Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, left, speaks to about 30 people on Environment Day Thursday outside the Capitol. House Bill 37 would create a community block grant program for energy efficiency projects. The program would focus on building improvements and other projects benefiting low-income residents. Photo by Gabriela Campos/SFNM
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Voting rights: A governor-backed bill advocates say will increase voter access in New Mexico is headed to the full Senate for what promises to be a fiery debate.
The Senate Finance Committee endorsed a substitute of Senate Bill 8, known as the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, on a 6-5 vote. The four Republicans on the committee, as well as its chairman, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, voted in opposition.
The approval came after a proposed amendment to remove a $20 million appropriation linked to the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund died in a tie vote.
“We are always operating from a deprivation mentality in elections,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said.
The bill would allow voters to receive an absentee ballot for every election without having to request one each time, immediately reinstate voting rights for felons when they get out of prison, automatically register qualified people to vote after they complete a transaction at the Motor Vehicle Division or another “authorized” state agency, and require the Secretary of State’s Office to provide a list of eligible but unregistered individuals upon request, among other things.
“It’s never been more important that we protect and expand New Mexicans’ access to the ballot box,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted after the committee’s approval, the third in the Senate.
The proposal is generating stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers, who said in a news release the “bill may very well open the door to fraud and ballot harvesting at scales we have yet to see in this state.”
Fighting crime: The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to approve a measure creating a new third-degree felony for anyone running a so-called chop shop — an illicit business that dismantles stolen vehicles to sell for parts.
The vote came after two hours of debate in which Republican lawmakers said the bill does not go far enough in dealing with theft. House Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the chamber by nearly 2 to 1, blocked several Republican efforts to amend the bill by increasing the penalties and adding provisions addressing organized retail crime.
Several Republicans expressed frustration at the lack of progress on some of the crime bills favored by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, in this year’s 30-day legislative session — which ends Thursday.
Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, bemoaned a recent spate of retail crimes, in which a band of thieves get together to steal product from a number of stores in the course of a day or a week. He said “smash-and-grab” crimes will soon become prevalent in New Mexico because “we don’t have any teeth in our laws.”
Other Republicans said a “soft-on-crime” attitude will only lead New Mexicans to take the law into their own hands to protect their lives and property.
Several crime reform bills proposed in the session have stalled, an issue Lujan Grisham expressed frustration with earlier this week.
House Bill 69, the chop shop bill, now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Energy savings: Members of the Senate Conservation Committee approved a measure that would create a community block grant program for energy efficiency projects. The program would focus on building improvements and other projects benefiting low-income residents.
“Such projects are defined as those that make improvements that reduce energy consumption, energy-related operating costs, or the carbon intensity of energy consumption to residential buildings in underserved communities,” according to a fiscal impact report for House Bill 37.
The state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s Energy Conservation and Management Division would be responsible for reviewing and prioritizing grant applications. The bill goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
About 40 people showed up outside the Capitol around noon Thursday to observe Environment Day at the Roundhouse and applaud the vote in favor of HB 37.
Remembering Gonzales: The Senate stood for a moment of silence in remembrance of former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, who died Wednesday of cancer.
“We lost a dedicated public servant,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “He was a champion for Santa Fe. He was a champion for New Mexico.”
Wirth said the death of Gonzales at 56 was “way, way too young” and serves as a reminder of the fragility of life.
“It’s important for the Gonzales family and his [two] daughters to know that we have them in our prayers and will continue to do so,” Wirth said.
Senators Liz Stefanics (D-Cerrillos) and Steve Neville (R-Aztec), both called Gonzales a friend.
“Javier was the youngest county commissioner of Santa Fe County well before he was mayor,” Stefanics said.
Neville said Gonzales was a county commissioner at the same time he was, and they got to know each other well through their involvement in the New Mexico Association of Counties. Gonzales went on to become president of the National Association of Counties, the youngest person and first Hispanic to do so.
“Very accomplished, competent guy,” Neville said. “I grieve his loss.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, spoke about Gonzales for a few minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives, lauding him as a man worthy of emulation and “a great friend to many of us.”
More transparency: The House on Thursday unanimously voted to approve House Concurrent Resolution 1, which would require the Legislature to post on its website any analysis of legislation submitted by the executive branch to the Legislative Finance Committee for use in a fiscal impact report.
It also would require amendments and proposed substitute legislation to be posted, whether the initiatives are adopted or not.
Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, said, “In the interest of making this information available to the public, in the interest of improving our own workflow, I believe this will be beneficial.”
Scott joined Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, in sponsoring the resolution. The resolution is on its way to the Senate floor for possible action.
Quotes of the day: “Weird way to spell ‘green chile’”. —Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Twitter in response to a graphic claiming New Mexico’s favorite pizza topping are carrots.
“It’s a 2-year-old ready for a nap.” — Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, explaining noise made by a tired child during Thursday’s virtual House floor session. Thomson, working from home, was apparently babysitting.