare to implement the Medicaid Buy-In, including seeking federal waivers to receive federal financing.
- HB 308, Dental Therapists, passed.
- SB 337, Surprise Billing Protection Act, passed unanimously.
- HB 436, Align Health Insurance Law with Federal Law, passed. This bill amends sections of the NM law governing Insurance plans to include many of the provisions of the ACA, such as prohibiting denial of coverage of pre-existing conditions, prohibiting charging higher premiums for disability, and eliminating co-pays for preventive services.
- HB 88 and SB 101 to establish a Health Care Value and Access Commission did not progress in the respective committees, but money was allocated in the budget to work towards the goals of these bills:
- Health Care Value and Access Commission: $275,000 to set up a commission that will review and make recommendations on the ways health care is currently being provided in New Mexico.
- All Payers Database: $900,000 to set up a much needed statewide database to track, in accordance with privacy laws, medical procedure usage rates, cost, outcomes and more to give the state data that it currently does not have and needs to better support positive health care outcomes.
- SB 279 and HB 295, Health Security Act, also died in both House and Senate committees. HM 92, Health Security Plan Analysis, passed the House and there is $389,000 in the budget for Legislative Finance to complete a fiscal analysis of the Health Security Act, which is the first step needed before implementing the Act.
- Permanent funds for early childhood: HJR 1 passed the House, but died in the Senate Finance Committee. A replacement, SB 671, backed by the governor, also died in the Senate Finance Committee.
- Voting rights:
- SB 672, Early & Auto Voter Registration, passed. It combined earlier bills HB 84 and HB 86 to provide for voter registration at early voting sites, at polling places on election day, and to provide for automatic voter registration at Motor Vehicle Department offices as well as some other offices subject to negotiation.
- HB 57, Restore Felon Voting rights, died in committee.
- HB 55, National Popular Vote, passed. This bill commits New Mexico to join a compact of states that agree to assign their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote, whether or not the state itself voted for the winner of the national popular vote.
- Increasing minimum wage: Several bills with differing increases in the minimum wage failed, but were replaced by SB 437, Raise Minimum Wage & Create Separate One, and was passed. This bill, as introduced, would have raised the minimum wage to 11 dollars per hour by 2022. It was amended to raise it to 12 dollars per hour by 2023, and cost of living increases, which had been included for later years, were not addressed in the final bill language. The bill also provides for a minimum wage of $8.50 for students in secondary schools working outside of school hours.
- Increasing salaries of state employees: A section of HB 2, General Appropriation Action of 2019, increases the salaries of state employees by an average of 4 percent, except that the salaries for teachers are increased by at least 6%. HB 2 passed.
- Reducing small loan interest rates to 36%: HB 22, HB 375, and HB 386 were either not scheduled for hearing or died in committee.
- Right to work laws: HB 85, Union Security Agreements, passed. This bill precludes local governments from adopting or continuing in effect laws that prohibit agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment; i.e., this bill prohibits local governments from establishing so-called right to work laws.
- Raising income taxes for high earners: HB 6, Tax Changes, includes a provision to increase the rates for high earners. For example, married couples filing joint returns will pay income taxes at a rate of 5.9% for earnings in excess of $315,000. HB 6 passed.
- Background checks for firearm sales: SB 8, Firearm Sale Background Check, passed and was signed by the governor.
- Decriminalizing abortion: HB 51, Decriminalize Abortion, passed the House but failed in the Senate.
- Gender equality: SB 25, No Differential Pricing Based On Gender, passed.
- Decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana: HB 356, Cannabis Regulation Act, passed the House, but died in the Senate Finance Committee.
- Hemp: HB 581, Hemp Manufacturing Act, passed. This bill allows and regulates production, testing, research, and manufacturing of hemp products.
- Healthy soil act: HB 204 passed.
- Public banking: HM 41, Study State-Owned Bank, passed its only scheduled committee hearing, but was not considered on the House floor.
- School ratings: SB 229, School Support & Accountability Act, passed. This bill repeals the A-B-C-D-F schools rating act, to be replaced by criteria developed by the Legislative Education Study Committee.
If you want to check the status of other bills of interest, or to see if the governor has signed bills, go here.
Until next year,
Pat Bartels, Laura Stokes, and Paul Stokes