September 15, 2019

More Legislative Updates

House Bill 206, or the Environmental Review Act, sponsored by Representative Gail Chasey (D – Bernalillo) and Senator Mimi Stewart (D – Bernalillo), was significantly slowed in the House State Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee on Friday. The bill, which would add a significant environmental review process to both publicly and privately financed projects over $2 million and substantially inhibit economic development, faced strong opposition from business groups, energy companies, and local and municipal governments that view the legislation as an unfunded mandate from the state. The committee also heard concerns from Representatives Daymon Ely (D – Bernalillo) and Representative Greg Nibert (R – Chaves and Lincoln) regarding the lack of funding for the nearly $2 million appropriation (and whether that amount was sufficient to cover the bill’s requirements) and whether business was adequately involved as a stakeholder in the development of the bill. The sponsor asked that the bill be rolled over for another committee substitute and an updated Fiscal Impact Report from the Legislative Finance Committee.

House Bill 2, a $7 billion budget representing a double-digit year-over-year increase in spending, passed the House. The vote was 46-23, with all Republicans voting no except for Representative Jane Powdrell Culbert (R-Sandoval). Republicans, led by Jason Harper (R-Sandoval), presented an alternative budget that was rejected on party lines by a vote of 44-24. The House-approved FY 20 budget, now on its way to the Senate, proposes to spend $7 billion of general fund revenues, a 10.8% increase over FY 19. The lion’s share of the new money goes to public education, which increases $449 million or 16%, largely in response to the district court decision in the Yazzie/Martinez case. The general fund reserve sits at $1.6 billion or 22.4% of recurring revenues. A key shortfall continues to be the lack of new funding for LEDA, the closing fund that currently only has $17.5 million in HB 2 funding, far less than the $75 million requested by the Governor to secure major investments in the state. The state’s job training fund, JTIP, also remains underfunded.

SB489 was given a do pass recommendation on a 5-3 vote. Senator Jacob Candelaria (D-Bernalillo), along with cosponsors and a panel of expert witnesses and backed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, explained the carefully constructed provisions of SB 489 to the Senate Conservation Committee Saturday. If enacted, the bill would vault New Mexico into a new era of electric generation, replacing, in phases, reliance on coal plants with 100% renewable energy, such as wind and solar, by 2045.

HB 31 and SB 437, Minimum Wage Bills Senator Clemente Sanchez, is sponsoring SB 437 and Representative Miguel Garcia is sponsoring HB 31, which has already passed the House. Both were heard on Saturday. Key differences between the two were the tipped wage credit for those receiving more than $30 per month in tips. HB31 eliminates the tipped wage credit while SB437 maintains it. Garcia offered amendments today on Saturday that restored the tipped wage credit to HB31, at a slightly higher amount than SB437 and it is indexed to the cost of living. Now the two key remaining differences are the amount of increase and indexing. In two steps, SB437 would raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour by April 1, 2020. HB31 would step wages up to $10 on July 1, 2019; $11 on July 1, 2020 and $12 on July 1 2021. Starting July 1, 2022, the wage would be indexed to cost of living increases. SB437 contains no indexing leaving the decision about future increases in the hands of the Legislature. It also provides for an $8.50 minimum wage for high school students to encourage employers to give young people a place in the workplace.

HB 356, the Cannabis Regulation Act: This bill would legalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for people over the age of 21, tax and regulate sales of cannabis, and erase prior convictions for cannabis possession. The bill was approved by the committee after a lengthy debate on a vote of 7-3, and heads now to the House Floor. The 140-page bill has broad implications for employers, particularly in the absence of testing technology that would allow for employers to determine whether an employee testing positive for cannabis use is impaired. Representative Greg Nibert (R – Chaves and Lincoln) proposed an amendment to the bill inserting clear language ensuring that none of the bill’s provisions would impact an employers’ right to establish written drug free workplace policies and terminate or otherwise discipline employees testing positive for cannabis in accordance with those policies. The amendment was adopted unanimously, and while this potentially serves to address one of the concerns of the Chamber, but impaired driving continues to be a significant concern. This continues to be one of the most significant pieces of legislation moving through the Roundhouse this session.

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