2017 Legislative Session Summary
Politics as usual, small steps forward
After the 2017 general legislative session adjourned, Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any tax increases and to call legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session soon to redo the budget.
Democrats said their package would avoid any further cuts to education, which has seen several slashes in recent years because of declining revenue to the state. They also said the state had enough money to stave off a government shutdown until July.
In a post-session press conference, Martinez blamed lawmakers, saying some “failed to do their jobs this session.” Her tone capped a tense few days between her office and the Legislature.
In the final week, Martinez unleashed a string of vetoes without any explanation, including a bill to allow the growth of industrial hemp and a bill to let local governments pay for the expansion of broadband.
Some legislators challenged the legitimacy of her vetoes, saying she vetoed some bills after a three-day deadline, so the bills automatically became law.
Some legislators also contend that when Martinez didn’t provide a written explanation of why she rejected the bills, she violated the state constitution. A court would likely have to address whether the vetoes are valid.
Martinez vetoed a bill that would have let teachers take their allotted 10 days of sick leave before it would impact their evaluations. The Senate voted on whether to override the veto, marking the first time either legislative chamber had done so during Martinez’s tenure. The veto override attempt failed in the House on a party-line vote, with Republicans taking the side of Martinez, who is also a Republican.
This wasn’t a standout year for environmental legislation. Two high-profile bills, one to improve oversight of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission’s spending and another to give the state back its ability to fine oil and gas companies that pollute water, died in the Senate Finance Committee.
A bill to ban coyote killing contests passed the Senate but didn’t make it to the floor of the House in time for a vote. And the Legislature rejected a bill to allow neighborhoods or businesses to create “community solar gardens” that would expand the issue of distributed solar. A bill to reinstate the state’s solar tax credit failed this year. The credit expired in 2016 after a veto by Martinez.
But there were a few successes. Sen. Jeff Steinborn’s bill to put solar panels on state buildings passed, as did a bill banning the trafficking of rare and protected wildlife. Both of those bills are headed to the governor’s desk.
This year saw the defeat of re-occurring bills to restrict abortion access. These included measures to require minors to inform their parents or guardians that they are getting an abortion, ban abortion procedures on women who are 20 weeks or more into their pregnancy, and require doctors and medical practitioners to perform emergency resuscitation on “born alive” infants.
Each of these measures failed in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee after long hearings. Democrats on the committee largely kept silent during debates but held a majority in the committee and were able to vote the bills down.
Bills to expand access to contraception and reproductive health services didn’t fare much better. Near the beginning of the session, Democrats held a press conference to unveil three bills with the support of reproductive rights organizations like Planned Parenthood and Young Women United.
Only one, a bill to require workplaces to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers, made it to the governor’s desk, and actually received the support of some Republicans. Another that would have preserved contraception access provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act passed out of the House but never made it to the Senate floor. The third bill, which would have prohibited religiously affiliated hospitals to deny reproductive health services to women, didn’t make it out of the Senate.
This year was also not monumental in terms of making moves towards legalizing cannabis. But a handful of bills, including Rep. Bill McCamley’s Cannabis Revenue and Freedom Act, gained some traction this year. The Mesilla Park Democrat has long said it’s important to keep the conversation open in case New Mexico elects a governor more prone to legalization. This year, though, the bill stalled in a Democratic-chaired committee.
Two bills to allow the growth of industrial hemp bills made it to Martinez’s desk. She vetoed both without explanation.
A third industrial hemp bill made it to Martinez’s desk. The bill sponsored by Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is reportedly a watered-down version of previous hemp bills that Martinez staffers said she was more prone to sign.
One high-profile LGBTQ bill landed on Martinez’s desk. The bill would ban conversion therapy for minors. Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill. Candelaria was the first openly gay member of the Legislature.
Another bill to allow transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate passed the House, but not after some mocking questions from some legislators.
More at NMpoliticalreport.com.