We got a ton of very good things done this legislative session, especially for voters, women, water, and children. Today, we analyze the good, the bad, the ugly, what we can learn from it, and what is next. Also, an interesting interview with Miko Peled, Israeli-American Palestinian activist and author who will be speaking in Santa Fe on March 26 and in ABQ March 27. Well worth your time. We also offer a link to join our Huddle tonight, where we will debrief the session, and Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez will join us. See Huddle details and registration link at end of post.Read more: IPCC Issues Urgent Call to Address Climate, Legislature Does Everything But…
Miko Peled, Israeli-American Palestinian Activist & Author
This interview was supposed to air Sat., March 18, but the KSFR computer scheduling system misfired. The Peled interview will air this coming Saturday, March 25. But in the meantime, we share this tremendous interview today on a topic of critical importance: Palestine. Miko Peled has spent most of his adult life writing about the Palestinian conflict, an unlikely path for a son of a prominent Israeli general. His perspective on the conflict is informed by growing up a Zionist in Israel and over time coming to understand that the only way Israel could survive as a democracy and not the apartheid undemocratic state it is today, was to seek Palestinian independence, a two-state solution. A fascinating interview that begins with a brief (10 seconds) awkward intro, bungled by me. Sorry, I was pretty sick (Strep). But, once we got rolling, the interview will give an eye-opening sampling of what will be shared in Santa Fe and ABQ. Miko will be speaking in Santa Fe on Sunday, March 26, 7 pm, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 107 W. Barcelona; and in ABQ on March 27, 2-4 pm at UNM Student Union Bldg., Acoma A & B.
Some Very Impactful Legislation Passed This Session, Proving Transformational Vision is Possible, Just Not On Climate
A few of the bills we supported breezed through, but others never would have made it without pressure from activists across the state like you. So, congratulations! We should feel very good about these wins for our state. We did especially well for children, if you overlook the failure to do anything about combatting climate change or creating a livable future for those children.
Our Most Important Wins
- HB 7 Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare, and SB 13 Reproductive Health Provider Protections. We passed legislation to protect women seeking abortions and individuals seeking gender-affirming care and their health providers from harassment and threats. Given the race in many states to pass legislation to punish, even criminalize, women and their providers, it is refreshing to see NM demonstrate regional and national leadership on this issue. Rep. Andrea Romero did a stellar job on the House floor fending off GOP questions and amendments.
- HB 142 Generating Facility & Mine Remediation. San Juan Generating Station generated profits for PNM for over four decades, but PNM appeared to be in no hurry to remediate their mess. Rather than ask PNM what should be done to remediate and restore the environs polluted by tons of highly toxic coal ash lying in unlined pits, HB 142 funds the state to commission an independent assessment and for PNM to report annually on its progress in completing the remediation plan. This is virtually the only climate-environmental bill that passed in 2023. But this is an important win.
- Child Tax Credits tripled. Our poorest families will receive a $600 annual tax credit for each child, a huge benefit to tens of thousands of low-income families and one of the most impactful anti-poverty policies possible. Yet while we celebrate the child tax credit, HB 547, the tax omnibus bill within which this tax credit was housed, was seriously compromised in the sausage-making process. See details below, under disappointments.
- SB 53 Storage of Certain Radioactive Waste, AKA Holding the line on Holtec. We actually rebuffed a major corporation’s profit-seeking effort to make NM the nation’s high-level radioactive waste dump, a Sacrifice Zone yet again. Until we said no.
- SB 64 No Life Sentence for Juveniles. A person’s development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is not fully accomplished at the age of 25 years. The development of the prefrontal cortex is very important for complex behavioral performance, as this region of the brain helps accomplish executive brain functions, decision-making, and impulse control. As such, impulsive behavior is common among teenagers and young adults. Given this, it seems inhumane to sentence a teenager to life in prison for an impulsive act. It is never compassionate to judge a person on the basis of the worst decision they’ve ever made, especially when they are too young to resist impulse and make better choices.
- SB 229-HB 15 Special Immigrant Juvenile Classification Act will allow immigrants under the age of 21 who are subject to abuse or neglect, or cannot be reunited with family, or would not benefit from being returned to their country of origin, to seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Classification, affording them the opportunity to seek lawful permanent residence in the U.S. We missed this bill, but that doesn’t diminish its importance or prevent us from celebrating this important win.
- We finally decided water is important, with SB 337 Water Security Planning Act and SB1 Regional Water System Resiliency, the top two water priorities from ally Middle Rio Grande Water Advocates, passing easily.
Certainly there were other good bills that escaped our radar that made it to the Guv’s desk, but for most sessions, the above results would be more than enough to celebrate. Reflect for a moment how much different life must look for a juvenile migrant who, because of SB 229-HB 15, can now see a path to secure residence in the U.S. instead of being returned to his/her country of origin, too often fraught with gang violence, draught, government round-ups, or other terrors.
