We were relieved to see SB 84 Community Solar Act fixed, but potential landmines remain. Permanent Fund for Early Childhood heads to Senate Finance today. And we analyze Biden’s transformational child poverty initiative and preview legislation to protect elections and labor.
Before we launch into this post, please take a moment to reflect upon life in America last year, with COVID raging and Trump playing golf while stoking misinformed Americans with hate. Now take a moment to reflect on today’s headline and the News in Brief below. Enjoy your coffee; elections matter; activism matters. And the Democratic Socialists of Nevada have taken over the Nevada Democratic Party–every single leadership position
News in Brief:
All Good News from D.C. / Biden
There is no way to overstate the importance of the three pieces of federal legislation previewed below. And a stunning development, as Democratic Socialists have actually taken over the state Democratic Party of Nevada. While the news from Nevada brought a smile, the three pieces of federal legislation below are transformational. I sure didn’t see this kind of sweeping progressive legislation coming in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. He appears to have morphed into Bernie Sanders.
The $1.9 trillion relief act will be on the President’s desk in days and the other two pieces of legislation have passed the House and are now in the Senate. If the Democrats can stay unified, in the first 100 days of his presidency Biden will have accomplished breathtaking change, significantly transforming the lives and prospects of tens of millions of Americans and protecting a very fragile democracy. Read on!
- From Forbes: “House Passes Landmark Voter Reform Act, Now On To The Senate.” From Forbes: “States would also be required to automatically register eligible voters, restore voting rights to former felons and offer early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting.” The bill also directs all states to create independent redistricting commissions to redraw election district boundaries, which would spell the end to gerrymandering. With GOP legislatures across the nation passing state laws to suppress the vote, this bill is extraordinarily important to preserving democracy. The GOP understands that if it is easy for voters to vote, the GOP loses.
- From The Washington Post: “Goodbye Clinton Welfare Reform, Hello Biden Child Tax Credit.” The relief bill includes groundbreaking, even transformational, change. As the piece below describes, with the inclusion of potent child tax credits paid out directly to families every month, we are seeing the launch of legislation every bit as transformational as the Social Security Act and the creation of an unemployment system. The tax credits are predicted to cut childhood poverty in half in one year in the U.S., and in NM lift 85,000 New Mexican children out of poverty. If you add to this the expansion and increase in Working Families Tax Credits and Low-Income Comprehensive Tax Rebates, we may well see 100,000 NM children lifted from poverty.
- From Market Watch: “PRO Act, Called ‘Most Important Labor Legislation in Several Generations, Passes House.” The bill passed largely along party lines, but it is co-sponsored by three Republicans. The bill would protect workers trying to form unions, prohibit businesses from impeding unions, and protect workers in the new “gig” economy. From Market Watch: “Over the past year, every elected official has celebrated the courage and resilience of our workers,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., in a statement. “But there is a difference between praising hard work and standing up for hardworking people. Workers need our solidarity, and they need our action.”
- From The Intercept: “Entire Staff of Nevada Democratic Party Quits After Democratic Socialist Slate Won Every Leadership Seat.” This shows the power of community organizing and community education. If they can do it in Nevada, we can do it here. Keep hope alive.
Paid Legislature Resolution In Senate Judiciary Today at 1pm
(or 1/2 hr. after Floor Session)
This is a crucial bill and it has been gathering dust in SJC for weeks. It is fourth on the agenda at 1:30 or 1/2 hour after the Senate Floor Session. This usually results in Senate committee hearings starting around 3:00 pm, but Sen Cervantes is typically slow to begin. While other committees run all the way up to the beginning of the evening floor sessions, Cervantes adjourns early to allow legislators an hour for dinner. SJR 4 is fourth on the agenda, but the last two SJC sessions moved briskly.
We have watched ill-considered amendments undermine one good bill after another, flawed Financial Impact Reports derail other good bills, and the ever-present clock ticking, forcing committee chairs and floor leaders to carefully pick which bills to hear, trying to push through as much legislation as possible. Legislators are forced to make decisions based on obtusely worded bills often 50 pages in length, with no staff and little time. There could hardly be more evidence for the need for paid legislators supported by paid staff and operating in a year-round legislative process. We are not in the early 20th century anymore and we need to professionalize the process that generates the laws that govern us.
You have to give our legislators credit. They work incredibly hard in our service, but the conditions under which they do so absolutely must change. And with paid legislators, we will begin to see younger, more diverse candidates who look more like the state they seek to govern.
Big Win! Community Solar Amended,
Restored to Original Intent
The House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee narrowly approved amendments to SB 84 despite concerns about the effort to restore the bill’s integrity following a Senate hack job. Even with two votes from Democrats against the amendments, Rep. Meredith Dixon and Rep. Debra Sariñana, the amendments passed 5-4. If it hadn’t been that two Republicans were absent, the bill would not have been amended. However, when it came time to vote, the bill passed along party lines 6-4 with only Rep. McQueen absent, as he was presenting a bill he was sponsoring in another committee. Next stop is House State Government, Election & Indian Affairs, which should be an easy stop as the committee enjoys a 6-3 Democrat majority.
Legalized Cannabis: We Are Down to Two Bills
With Time to Sort Out Differences & Get It Done
It was a fairly light-hearted discussion in Senate Tax Business and Transportation yesterday as the Senators discussed the flaws and merits of the two remaining cannabis bills: HB 12 sponsored by Reps Andrea Romero and Javier Martinez, and SB 288 sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle. It was so odd to hear state legislators debating the merits of licensing “smoke rooms” where cannabis could be legally consumed, outlining how tourists would be able to walk from their hotel rooms to a smoke shop, to a restaurant for dinner or a concert. Based on how convivial the dialog was between bill sponsors of the competing bills, one would have to think the differences will be ironed out before the bills head to Senate Finance where conviviality is a bit more rare.
There was some serious discussion however, in large part due to Sen. Padilla’s persistent probing of whether or not the lack of a “plant count” to limit the scale of growing operations, along with the 6-month head start current medical cannabis producers would enjoy, might give advantage to large, out-of-state operators with the capital to buy up land and water rights quickly. Padilla’s concerns were shared by several other committee members from both sides of the aisle, but bill sponsors responded to their concerns, pointing to the need to ramp up operations very quickly to meet pent-up demand. Sponsors claimed that a failure to do so would open the doors to black market producers who would flood the market. I have not “gotten into the weeds” on this, but from what I’ve read from folks from the NM Acequia Association and others, I am inclined to feel a plant count and some kind of local preference for small, local growing operations should be a higher priority than creating an easy path for operators from outside the state to profit from this initiative. What do you think?
Early Childhood Funding
Last stop is Senate Finance. HJR 1 is identified as being “discussed” today in SFC a half hour after the morning floor session ends. While it appears no vote will be taken today, all signs point to HJR 1 emerging with a 1% increase in annual Permanent Fund allocations to early childhood. The only drama is whether 1/4% or 1/2% allocation is added to cover K-12 and the legitimate fear of some kind of last-minute SFC surprise. We should get a clue about the bill’s fate from today’s discussion.
Bad News for Bees
Last night SB 103 failed to pass on the Senate Floor with a 18:20 vote. SB 103 would have restricted the use of neonicotinoid in residential and commercial contexts. Neonicotinoids are the most commonly used pesticides, but research has demonstrated that neonicotinoids destroy honey bee populations. Our legislature had better figure this out and quickly. Science must be honored and bees preserved. There were 6 Dems that voted NO. If you’re a constituent, please contact them and let them know you are disappointed:
- Sen. Hickey firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Sen. Cervantes email@example.com,
- Sen. Candelaria firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Sen. O’Neill email@example.com,
- Sen. Munoz firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Sen. Shendo email@example.com.
Senators Hickey and O’Neill have some inexplicable votes this session. Stay tuned for a most revealing Retake Report Card, coming post session.
Biden Relief Bill Offers Transformational Relief for Children & Families
Almost 30% of NM children live in poverty, the highest percentage in the nation and double the US rate of 14%. Twenty-two years ago, the UK passed legislation to address childhood poverty in the UK, which had a nationwide rate almost as bad as NM. They took the position that if families were poor and children were suffering, they would make them less poor by doing a remarkable thing: giving families money so they were less poor. In eight years, the policy slashed childhood poverty by half.
The Biden relief bill would provide families with $3,600 a year (paid monthly) for each child living in the home who is five or under and $3,000 a year for each child over five. The New York Times Morning Briefing outlined what researchers have found when studying the potential impact of this legislation on child poverty. I offer the quote as, for those interested, the links contained in the passage are worth reviewing, as they amplify upon the benefits of this “transformational” legislation.
“Luke Shaefer, a University of Michigan professor, told the Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that the child benefit was “the most transformational thing” in the legislation. My colleague Jason DeParle, who has covered poverty for years, wrote that “the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution.” (Jason goes into more detail on today’s episode of “The Daily.”)
Over all, the legislation will reduce the child poverty rate this year to about 6 percent from about 14 percent, according to projections by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia. The biggest declines will be for Black and Hispanic children.”
The chart below is from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. It indicates a projected reduction in poverty to 5.7% or by 57.8% over baseline. With 500,000 children in NM, 29% or 145,000 of them live in poverty. If the national projections hold for NM, this one bill would in one year lift over 85,000 NM children out of poverty. That is a very, very big deal. Elections matter, and we need to remember this.
The rationale for offering money to families with children whose family income is under $100K per annum is quite simple. We distribute Social Security to seniors who can no longer support themselves financially. Similarly, children are vulnerable and can not address the poverty in which they live. And as the chart above and the experience in the UK illustrates, child poverty can be addressed quite simply, and the failure to do so has severe, long-term impacts on children living in poverty.
According to another Center on Poverty and Social Policy report, being raised poor has long-term impacts on children as they become adults. Only 5% of children who are raised without experiencing poverty live in poverty when they are in their 20s, but 9 times that number of children land in poverty in their 20s if they spent 8-14 years in poverty as a child. The impact of childhood poverty extends to education, with only 3% of children who experienced persistent childhood poverty graduating from college while 37% of children who experienced no childhood poverty graduate from college.
Other studies point to lower income earning, worse health outcomes, shorter life expectancy, and slowed brain development. Taken together, lifting millions of children out of poverty is obviously a good investment. And there is considerable support for the policy even among conservatives. The primary argument against giving money to poor families is that it will provide a disincentive to work. But evidence from the UK suggests that the government income actually increased employment among those receiving benefits.
Kudos to President Biden for advancing this policy. It sunsets after one year, so there will be another heavy lift to extend the policy. But my expectation is that low-income Trump supporters who expected to experience significant relief from Trump’s tax reform are going to suddenly see how government policy can significantly impact their lives. The momentum for the policy going forward is likely to build significantly. And as today’s News-in-Brief pieces illustrate, there are more transformational bills headed to the Senate, where success will depend on two things: Democrats remaining unified, and eliminating the 60-vote requirement to pass legislation. Stay tuned. I could get used to this.
In closing: voting matters, elections matter. So far, 2021 is looking even better than I’d hoped, and it kicked off in Georgia. Relief is coming from DC for states, cities, and families, the vaccine rollout is accelerating, schools are looking to reopen, and many great bills are passing through the Roundhouse. What a difference a year makes. And while I haven’t written about it, reading about how the GOP is squabbling internally, things could get even better.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne