MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Legislative Summary

Well it’s all over once again - the New Mexico legislative session that is. It was a fast and furious thirty-day session with more than a billion dollars in capital outlay passed. New Mexicans will concretely benefit in the form of parks, roads, rodeo areas, refurbished fire departments, government vehicles and some education and pre-kindergarten support. Teachers and other state employees will get a raise in salary and state domestic violence programs received more support than they have in past years.

However, the majority of our legislators could not bring themselves to do anything for the majority of New Mexicans that live at or below the poverty level; failing to pass a minimum wage law. The arguments of the well heeled and finely tailored were heart wrenching as they testified about the impacts to their employers profits if forced to pay a living wage to their workers. Their justifications usually end with the economically acceptable threat that these companies and industries, “might just have to go elsewhere,” in some places this is called economic blackmail.

Although I do feel somewhat reassured by the passage of a bill requiring the use of paper ballots and the passage of another that prohibits gifts from prospective state contractors during the procurement period; the legislature fell short of passing any serious or broad measures to insure ethics reform. A memorial that would have created an interim study commission to look into a wide variety of options for ethics reform, including lobbyist disclosures, died in the Senate. Not having any ethical reform means that products such as Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, which is in over 6,000 food products, some of which we consume on a daily basis. The Japanese Corporation Ajinomoto is the manufacturer of Aspartame. The company can employ the best hired hands in New Mexico to wield their political influence to block public state hearings on the sweetener with threats of litigation, as well as kill legislation that would protect the public. Aspartame’s safety was and continues to be questionable.
There was also a slew of anti-immigrant, or should I say xenophobic legislation introduced this year. Legislation that ran the gamut of trying to roll back college admission, drivers licenses for immigrants and even amazingly suggesting that our already hard-pressed state National Guard now take on the job of immigration. Another bill would have authorized police to act as immigration officials. I am always struck by how the same people that want to criminalize undocumented workers, build walls across and militarize our southern border also support immigrant guest worker programs that do not offer minimum wage, shelter, or basic healthy and safe working conditions.

The New Mexico Acequia Association was successful in passing SB32 which extends liability immunity, ensuring that acequia employees acting in the scope of their duties are excluded from the waiver of immunity of liability. The bill also classifies officers, employees and volunteers of acequias as public employees and makes them eligible for insurance provided by the risk management division of General Services Department.

On the environmental front, which is, what may most concern our readers there was good and ugly. The Environmental Health Coalition was successful in passing HM 5. The Memorial would create a Mercury Reduction Task Force to look, at mercury issues in our state. The Solar Market Development Income Tax Credit also passed, this will give those that install a solar thermal system or a photovoltaic system in New Mexico a solar market development tax credit of up to thirty percent of the purchase and installation costs of the system. Clearly this is a good thing, however it means very little to the slave wage earners in New Mexico, as chances of them benefiting from this legislation are limited. We do understand however that this does help in moving forward a more sustainable and renewable energy agenda in New Mexico. At the same time however, a Low Income Weatherization Program, did not make it out of committee.

The New Mexico Environmental Justice Working Group (NMEJWG) convened by the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ) worked on a Commitment to Healthy Communities Memorial (SJM 27 and HJM 44). The Memorial called for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the New Mexico Health Department to work together to review their particular policies and regulations to more effectively work against environmental degradation, promote healthy communities, and have meaningful public participation particularly in low-income and people of color communities. The Memorial started off great, passing in committee and passing on the House floor with a 51 – 0 vote.

However, after successfully going through two Senate Committees, lobbyists working in behalf of waste companies and uranium enrichment interests, worked furiously providing misinformation and provoking fear in some legislators. On the Senate floor, in violation of its own rules of needing a 2/3 vote to remand either a bill or memorial to a third committee, the memorial was remanded to the Conservation Committee. This in the last week of the session was of course the “the kiss of death” for the Commitment to Healthy Communities Memorial. It seems incredible that some legislators will let themselves be driven by corporate and waste lobbyists against a fairly innocuous Memorial. How threatening can it possibly be to symbolically prioritize the health of the people of New Mexico? It would seen to be a “no brainer” and ultimately I guess it was. I want to recognize the tenacity and fearless work of the Memorial’s sponsors Senator Linda Lopez and Representative Harriet Ruiz and their staffs for their excellent efforts in fighting for the Memorial.

Some might measure their success by passage of a bill or memorial. Those of us committed to organizing and building a movement for social, economic and environmental justice see this work as part of our life work. Opportunities to educate legislators and the public at large, moving our issues forward, and making alliances with like-minded principled folks are victories that in the long run protect our communities. In the last three years the NMEJG, convened by the SNEEJ, has seen major victories in environmental justice in New Mexico including: state sponsored EJ Listening Sessions throughout New Mexico, Governor Richardson’s recently signed Executive Order on Environmental Justice, and the incorporation of EJ language in the proposed NMED Management Plan and proposed revisions to the state’s Solid Waste Regulations. Some wave away these successes as insignificant, but they do not live in our communities. Our challenge as social justice organizations is to organize and come together to demand accountability from legislators and expose those who are more committed to corporate special interests rather then the health, public welfare, and environment of New Mexico. We’ll be back!

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“New Mexico is an energy colony and energy development and natural resources exploitation must remain the focus of much of SRIC’s work. Although we continue to study problems which we feel are timely and of national import, as a public interest research organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Southwest Research and Information Center continues to remain responsive to community groups with constantly changing needs, bringing our technical and journalistic expertise to bear on local problems.”
—Katherine Montague, Editor
The Workbook
Volume 1, No. 14, April 1978

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