The legislative update is packed with new information, followed by commentary on lessons learned at the midpoint of the session, and 2 videos, one with Speaker Egolf and one with Public Bank leader, Angela Merkert. A must view post.
Zoom Conversation with Speaker Egolf. In our Zoom with Speaker Egolf on Thursday, we heard his positions on Early Childhood funding, Public Banking, Health Security, Green Amendment, Local Choice Energy and Redistricting. It was a spirited discussion that attendees extended for another 20 minutes after the Speaker had to leave. A recording of the Zoom can be found at the end of the post and supporters of each of these bills will want to watch this video so they can effectively address concerns raised. And in each instance, those concerns can be addressed.
One heads-up we received from the Speaker was that there apparently is a mistake in HB 236 State Public Bank’s Financial Impact Report. The FIR indicates that the bank would require both a $50M deposit of Tax Severance funds and a $50M General Fund appropriation. With a General Fund appropriation indicated, the Speaker must assign the bill to House Appropriation and Finance. I texted the Speaker about this Friday morning and he confirmed that bill sponsors should work to correct the error. I alerted the bill sponsors that to avoid a trip to House Appropriations, they need to address this problem muy pronto.
One of the great values to these Zoom Conversations is the information about leadership’s views on key bills. And we secured important information in just 34 minutes, especially in relation to Health Security, Public Bank and the Green Amendment. We are scheduling a Zoom Conversation with Senate Leader Wirth soon.
One piece of great news is that the Speaker views the 1% increase in Permanent Fund commitment to Early Childhood as the floor on that appropriation, not the ceiling. This is very good news, as we had heard swirling rumors that a compromise would be reached with supporters of SJR 1 which also calls for a 1% increase in allocation from the Permanent Fund. The Speaker was extremely clear and firm on this and I could hear Voices for Children’s lead lobbyist Bill Jordan’s cry of delight all the way from ABQ.
Speaker Egolf Strongly Supports Four of Our Transformation & Priority Bills, But Needs Help From You.
The Speaker explicitly asked for help with four bills, two of which are important environmental bills that will experience serious, “the sky is falling” moaning and groaning from the gas and oil industry. Retake has often criticized Democratic leadership for failing to challenge NMOGA et al. Now they are pushing for two bills that would challenge the industry and they are asking our help. Let’s do that. Here are the bills where your advocacy is needed.
- HB 47 End-of-Life Options, a Retake Transformational bill has passed two committees and was on the House Floor yesterday. In the morning, the speaker texted me that he was one or two votes shy of having the votes to pass this to the Senate. I spent much of the day contact people who had influence with the legislators he identified as uncertain or wobbling. Late breaking good news: last night the House voted to approve this bill after some of the most heart wrenching testimony any of us have seen from Rep. Deborah Armstrong whose daughter has been suffering from acutely terminal cancer for years. I will be checking with Senator Wirth to see if he feels there are landmines in his chamber. But for now, one of the four bills concerning the Speaker can be checked off the list.
One more comment on this bill. Even after Rep. Armstrong’s emotional testimony, Republicans nit-picked at the bill. Roxanne and I had to turn it off it was so infuriating. The same damned legislators who will resist ANY effort to curb access to guns, were questioning if they should support this bill because a potentially deadly pill would be in the house, never mind that 90% of the people who might receive this medication would be safely in hospice, Rep. Lane responded that if it happened even once that would be too much. And what about those automatic weapons you so ferociously fight to allow unlocked in homes? Maddening.
The remaining three bills on the Speaker’s list still require your action.
- HB 4 Civil Rights Act. This is a priority bill for Retake and a priority of our ally YUCCA, as well. It provides New Mexicans a legal capacity to sue in district court if their civil rights have been infringed. Also, very importantly it would prohibit using qualified immunity as a defense. Here, too, the message is simple: eliminating qualified immunity will not threaten public officials (including police) if they are doing their jobs, but if they are abrogating their authority or abusing an individual, they can be held accountable. The bill has passed the House and now is in Senate Health and Public Affairs, a committee that I’d guess will pass this easily. But next up is Senate Judiciary. Thankfully, Sen. Cervantes is a co-sponsor, so likely there will be no problems from the Chair. So, here I’d target your comments to:
- Senator Katy Duhigg. I would think Sen. Duhigg would be on board, but since she is new to the legislature and might be swayed by testimony; (505) 397-8823. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senator Ivey-Soto, yesterday told me he is “studying the bill” and likes the revised version much better. But we can only lose one Dem in this Committee, so give him a gentle nudge. (505) 881-4475 email@example.com
- HB 9 Climate Solutions Act. This is also a Priority Bill for Retake and supported by every environmental group out there. But it is facing serious headwind from the gas and oil lobby. The bill is slated to be heard in House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Monday. If it passes there, it will go to the House floor. My gut says this will surely pass both hurdles, but I ask you to reach out to one Committee member:
- Rep. Doreen Gallegos. (575) 649-6325 firstname.lastname@example.org. In a text exchange with her yesterday, she indicated she is leaning yes, but pressure from Doña Ana constituents can’t hurt.
- HB 50 Private Right of Action. This is also an important Retake Priority bill that has passed House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources and is headed to a generally friendly House Judiciary Committee filled with good legislators. This legislation would enable citizens to file suit against gas and oil operators who cause them harm; currently such action must come from the State. But since passing HEENRC on January 29, it has not been scheduled for a hearing in Judiciary. So the ask here is to the Chair, the excellent House Rep, Rep. Gail Chasey. The ask is simple. Please schedule HB 50 ASAP.
- Rep. Gail Chasey. (505) 986-4411 email@example.com
Another Action in Support of Economic and Racial Justice.
We expect House Tax and Revenue Committee to hear two bills as early as Monday – one bill we strongly support and one we oppose. The one we support is HB 291, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martinez (who is chair of the HTRC). It includes several fixes to our tax code to make it more fair and to raise more revenue from stable sources so we are not so reliant on boom-or-bust oil and gas revenues. One of these changes is an increase in the personal income tax rate for those who earn the highest incomes. As our tax code stands now, those who earn $25,000 pay the same tax rate as those earning $250,000. In our conversation with Voices for Children, we were told that they hoped to amend the bill to adjust the Personal Income Tax tax rates even more, as the current version is not as aggressive as it could be. Other elements of the bill include an increase in the Working Families Tax Credit and an increase in a tax rebate that’s available to those with low incomes, including seniors. This is the Transformational Bill that we knew was coming and is now listed in our bill list, as such.
The bill we oppose is HB 278, which gives manufacturers and other businesses an unnecessary and costly tax break. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper (who is a member of the HTRC), would allow companies to deduct all of the gross receipts taxes (GRT) paid for business-to-business services (such as for lawyers, accountants, etc.), further narrowing this tax base. Corporations already received a huge tax break in 2013, which ended up costing the state hundreds of millions every year – and manufacturers were one of the primary beneficiaries. This bill would not only cost the state some $82 million, but it would also cost cities and counties $81 million and our local governments simply cannot afford such a loss during the pandemic.
Action Needed: Please either call members of the HTRC and leave a message or email them and urge them to SUPPORT HB 291 and OPPOSE HB 278. When you call Rep. Martinez, thank him for his sponsorship of HB 291. And this should be done today and Monday.
Hearing Date: Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, 8:30 am. While we were told that HB 291 would appear on the agenda for Monday, it has not been added as of this morning. But there is great benefit to pressing for this now and then, if it is held for another day, to reaffirm your support later.
What You Might Say: Keep it simple and use your own words. Voices for Children suggests something like this: I’m contacting you to urge you to support HB 291 and oppose HB 278. By increasing personal income taxes for those earning the most, HB 291 will raise much-needed revenue while making our tax system much more fair. HB 278 is another unnecessary tax break for companies, which already got a big tax cut in 2013. It won’t bring any new business to New Mexico and will cost our state, cities and counties hundreds of millions that are needed to support our schools, infrastructure, public safety, health care, and more. Thank you.
- Rep. Javier Martínez, Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 986-4420
- Rep. Christine Chandler, Vice Chair, email@example.com, (505) 986-4242
- Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 986-4210
- Rep. Brian Egolf, email@example.com, (505) 986-4782
- Rep. Tara Lujan, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 986-4254
- Rep. Antonio Maestas, email@example.com, (505) 986-4333
- Rep. Andrea Romero, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 986-4243
- Rep. Melanie Stansbury, email@example.com, (505) 986-4432
It has become increasingly clear that once the session begins, legislator views can be easily influenced by misinformation. Very often legislators enter the session with only a superficial understanding of many bills. Maybe they had received tons of constituent email in support of a bill, but most legislators don’t study the actual bill until they see it is headed to a committee on which they serve. Even then, they may not have heard any counter-arguments to the bill. Then suddenly they are in a Committee Hearing and begin hearing a raft of concerns that they had not considered. Usually these concerns are industry fomented or sadly, misinformation from a few environmental organizations that, frankly, are misguided.
I am starting to note a pattern that legislators have a more difficult time getting their heads around new legislation that has not been discussed in prior sessions. With no staff, limited time, and hundreds of detailed bills to absorb, it is nearly impossible for legislators to have a firm grasp on every bill. And this is especially the case with bills introducing new ideas or ideas that have not been heard in prior sessions. Perhaps this explains the high level of misinformation floating around about the Public Bank and Green Amendment. Legislators have not encountered the bills before and so are more susceptible to misinformation.
On the other side of the coin, bills like increasing Early Childhood Funding, lowering predatory lending rates, considering tax changes, or passing Health Security have been discussed for years and so the knowledge base is much deeper, legislators have heard the counter-arguments and are less susceptible to the influence of misinformation. But, in the Senate we have 7 new Senators, none of whom have heard any of these bills. With most of them, their values may be solid, but they are new to this game and are trying to not look out of their depth. I can’t imagine how tough that job is. We saw it in Sen. Hamblen trying to do right for the workers in San Juan and voting to table the Energy Transition Act Changes bill. She was influenced by a series of jobless workers explaining how important the ETA was to their maintaining transition benefits and how important they were to their community. And so she tried to honor those workers’ needs, failing to grasp that the amendments proposed wouldn’t have jeopardized those benefits. Just like that, the bill was table.
Consider that most of us are focused on a few bills, even Retake only tracks less than 50. Legislators have hundreds of bills to become expert on and with no staff or volunteer teams helping (thank you, volunteers).When we spoke with Speaker Egolf on Thursday, he acknowledged he hadn’t even read the public bank bill yet. That is not uncommon. So if you are a legislator and before you’ve studied a bill you begin to hear from constituents that they support the Green Amendment (SJR-3), maybe you take note of the level of support, but haven’t really taken a deep dive into what the bill says and would/could do. Often those legislators first consider a bill seriously only an hour before a hearing when they will vote. All of this argues for deep discussion with as many swing legislators as possible, as early and as often as possible.
There is a reason Senator Wirth has told me many times that it can take 2-3 sessions to pass a new, bold idea. The above captures much of the reason. Put simply, it is not easy to push a new idea with so much competing, conflicting info and so little time.
So if we get an abortion ban repeal, funding for early childhood, the Health Security Act, and 36% cap on predatory lending rates we should be both delighted and, frankly, amazed. If some of our more ambitious bills fail, we will want to use the interim hearings later this year to discuss them at every opportunity. But most importantly, we must press for salaried legislators with a paid staff and legislative sessions that extend for 4-5 months every year. Our legislature operates by 19th century rules in a state with billions in reserve, huge unmet needs in rural and tribal communities, a failing education system, an unregulated gas and oil industry, and we try to fix this in 60 days one year, 30 the next. Any wonder we rank 49th or 50th in all things good. This needs to get fixed.
But we won’t abandon the project (a reference to the Zen discussion in Monday’s blog. And so we persist.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Two Important Conversations
Speaker Brian Egolf. Thirty minutes on Public Banking, Early Childhood funding, Health Security, Redistricting, Local Choice Energy, the Green Amendment and more.
Retake Conversation with Angela Merkert, Director of Alliance For Local Economic Prosperity who is leading the charge to get the legislature to pass a bill to create a State Public Bank.
Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation