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Caroline Fan on April 30, 2009 - 12:22pm
A number of progressive reforms were enacted in New Mexico this year. Green jobs and energy bills were some of the biggest measures that passed, along with a death penalty repeal and an anti-bias law.
Workers’ Rights: Notably, working families won several key bills, including a measure allowing child care providers to gain union recognition, a prevailing wage bill and wage enforcement for all workers including immigrants.
- Unemployment Insurance: HB 20 calls for weekly jobless benefits to be temporarily increased by 6.5%. The higher benefits will run from July 1 through June 30, 2011.
- Prevailing Wage: A public works prevailing wage bill (SB 33) passed that requires all businesses with public contracts over $60,000 to pay prevailing wages or face the termination of their contract if found in violation.
- Child Care Provider Collective Bargaining: SB 402 allows collective bargaining for child care providers. If providers elect to join a union, the bill creates a binding arbitration procedure, grievance process, and a labor-management committee.
- Wage Enforcement: HB 489 increases the penalty against employers who violate wage laws, awarding workers triple damages for wages found to be unpaid .
Criminal Justice: New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty after the legislature made HB 285 a defining issue. Gov. Richardson shifted his position on the issue after advocates discussed the moral imperative and economic benefits of life in prison versus capital punishment. In another win for criminal justice and immigration advocates, a bill to prevent bias-based profiling by police (HB 428) became law. It directs law enforcement agencies to develop policies, procedures and training protocols to prevent profiling from occurring in public interactions with police officers.
Environment, Green Jobs and Energy: A number of significant renewable energy bills passed in New Mexico.
- SB 647 allows cities and counties to form financing districts, which could issue up to $2 million in no-interest bonds (from the federal recovery package) to provide loans for residential and commercial property owners to make renewable energy improvements, including solar, wind or geothermal energy systems. People also could take advantage of federal and state tax credits to cover part of their costs and they can receive rebates on electricity generated by the power system.
- SB 237 provides individual and corporate income tax credits for renewable energy interests in geothermal, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and coal-based electric generating facilities.
- HB 622 allows the state to take advantage of green jobs training money available under the federal Green Jobs Act of 2007. Funding will be targeted for training low-income individuals, veterans, and tribal and rural constituencies among others. The bill also requires the Higher Education Department and the Public Education Department to develop a state plan for green jobs training programs.
- SB 318 provides for appropriation of funds from the Job Training Incentive Program for development training in green collar jobs, with two-thirds going to urban communities.
- SB 288 provides funding to colleges and universities to conduct energy-related research and trainings on alternative energy and energy efficiency to vocational students.
- HB 40 stops municipalities from obtaining certain irrigation and agricultural water rights through condemnation by using the power of eminent domain.
Election reform: The House passed National Popular Vote while the Senate failed to move on it. Meanwhile, neither chamber moved on Election Day Registration (HB 52), which would make it substantially easier for citizens to participate in the electoral process by registering and voting on the same day.
Immigration: HB 295 creates a Sonora-New Mexico Commission to work on issues of common concern to the Mexican border state of Sonora and New Mexico. Richardson vetoed SB 21, which would have created a Department of Hispanic Affairs, but agreed to sign an executive order creating an advisory Hispanic Affairs Council. He also agreed to work with the legislature during the next session to create a Hispanic Affairs Office.
Public Safety: HB 279 allows victims of identity theft, including electronic identity theft, to obtain an “identity theft passport” from the attorney general's office. The passport would help victims of identity theft if they are stopped by police. The new law also allows victims of identify theft to have police and court records expunged so that victims are not punished for someone stealing their name and personal information.
Health Care: The state enacted a few smaller health reforms, while failing to grapple with larger issues of coverage debated in previous sessions:
- HB 293 protects health information and allowing for the release of aggregate health data.
- HB 438 states that Medicaid recipients must pay a premium (based upon income) for requesting emergency medical services when a hospital does not deem them necessary.
- SB 129 provides that pharmacies must disclose the current retail price of a prescription drug upon the request of a consumer or the Attorney General.
- SB 178 clarifies the responsibilities of New Mexico in regards to committing adults to psychiatric care, establishing guidelines for involuntary committing of mentally disabled adults and requiring a hearing within a week for involuntarily committed adults and
- SB 278 creates and allows for the usage of electronic medical records and clarifies individual rights and privacy protections.
Transparency: The session saw a number of gains in transparency in government operations:
- HB546 creates a searchable, online database of state contracts starting Jan 1, 2010. The new law requires administration agencies to create a database of contracts valued at more than $20,000.
- HB 393 / SB 737 mandates that legislative conference committees (where differences on the budget and other issues are hammered out) be open to the public and news media.
- HB 598 requires government agencies to respond to electronically-filed requests for information.
Housing: SB 342 will protect home-buyers from predatory lending by establishing state licensing requirements for mortgage originators and regulate certain lending practices, including adjustable rate home loans.
Aid to Families: SB 137 excludes certain benefits and revenue sources as individual income when determining legal guardian eligibility for New Mexico public assistance and TANF programs. It also grants the Secretary of Human Services some flexibility in determining income eligibility and creates bonus incentives for individuals who are able to leave the TANF program.
Domestic Partnership: A proposal allowing domestic partnerships failed in the Legislature although it was backed by Gov. Richardson. The measure would have given certain same-sex or opposite-sex unmarried couples the same legal protections and benefits as married couples. Supporters will bring it up again next session, and notably, the Catholic Church in New Mexico might tolerate or even support the measure in an anticipated special session later this year, a move that is causing considerable consternation in some sectors.