Alibi V.28 No.4 • Jan 24-30, 2019 

News Commentary

Legislature, What Legislature?

The state of the House

Roundhouse action
Roundhouse action
Public Domain

There is a state Legislature here. Like many of the institutions in a world where the USA has sowed representative democracies, this one is bicameral. That is, it is split into two halves, or two chambers as it were. The Senate is the upper chamber and the House is the lower chamber.

Composed of representatives we the citizens elected, a legislative body decides on the structure of the state, as represented by laws. If you follow me so far, then good.

If not, I am now going to kindly suggest you inquire of your most recent civics teacher. If you didn’t have a civics teacher—or if they failed to imbue you with the basic tools needed to navigate this or that democratic republic—you can probably blame your state Legislature.

Or you can get hep to it all by reading this.

While education and education reform—heck the whole of the system seems under review this year—are big on the Legislature’s agenda, there are a heap of other issues that our leaders must pay attention to now in order to keep the ship of state afloat and cruising through the desert even as harsh winds buffet and seemingly idyllic shores await.

With that string of complex metaphorical comparatives outta the way, but meaningfully prefaced, here’s what you need to know as the SS Nuevo Mexico steams away at the merry roundhouse.

This week, Weekly Alibi takes a look at legislation coming out of the lower chamber. There are 278 bills, 3 joint memorials, 5 joint resolutions, 8 memorials and 1 resolution awaiting action in the New Mexico House of Representatives. Here are some that caught our reportorial attention.

One for You, 19 for Me

The taxation reform bill up for review this year (HB 6) is both wide ranging and inclusive of the progressive agenda generally espoused by the Lujan Grisham administration.

Sponsored by Dem stalwarts Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Antonio “Moe” Maestas, Javier Martínez and Susan K. Herrera this legislation would amount to a much-needed tune-up of the the N.M. tax code.

HB 6 proposes providing for taxation of certain internet sellers under the gross receipts act, limiting the capital gains deduction from net income, deeper regulation of corporate tax reporting, increasing the gasoline tax in order to provide for transportation infrastructure funding, providing tax deductions for temporary services and certain nonprofits and taxation of hospitals according to the gross receipts act.

Wages of Democracy

Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero is sponsoring a bill that would raise the state minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $15 by Jan. 2020. HB 46 further proposes a yearly cost of living wage increase for our state’s workers, based on annual consumer price indices published by the US Department of labor.

A strong pro-labor statement, Caballero’s legislation also calls for a 40 hour work week with additional employee hours to be compensated at one and one half of an employee’s hourly rate.

Untroubled Lives

The definition of domestic violence and abuse will be widened to include companion animals, under proposed legislation brought to the house this year by Representative Joanne J. Ferrary (D-Las Cruces). HB 52 is an act “recognizing harm or threatened harm to companion animals” as a form of unlawful abuse.

Per the bill, Section 40-13-2 of the New Mexico state law will be amended to add pets to the list of potential victims of domestic violence, a problem that has long and consequentially plagued our state as it deals with pervasive poverty and poor educational outcomes.

As Wayne Coyne once told me: We live in a brutal world, but we’ve made some progress. That can be measured by the fact that we now understand that animals are sentient, too.

Our Land is Life

The Healthy Soil Act (HB 204) and the Environmental Review Act (HB 206) both provide avenues to sustainability for our state’s natural resources. Further, HB 233 would appropriate funds to begin the long process of uranium mine clean up in northern New Mexico.

According to the healthy soil bill, introduced by Las Cruces conservationist Nathan Small (D-Las Cruces) and Democratic Senator Liz Stefanics, healthy soil practices include maximizing biodiversity and integrating animals into land management—and that includes grazing animals and beneficial insects, too!

Meanwhile HB 206 seeks funding to enact the idea that “a healthful environment is of fundamental importance to the public interest” of this state.

Regulating the process that gets us there means requiring government agencies in the Land of Enchantment to closely compare the economic benefits of development plans to the impact on public health, ecosystems and the environment any such plans may have and to provide reasonable sustainable alternatives if environmental impacts outweigh economic value. The bill is co-sponsored by Representative Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) and Democratic Senator Mimi Stewart.

D. Wonda Johnson, a Church Rock Democratic Representative that serves constituents in McKinley and Sandoval Counties—both whom have areas within that are part of the Navajo Nation—proposes earmarking $250,000 to begin a study by UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research which will aim to analyze economic effects of uranium mining as well as to determine the capacity of state agencies to begin cleaning up the poisonous aftermath as soon as possible.

Smoke that Frajo!

Further regulation of tobacco products in the state are also on this year’s legislative agenda. HB 256 would essentially ban e-cigarettes from indoor use, as like traditional cigarettes, they would be listed as part of the Clean Indoor Act. HB 259 would limit or ban the use of some tobacco products, while HB 260 calls for banning flavored tobacco products. Cigarette taxes would be increased if HB 261 gets the signature of our new governor.

Better Health

Significantly, the Paid Family Medical Act (HB 264) would provide an immeasurable resource to many New Mexican working families. Representative Christine Chandler’s legislation would see to the creation and implementation of a permanent trust fund to administer and distribute monies to be used by workers and their families when a medical crisis, preventing normal working activities, arises.

According to the language of the bill, employees and employers would both be required to contribute to the fund, with employers carrying most of the financial burden. Workers would only be charged one half of one percent of their earnings while companies would be on the hook for up to four fifths of one percent of an employee’s net annual earnings.

It’s a Crime

A sweeping reform of the criminal justice system in New Mexico is also being investigated by lawmakers, thanks to HB 267 sponsors, Daymon Ely (D-Corrales) Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe) and Senator Sander Rue (R-District 23).

The massive reform bill has these essential features: The bill requires the state sentencing board to implement a data-sharing network, add three members to that commission and to share information bilaterally with the Department of Public Safety; it specifies the type of data that can be used for biometric identification and also quantifies the requirements for content and disposition of arrest records.

Most importantly, Ely’s bill calls for more money to be spent on crime prevention by appropriating money to “develop, expand and improve evidence-based treatment and supervision alternatives to incarceration” and to reduce barriers to participation in such programs using pre-prosecution diversion or specialty court programs.

Join us next week when Weekly Alibi takes a look at resolutions, memorials and exactly what the heck is emanating—could it be the smell of sausage being made?—from the New Mexico Senate during its ultra roomy 60-day tenure at the merry Roundhouse.