TUES: Legislators File First Bills Ahead Of 2021 Session, City Officials Prepare For Vaccines, +More

Jan 5, 2021


Legislators Eye Minimum Sick Leave, Anti-Discrimination LawAssociated Press

New Mexico legislators are unveiling initiatives on issues ranging from minimum sick-day requirements as a precaution against contagions in the workplace to halting discrimination against racial minorities for hair styles.

The year's first draft bills were posted Monday on the Legislature's website and hint at an ambitious agenda for annual legislative session that starts on Jan. 19.

Hundreds of bills, resolutions and proposed constitutional amendments are likely to be heard.

A proposal from Democratic state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos would establish a minimum amount of sick leave that can be used to care for family members.

The secretary of the Workforce Solutions Department would be responsible for enforcement.

Separately, Democratic state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque has drafted legislation that would outlaw schools from discriminating against Black and Native American women's hairstyles — including braids, cornrows, bantu knots and Afros as well as headdresses.

California was the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination against Black people for wearing hairstyles such as braids, twists and locks.

Lawmakers are still putting finishing touches on bills about abortion rights, internet access and policing reforms.

New Mexico Cities Prepare For Vaccination DistributionAssociated Press

Las Cruces city officials will be creating a vaccination task force to help coordinate distribution when doses become more widely available.

In Albuquerque, officials say nearly 300 first responders with the city's fire and rescue department have received their first shots.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Tuesday that the city is supporting the state Health Department's efforts to make sure all residents have access to both testing and the vaccine as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

State health officials on Tuesday reported an additional 1,201 confirmed COVID-19 cases, pushing the statewide total since the pandemic began closer to 150,000.

The death toll in New Mexico also neared 2,600 with an additional 20 fatalities reported Tuesday.

New Mexico Oil And Gas Royalty Audits Net $2.3MAssociated Press

Officials with the New Mexico State Land Office say audits of oil and natural gas royalty collections turned up an additional $2.3 million for the state in 2020.

That marks a nearly 48% increase over the previous year. About 85% of all royalty revenue collected by the land management agency is audited every five years. Analysts look for mistakes and errors in reporting.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all the audits initiated after March were done remotely rather than traveling to company offices out in the field.

Money generated by leases on state trust land help support public schools.


Lawmakers Say New Mexico Energy Law Needs To Protect Customers - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Three Democratic state senators who initially supported New Mexico's landmark energy law say changes are needed to protect utility customers from significant rate hikes.

The 2019 Energy Transition Act allows Public Service Co. of New Mexico to recover from customers 100% of the costs of closing its coal-fired power plant.

The lawmakers are warning that a deregulation provision in the law could expose customers to potentially astronomical costs stemming from other power plant closures in the future.

That includes a nuclear plant in Arizona in which PNM holds a share. Some consumer advocates raised similar concerns when the law was being debated.

Aside from mandating more renewable energy, New Mexico's energy law includes a financing mechanism that supporters have said is necessary for the closure of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

It allows PNM to recover investments in the plant by selling bonds that will be paid off by utility customers. The bonds will raise roughly $360 million to fund decommissioning costs, severance packages for displaced workers and job training programs.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top Democrat lawmakers who helped shepherd the bill through the Legislature claimed in public statements and in court filings that the law didn't infringe on the Public Regulation Commission's authority.

The Democratic leaders, along with environmentalists, touted the bill as a way to shift the state toward more renewable energy.

The legislation proposed by the three senators would amend the energy law to reinstate the commission's oversight for utility plant closures. They described the changes as "surgical amendments."

Albuquerque City Council Approves Hair Discrimination BanKRQE-TV, Associated Press

City officials in New Mexico have voted in favor of an ordinance prohibiting race-based discrimination against hair texture and hairstyles in schools and the workplace.

KRQE-TV reported the Albuquerque City Council voted on Monday to amend its Human Rights Ordinance to adopt the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, joining a national campaign.

Councilmember Lan Sena introduced the act after several states passed similar laws, including California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington.

The act prohibits workplace discrimination based on hairstyles as well as headdresses worn for cultural or religious reasons.

Xcel Energy Seeks Rate Increase To Recover InvestmentsAssociated Press

A major electric utility that serves customers throughout eastern New Mexico is asking state regulators to approve a rate increase.

Xcel Energy says the filing was prompted by the recent completion of the Sagamore Wind Project near Portales. The wind farm is part of more than $1 billion in investments made by the utility since 2019.

Improvements also have included new transmission lines and substations. Xcel officials says raising customer rates will allow the company to recover some of its investments.

It will likely be several months before utility regulators make a decision on the proposed rate hike.

If approved, Xcel said the new rates would not take effect until the fourth quarter. A typical residential customer could see an average increase of about $9.80 per month.

230K New Mexicans Sign Up On State Vaccine Registration Site Associated Press

More than 230,000 New Mexicans have signed up since the state launched its vaccination registration website two weeks ago.

The state Health Department said Monday that the site has been updated to allow people to complete a comprehensive profile that includes personal medical conditions, employment information and other data.

Officials said the site was created to help manage distribution once more vaccines become available.

Those who register will be notified when they become eligible and shots are available in their area.

The state also plans to launch a call center to provide additional support for those who wish to register or ask questions about the process.

State health officials reported that confirmed COVID-19 infections in New Mexico now total 147,315, including the 936 additional cases reported Monday. More than 2,570 deaths have been linked to the virus since the pandemic began.

Albuquerque Mayor Must Now Give Notice Before Raising City FeesAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM

Fees in the city of Albuquerque can no longer be hiked up without notice.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the city council unanimously approved a resolution Monday that mandates the mayor notify the body at least 90 days prior to changing city rates or fees if not done during the annual budgeting meetings.   

The bill was introduced by Councilor Pat Davis, who said his constituents have contacted him several times over the last year to complain about surprise parking fee changes that the councilor had been unaware of.

The mayor has the ability to change many of the city of Albuquerque’s rates and fees. Davis says the resolution does not give the city council the power to make decisions about those proposed changes, but instead requires they be vetted. The advanced notice will allow for a record and public comment to be made before any rate or fee hikes are implemented.

A spokesperson for Mayor Tim Keller told the Journal his administration supports the resolution.

Pattern Energy Begins Work On New Mexico Transmission LineAssociated Press

A California-based renewable energy company says financing is in place and work has started on a new transmission line that will funnel wind power from central New Mexico to other markets.

Pattern Energy Group said Monday that the Western Spirit transmission line and more than a gigawatt of wind projects are expected to come online by the end of 2021.

CEO Mike Garland called it the largest single-phase construction of renewable power in the U.S. New Mexico's largest electric utility — Public Service Co. of New Mexico — will own and operate the 150-mile long transmission line when it’s complete.

Spanning Guadalupe, Lincoln and Torrance counties, developers are promising more than 1,000 temporary construction jobs, 100 permanent jobs and $2 billion in economic impact for the state.

New Mexico Begins Public Meeting On Proposed Methane Rules - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico oil and gas regulators on Monday kicked off a public hearing on proposed rules for managing venting and flaring by the industry.

Oil and gas revenues underpin the state's budget, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised that her administration would adopt some of the toughest rules in the U.S. for cracking down on methane and other emissions.

Under the proposal, operators would need to reduce their waste by a fixed amount every year to achieve an ultimate gas capture rate of 98% by December 2026.

Environmentalists are concerned about loopholes, saying the state should prohibit all venting and flaring.

Representatives of the oil and gas industry have argued that operations already are taking advantage of new technology to reduce emissions. Industry officials are expected to make opening statements Tuesday when the hearing continues.

New Mexico's effort to build a new regulatory system for methane pollution began nearly two years ago and involved a special committee of experts that hosted hours of discussion and technical presentations by scientists, environmentalists and other industry experts.

The rules being considered by the Oil Conservation Commission deal specifically with waste due to venting and flaring in oilfields. Separate rules drafted by the state Environment Department are aimed at oil and gas equipment that emit volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

Navajo Nation Reports 110 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Monday reported 110 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths.

The latest figures increased the tribe's totals since the pandemic began to 23,841 cases and 822 known deaths.

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.

Also on Monday, the Navajo Department of Health identified 73 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 on the tribe's vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation has renewed a mandated lockdown requiring all residents to stay home except for emergencies, shopping for essentials like food and medicine or traveling to an essential job. The lockdown is slated to last until Jan. 11.

Police Recover Random Bullet Fired Into Albuquerque Home - KOAT-TV, Associated Press

Albuquerque police are searching for the person who randomly fired a gun on New Year's Eve, sending a bullet into a boy's pillow moments before he would have been sleeping. 

KOAT-TV reports that investigators have recovered a projectile from the home of Sheri Kraemer. Police said they intend to use ballistics technology to track down the gun that it came from. 

Kraemer says late Thursday night she heard a loud noise from the bedroom where her 10-year-old grandson, Grant, was staying. Kraemer found a bullet on the pillow. The boy says he likely would have been sleeping there had the bullet hit a few minutes later.

Although nobody was injured, Kraemer says the family is shaken that someone chose to celebrate in such a dangerous way.

Police say they received around 115 calls of shots fired Thursday night until 5 a.m. Friday. Nearly 80 of them were picked up by a shot spotter notification system. No arrests were made.