MON: Committee Passes Cannabis Legalization Bill, Outside Team To Help Albuquerque Police, + More

Feb 15, 2021


Legislators Advance Bill Aimed At Allowing Recreational Pot - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Legislators have advanced a proposal to legalize recreational cannabis across New Mexico and lift the state's tight restrictions on production for its medical cannabis program.

After more than six hours of testimony and deliberations, a legislative committee on health issues on Monday endorsed one bill backed by Democrats and sidelined a second, in efforts to set up a taxed and regulated marketplace for broad cannabis sales.

The two-day hearing pushed to the forefront an initiative that would subsidize medical marijuana for the poor and do away with current limits on the number of plants each licensed producer can grow.

In all, four legislative proposals have been filed that would throw open the doors to widespread marijuana sales and use — 14 years after New Mexico established a medical marijuana program involving a variety of medical conditions, from cancer to post-traumatic stress.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned in 2018 on efforts to launch a recreational marijuana marketplace to create new jobs and diversify an economy that is tethered closely to oil and natural gas production. Several prominent opponents of legalization lost legislative elections in 2020, boosting prospects for broad cannabis reforms.

Democratic state Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe pitched a bill Monday that would authorize statewide sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older with some local discretion over taxes and possible limitations on where and when pot is sold. It won endorsement on a 7-4 committee vote with Democrats in support.

Romero's bill — co-sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez and Deborah Armstrong — would waive current taxes on medical marijuana and add a state excise tax of 9% on recreational cannabis sales. Local governments could add an additional 4% tax.

One-fifth of the tax revenues from cannabis would be set aside to underwrite sales to medical cannabis patients who can't afford the drug. About one-third of revenues would go toward grants that reinvest in communities that have been disproportionately affected by criminalization of drugs and to fund substance abuse prevention programs and marijuana abstinence education for youths.

Other revenues would be channeled to the state general fund.

A bill from state Democratic state Rep. Tara Lujan of Santa Fe would maintain some state restrictions on how much cannabis can be grown by licensed producers. Proponents of the approach say it would guard against a potential price collapse that might consolidate the cannabis industry in the hands of a few large-scale industrial growers. That bill was set aside Monday in the House, while a Senate version remains under consideration.

Republicans in the legislative minority are expressing mixed opinions on whether or how to proceed with a recreational marijuana marketplace.

Outside Team To Assist Albuquerque Police Internal AffairsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The city of Albuquerque and the U.S. Department of Justice have proposed a plan to temporarily assist Albuquerque Police Department internal affairs investigators.

The Albuquerque Journal reported an outside team is expected to correct issues as they arise and train detectives on how to improve their job performance.

The proposal was filed in federal court and agreed to by the city, the justice department and an independent monitor overseeing police reform.

The plan is a response to a November report by independent monitor James Ginger that said the police department failed at every level to regulate itself.

Ginger evaluated progress the city made in compliance with a settlement agreement resulting from a 2014 justice department finding that officers showed a pattern and practice of excessive force.

Ginger found officers failed to report use of force, detectives in the Internal Affairs Force Division were "going through the motions" and the department leadership allowed subpar work that was approved by the department's chief at the time.

Chief Michael Geier was asked to step down partly because of the report. Deputy Chief Harold Medina now serves as interim head of the department.

Medina, who now serves as interim head of the department, said it welcomes the resources and expertise while changing its use-of-force investigations.

Bill Advances To Hold Special Primary Congressional ElectionAssociated Press

State legislators gave a warm welcome Monday to a bill that would change the candidate nomination process to replace U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland as she seeks confirmation as secretary of the Interior Department under President Joe Biden.

Haaland's confirmation would trigger a seldom-used party nomination process that some people regard as undemocratic.

Under current state law, candidates for a special general election would be nominated by a small circle of political activists who sit on central committees for the state Republican and Democratic parties.

A bill from Republican state Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque and Democratic state Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales would change the selection process to a district-wide special primary election, followed by the special general election.

On Monday, a Senate panel on election policy advanced the bill after its first public hearing. Further vetting lies ahead before a possible Senate floor vote.

Moores and Ely say that current primary selection process would effectively disenfranchises voters.

"This bill gives power to the electorate to choose their candidates and requires candidates to demonstrate voter support versus mere party support," Moores said in a statement.

The current nomination process also is being challenged in court by a Republican contender for the 1st District seat encompassing Albuquerque.

State legislative analysts estimate that the special primary election would double the $3 million cost of the special general election.

Navajo Nation Reports 55 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation officials reported 55 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths.

The latest numbers released Sunday evening bring the total number of cases on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 29,269 since the pandemic began. There have been 1,111 deaths reported related to COVID-19.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued a statement reminding people to continue to take precautions to avoid spreading the virus and to protect their loved ones. He also encouraged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The tribe has a nightly curfew in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to limit the spread of the virus.

Tribal officials said more than 15,760 people have recovered from COVID-19 on the reservation and nearly 240,000 tests have been administered.

New Mexico Reports 200 COVID-19 Cases, 9 Deaths Monday – Associated Press

New Mexico health officials reported 200 additional COVID-19 cases on Monday and nine deaths.

The latest numbers bring the state to a total of 180,761 known cases and 3,538 deaths since the pandemic began.

Bernalillo County reported more cases than any other, with 65 new cases. Doña Ana County reported 21 new cases, San Juan County reported 20 cases and McKinley County reported 19 cases.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

New infections in New Mexico have been trending downward and health officials said last week that vaccinations have helped bring the numbers down.

However, they stressed that public health practices such as mask-wearing and hand-washing are still important as different variants continue to emerge.

Storm Brings Snow, Wind And Arctic Air Across New Mexico - Associated Press

A blizzard warning was issued for the Albuquerque metro area Sunday morning as a storm brought snow, wind and arctic air across New Mexico. 

Authorities said roads are snowy and icy across northern, central and eastern New Mexico.

State Department of Transportation officials said the storm may bring whiteout conditions along with bitter cold temperatures.

The National Weather Service said the storm is expected to continue for southern New Mexico into Monday morning and result in below-freezing temperatures in some locations.

Another storm system is expected to bring rain and snow chances across the state Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Weather Service meteorologists.

Settlement Reveals New Mexico Utility Funded Political Group - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The parent firm of the largest utility in New Mexico has funded a group that spent more than $130,000 on political advertisements in highly contested Democratic legislative primary election races last year. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports PNM Resources, the parent firm of Public Service Company of New Mexico, had financed the Council for a Competitive New Mexico. 

The disclosure was made public on Friday as part of a settlement agreement that involved the New Mexico Ethics Commission agreeing to drop a lawsuit it had filed in December. 

The commission also agreed to waive any civil penalties against the group and will not require it to register as a political committee.

Commission Executive Director Jeremy Farris said the lawsuit was intended to disclose the group's donors.

The Council for a Competitive New Mexico previously argued its contributors did not have to be disclosed, claiming their donations did not meet the state's contribution definition.

The group reported it spent thousands of dollars on campaign mailers, radio ads and phone calls in May and early June 2020 in support of five incumbent Democratic senators, four of whom were ousted in the primary election in June last year. It did not disclose its funding sources for campaign-related expenditures.

Heinrich, Luján Vote To Convict Trump In Impeachment Trial - Associated Press

Former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial ended Saturday with an acquittal as both of New Mexico's two Democratic senators voted in a majority that fell short of the two-thirds needed for conviction.

Sen. Martin Heinrich said what happened Jan. 6 at the Capitol was a "violent and bloody attack on our democracy (that) was cultivated by months of Donald Trump repeating a completely baseless lie of election fraud, over and over and over again."

Sen. Ben Ray Luján said he "took no pleasure in voting to convict President Trump for inciting an insurrection against the U.S. government." But Lujan added that there was "no doubt that the former president did everything in his power to overturn the results of the 2020 election."

Roswell To Temporarily Close Convention Center - Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

City officials have announced the Roswell Civic & Convention Center will temporarily close in April due to a lack of funding from low hotel occupancy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Roswell Daily Record reports that City Manager Joe Neeb said the city will not budget for operations at the center in its next fiscal year, which begins in July. 

Neeb said the company that manages the center was informed on Jan. 20 about terminating the agreement as of April 20. 

The closure is based mainly on hotel occupancy figures, currently about 35% capacity. 

Public Affairs Director Juanita Jennings said on Friday that the decision to close the facility to events was not easy. She said the center had booked more events last year than it ever had prior to the pandemic. 

Neeb said. The center is still expected to be used for City Council and committee meetings because those gatherings do not constitute convention center activities.

Jennings said lodging businesses would have to reach and maintain between 60% to 70% occupancy, and mass gatherings restrictions must be lifted before the city considers reopening the convention center.

New Mexico Weighs New Investments In Early Education - Associated Press

Democratic legislators in the state House have voted in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that could funnel more than a billion dollars toward early childhood education over the next six years in New Mexico. 

The Democratic-dominated House on Friday endorsed the initiative that would tap an additional 1% share each year from the state's $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and expand beneficiaries to include prekindergarten. 

A competing Senate proposal would increase trust distributions to K-12 education. 

Approval of the House plan would set the stage for compromise negotiations.

The debate is taking place amid major disruptions in public education, with most students studying remotely from home because of the pandemic and emergency health guidelines.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promoted the initiative to increase funding for early childhood education since her election in 2018, amid evidence that such programs are crucial.

Increasing withdrawals from the permanent fund from 5% to 6% would limit future earnings on investments and could limit spending on education in the long run.

Approval by the Legislature would trigger a statewide vote on the amendment during a future election, and Congress must also authorize changes to the state's land grant trust.

New Mexico's land grant fund distributed nearly $640 million to public schools during the fiscal year ending in June 2019.

Supreme Court Upholds Pandemic Procedures At Legislature  – Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has rejected a Republican challenge to emergency procedures in the state House of Representatives that have moved hearings and deliberations almost entirely online as a precaution against COVID-19. 

The high court declined to hear the lawsuit from leading Republican House legislators on Friday in a shortly worded order. 

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf says that emergency legislative procedures that rely heavily on videoconferencing are necessary in light of the pandemic. He says more people are participating in online legislative hearings than could possibly fit physically into committee rooms under normal circumstances.

An unnamed Republican lawmaker tested positive in January for the coronavirus at the Capitol, along with several staff.

The Statehouse is closed to the public and lobbyists, while the House limits participation in floor sessions to the speaker and one additional legislator from each party.

The state Senate has its own pandemic rules that allow legislators to attend floor sessions in-person or remotely from an office in the state Capitol building. House members can participate from home.

The Democratic-led Legislature convened on Jan. 19 for a 60-day session.

New Mexico Reports 285 New COVID-19 Cases And 13 More Deaths - Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 285 new cases of coronavirus and 13 additional deaths. 

The New Mexico Department of Health says the state has seen 180,571 cases and 3,529 known deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.  

Bernalillo County, the state's largest, had 64 of the new cases with Doña Ana County reported 63 cases. 

New infections in New Mexico have been trending downward and health officials said this week that vaccinations have helped bring the numbers down.  

However, they stressed that public health practices such as mask-wearing and hand-washing are still important as different variants continue to emerge.

Navajo Nation Reports 35 New COVID-19 Cases, 5 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials have reported 35 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths. 

The most recent numbers on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah bring the total number of cases to 29,205 and known deaths to 1,108 since the pandemic began. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued a statement reminding people that a mask mandate is in place on the reservation and he encouraged the wearing of two masks after a U.S. government study this week found that wearing two masks can be better than one in protecting against coronavirus spread. 

The tribe has a nightly curfew in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to limit the spread of the virus.