What's happening at the Roundhouse?

Will New Mexico get recreational weed or the 'right to die'?

With two days left in the legislative session, here's where things stand

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 3/14/19

The state was buzzing with excitement before the start of the 60-day legislative session. Some of that excitement was worthwhile. But some initiatives that at first seemed like they were a given, like legalizing recreational marijuana, now appear all but dead.

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What's happening at the Roundhouse?

Will New Mexico get recreational weed or the 'right to die'?

With two days left in the legislative session, here's where things stand

Posted

We are down to the wire for the 2019 session of the New Mexico Legislature.

The state was buzzing with excitement before the start of the 60-day legislative session. A new governor had just taken office, and both chambers of the Legislature were under the control of Democrats, fueling a notion that this session would see significant progress on multiple high-profile fronts.

Some of that excitement was worthwhile. A handful of the bills debated by lawmakers this year have passed the House, Senate and been signed by the governor -- or are currently waiting for her signature. But at the same time, some initiatives that at first seemed like they were a given, like legalizing recreational marijuana, now appear all but dead.

The legislative session finishes on Friday (March 15).

Here's a breakdown of 10 important bills and where they stand: already law, will likely become law or probably dead in the water.

Already law

As of Wednesday (March 13), 45 bills have passed both chambers and have already been signed by the governor.

Perhaps the most high-profile among them is Senate Bill 8, which requires background checks for almost all firearm sales.

Such background checks will have to be handled by someone with a federal firearm license and the fee for doing so would be capped at $35. Exemptions to this law include firearm exchanges between law enforcement and among immediate family members.

Criticism of the bill was front and center in Taos County when the county commission approved a symbolic resolution that took aim at SB 8 and other firearm related bills. The resolution, sponsored by Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe and approved in a 3-2 vote last week (March 5), was similar to other "Second Amendment sanctuary" resolutions that were approved by the majority of New Mexico counties.

However, upon signing the bill, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said, "The work we do to make our communities safer is never complete, but this legislation represents a tremendous step forward."

Another bill that will have an impact on Northern New Mexico is SB 11, which deals with revenue from national labs, such as Los Alamos National Lab, where many Taos County residents are employed. If a nonprofit takes control of operations at a national lab, that nonprofit is still on the hook for paying gross receipts taxes.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

A company responsible for LANL, Triad National Security, is comprised of two large universities and another technology nonprofit. Tax revenue from LANL amounts to about $77 million annually.

SB 191 imposes new reporting requirements on lobbyists. In bygone legislative sessions, lobbyists didn't have to report spending money on lawmakers -- for lunch or dinner, say -- as long as the bill was less than $100. This law changes that so that lobbyists have to provide a total dollar figure for expenses of less than $100, and categorize them as meals or drinks, or other types of expenses.

On the governor's desk

These bills have passed both chambers and are waiting for action by the governor. In total, 79 such bills have made it through the Roundhouse as of press time.

The Energy Transition Act, SB 489, is an ambitious piece of legislation that aims aggressively to transition New Mexico's energy portfolio to renewable energy. The bill would require that the state's energy come from 50 percent renewable sources by 2030 and 80 percent only 10 years later.

The energy transition legislation passed the Senate in a 32-to-9 vote March 6, and then passed the House by a 43-to-22 vote on Tuesday (March 12). Rep. Roberto "Bobby" Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, voted for the measure, as did Cisneros.

"When we were presented the chance to move toward cleaner sources of energy, we took it, boldly charting a course to a carbon-free future, permanently centering our commitment to lower emissions and setting an example for other states," the governor said of the bill.

On the hemp front, both chambers passed the Hemp Manufacturing Act, House Bill 581. This bill hands broad regulatory and licensing responsibilities to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, though manufacturing permits and regulation -- particularly where human consumption is at play, as with CBD products -- will be handled by the New Mexico Environment Department, according an a fiscal analysis of the bill.

Following through on one of the governor's signature policy issues, early childhood education, the Legislature approved the creation of a cabinet-level Early Childhood Education and Care Department via SB 22. Programs that deal with children, child care and early childhood education are currently handled by several departments.

In a win for the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, the Legislature has sent SB 20, the Sex Designation on Vital Records Act, to the governor.

This bill makes it far less cumbersome to change a person's sex designation on their birth certificate -- an important step in having the government recognize a person's gender identity and unlocking access to various government and private resources. The bill, if signed into law, will let a person chose "X" for their sex, rather than just "M" or "F," for male and female.

Importantly, the bill eliminates the need for gender-reassignment surgery prior to altering a birth certificate.

According to a nationwide survey from 2015, only about 9 percent of transgender people were able to change their gender on their birth certificate.

Unlikely to make it

Though these bills have made it through some committees and chambers of the Legislature, their once-promising passage is now highly unlikely, as the legislative session ends Friday.

One of the most talked about issues ahead of the session was the legalization of recreational marijuana, which the governor supported as long as there were checks and balances in place to preserve the medical cannabis industry and market in New Mexico.

HB 356, the Cannabis Regulation Act, would have legalized relational cannabis and also create state-run cannabis stores.

Of all the potential bills, it was the closest to opening the state to recreational marijuana. It passed the House committees and then, on March 7, the entire House.

Gonzales voted against the measure, while Taos County's other lawmaker in the House, Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, voted in favor of it.

"Having a state-run store exposes the state to unknown risks and consequences from the federal government. Other states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana have passed these risks and consequences onto the third-party sellers," said Gonzales via an email to The Taos News. "A state-run store may stifle innovation and creativity that comes from having the private sector take the lead in this new industry for New Mexico.

"I am in support of the continued use of medial marijuana; however, the recreational use of marijuana still needs to be examined," he said.

Herrera, on the other hand, said, "I voted for recreational marijuana because I campaigned on that issue and said that I was for decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. I think the state will study other state systems and work out a plan for state-run marijuana stores. We'll see if this gets through the Senate."

But that's highly unlikely. The bill is still sitting in a Senate committee as of press time.

Also on the issue of cannabis, SB 406 would have made certain changes to the state's medical marijuana program, one of the oldest in the country.

The bill would have made more than a dozen changes to the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, the law that created the cannabis program in the first place. Generally, it would have made it easier for patients to get cannabis through measures like expanding the list of qualifying conditions eligible for enrollment to the program.

Amendments to the bill removed some patient protections the bill sponsor was seeking. As it stands now, the bill would still allow employers to fire someone for using cannabis even if that person is enrolled in the state's program.

The bill passed the Senate on March 7, was given a "do pass" recommendation by a Senate committee Monday (March 11) and is currently in the top 100 bills to be considered by the full Senate.

Another high-profile bill that isn't getting into law this year is HB 90, the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act. The bill would have made New Mexico the ninth jurisdiction in the country where a person diagnosed with a terminal illness could get medical assistance in hastening their death.

The law would have made medical aid-in-dying a right, created a framework for reporting data on the practice to the state and removed the criminal liability for providing end-of-life assistance.

However, the bill was quietly tabled at the request of one of its sponsors because she believed the votes weren't there to pass it.

"What we do have, though, is the drive and the commitment to keep building momentum, to keep reaching out to legislators on both sides of the aisle and to keep educating people about medical aid-in-dying. … Something like this takes time," Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told The New Mexican in an email.

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