Consider also the single mom with three kids who because of the $600 per child tax credit can suddenly rely not on temporary federal emergency relief, but on permanent, reliable state support. And because of HB 142, San Juan will be remediated and restored to our standards and on our timeline, not PNM’s. These wins are hugely important and need to be celebrated. For advocates, these are bills, for others, they are lifelines.
But there were far too many missed opportunities that diminish the joy in these successes and tell us there is more to do.
The News Is not All Good If You Care About Renters or the Planet
Housing Relief Totally Shut Down by ABQ Dems. All of the housing bills went down, not just SB 99 Rent Control Prohibitions and SB 140 NM Housing Trust Fund. SB 375 Rent Increases & Air Conditioning would have capped yearly rent increases statewide at 5% + CPI. SB 298 Mobile Home Park Act Changes would have capped rent increases at 3% + CPI for mobile home owners who rent spaces in mobile home parks. Those people are the most vulnerable because of the considerable expense of moving mobile homes, and often they are not in a condition to be moved at all. Because of this, an unscrupulous landlord can raise rents exorbitantly with no fear the tenant will move.
Certainly, there needs to be a balance in regulation of the rental market. Landlords require and deserve to profit from their investments. Without landlords, there would be no rental market. But this session, there was no balance, and with just two Dem Senators standing up for renters, bills offering modest protections died.
Together, those bills would have provided some security to NM’s most vulnerable renters. But the same SHPAC bipartisan majority voted to table all three bills. Only Senators Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and Brenda McKenna voted not to table, while Democrat Senators Ortiz y Pino, Maestas, Hickey, and Tallman joined Republicans to table the bills. Inexplicable. Those are all ABQ Dems and I am hoping Indivisible ABQ has some questions for all of them.
Tax Reform Compromised. HB 547, the final omnibus tax bill, does some good, especially in increasing the child tax credit and low-income comprehensive tax rebate, along with a modest reduction in the marginal personal income tax (PIT) rate for people with taxable income up to $66,000, and a 0.5% reduction in the gross receipts tax. But all of this was supposed to be offset by new revenue from a marginal PIT increase on the highest income earners with the creation of two new higher tax brackets for those earning $200-300K a year. With that provision cut, the tax bill missed an opportunity to ensure continued revenue to help the state weather the inevitable downturn in the gas & oil industry. The problem is that going forward, if we have a flat year with respect to oil and gas revenues, we will be in the hole with little means to get out of it. We are now more reliant on oil and gas than before. Thanks to Rich Weiner and Michael Sperberg-McQueen for their analysis on this bill.
SB 11 Paid Family & Medical Leave. A well-crafted bill, SB11 would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid leave for family or medical emergencies, while funding the benefit with modest monthly contributions from employees and employers. Of course, the chambers of commerce threw a fit, bringing with them one business owner after another lamenting how $10/month per employee was too steep a price to pay for affording employees the security of knowing that they were not one family emergency away from unemployment and housing instability in addition to the emergency at hand. Despite opposition, this bill sailed through two Senate committees and passed on the Senate floor, only to stall in House Commerce & Economic Development because sponsors could not get the support of two moderate Dems. For working families, this defeat could have tragic human consequences.
Climate bills go down in flames, along with our future, if we don’t figure this out. This is a nut we must crack and very soon. I’ve done a deep dive into the latest IPCC report, another gloomy report that now acknowledges that 1.5 degrees Celsius was an important goal, but unachievable given our thirst for fossil fuels, growth, profit and an inability to turn off the fossil fuel faucet while relying on unrealistic false solutions. I’ll publish my review of that report in a day or two. We’ll continue to focus today on what NM hasn’t gotten done in our legislative session before turning another day to what the whole world has failed to do.
Local Choice Energy and the Green Amendment each had coalitions that worked all year to prepare for the session, carefully laying out what each bill would do and anticipating and rebutting the “sky will fall” false claims from industry. Despite their work, both bills met early defeat. The opposition used misinformation to cast doubts on both bills. Both will be back in 2024, but will meet no better fate unless and until we figure out how to effectively counter the litany of lies used to derail them. Despite mountains of email to legislators countering opponent misinformation, in hearings we heard GOP and Dem. legislators cite that industry misinformation to justify their caution or opposition. And so these important bills died and with them renewable energy opportunities contained in Local Choice Energy and the environmental protections promised by the Green Amendment.
It’s important to note that no legislator even dared to introduce any bill this session that might actually curb drilling or fine methane emitters or produced water leakers.
The session ended on the House Floor, with Rep. Candy Spence Ezell, R, Chaves County, praising the oil industry for making everything accomplished in the session possible. While nauseating to hear, she spoke the truth, an inconvenient reality we must learn to address, and soon, because while not her intention, the “everything” she noted made possible by gas and oil includes NM’s massive contribution to climate change.
Admittedly, if NM stopped drilling tomorrow, the planet would continue to cook. Curtailing drilling in NM is not nearly enough to reverse the earth’s warming. But if some state or nation doesn’t step to the plate and accept that survival requires sacrifice, we will simply cook in our own ill-gotten profits. And so another year passes as the lights dim on our future. We simply must figure this out.
There is another way to look at NM’s daunting challenge. There are precious few states or nations who can, in and of themselves, redirect our trajectory leading to a future no one wants. NM could demonstrate to the world how a state can look the climate crisis in the eye and not blink. But this is a heavy lift and if we are to achieve it, we need to be clear-headed, better-resourced and willing to make sacrifices. We will also need to operate in a legislative context more conducive to deep thinking and collegial problem solving. So…
Let’s Talk About the Sausage-Making Process
Roxanne’s Tuesday morning Alert outlined our wins and losses, and upon reflection, we passed some very impactful legislation this session. But we also suffered some important losses and we need to understand how the process works in order to achieve more success. Let’s start with time as an important impediment to thoughtful law-making.
Too Many Bills, Not Enough Time. Even a 60-day session is insufficient time to consider over 1,300 bills, memorials, and resolutions, this year’s total. We have so many bills being heard in different committees at once, you have committees struggling to achieve a quorum because members are presenting one of their bills in another hearing or because a floor session is continuing despite committees meeting at the same time. Legislators are regularly called into hearings and ask upon entering “what are we voting on?” and then without hearing a word of the discussion, cast a vote, often a deciding vote, as was the case on SB 493, Brackish Water. When Sen. Cervantes raced into the hearing room asking the chair “What is the vote?” with Chair Stefanics stating that it was a tie, “Do Pass, No Rec,” Sen. Cervantes quickly voted “Do Pass, no Rec,” breaking the tie which would have killed a very bad bill. Instead, a bad bill survived on the basis of a vote uninformed by debate and discussion. Not to pick on Sen. Cervantes, this kind of voting happens every day, but the point remains that in the current system, legislators must do Olympian-level gymnastics to meet the demands of sorting through 1,300+ bills in 8 weeks. They shouldn’t have to. We all suffer as a result.
Because there are so many bills to consider, Committee chairs must carefully weigh which bills to call, and many good bills die without a single hearing. With so many bills passing through committees, the House Speaker and Senate Floor Leader must schedule floor votes very carefully, not wasting scarce time on bills that will consume a large amount of debate time. Plus, in the last two weeks of any session, floor sessions may go late into the night, with exhausted legislators casting bleary-eyed votes on crucial issues. Not good law-making practice and not a context in which deep thinking on tough issues like housing, tax policy, and climate can be conducted.
Below are some easy fixes that could significantly improve the context in which lawmaking is done. Certainly more substantive changes are also needed, a topic for tonight’s Zoom Huddle and ongoing deliberations.
- Limit the number of bills a legislator can introduce in one session to 5. With a limit of 5, legislators would have to weigh carefully which bills to introduce, reducing the number of frivolous bills introduced each session. Given the choice of devoting time to creating a state aroma or creating paid family leave, I know my choice. By limiting the number to 5, assuming every legislator used up all their five chits, we’d have 5 X 70 = 350 from the House, and 5 X 42 = 210 from the Senate or 560 bills to consider, significantly less than half of what was introduced this year. Fewer bills to digest leaves more time to digest what is important.
- Eliminate the practice of introducing “dummy” bills after the mid-session deadline. What is the point of a deadline if legislators can drop bills that have not been vetted in the interim hearings into the mix. Too often these bills have not been scrutinized by legislators, advocates, or constituents, resulting in the likelihood of bills like SB 520 Clean Future Act, which had an ambitious goal –setting emissions limits — but lacked any enforcement arm to elevate an aspiration into impactful legislation. In the absence of vetting to improve the bill, it merely consumed 90 precious minutes in a Senate committee hearing, to no end.
- There is far more that needs to be done to improve the legislative process, and no doubt there are things advocates might do differently to be more proactive and vet their ideas during the interim hearings, building greater understanding of a bill’s purpose and impact. We will discuss these challenges this evening with our special guest Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez who has been one of the most successful legislators at not just introducing transformational legislation, but getting bills passed. See below.
Let’s Huddle Up & Talk About All This
Weds., March 22, 6 – 7:30 p.m. Our 2023 Session Debrief. Register at this link. We have much to discuss. If you haven’t registered please do so now. We will be joined by Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, one of our legislators who is courageous enough to introduce bold, impactful legislation and get it passed, e.g., SB 229 – HB 15 Special Immigrant Juvenile Classification Act, SB 13 Reproductive Health Provider Protections, HB 9 Unlawful Access to a Firearm by a Minor, SB 64 No Life Sentence for Juveniles. Because she introduces bold legislation, not state aromas, she also experiences defeat, e.g., SJR 6 Environmental Rights (Green Amendment). Join us to explore what makes the difference between success and failure at the Roundhouse and how this might inform shifts in advocacy strategies.
We should not minimize what we’ve achieved, but use our success to forge on to pass ever-more impactful laws in the future. Join us tonight! Register at this link.
In Solidarity and Hope,
Paul and Roxanne
Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation