2022 Session Wraps Up Without Passage of NM Voting Rights Act
Important Crime Bills, Increased Judicial Salaries Sent to Governor's Desk
The 2022 legislative session adjourned today with many important pieces of legislation not making it to the governor’s desk. The overall atmosphere, especially on voting rights bills, was contentious and frustrating for advocates like Common Cause. Yet, many representatives and senators showed courage and ingenuity in getting bills heard in such a short session. For them, and for us, voting rights in New Mexico was the top priority.
Mario Jimenez, Campaign Director at Common Cause New Mexico, worked closely with our sponsors, Rep. Pamelya Herndon and Sen. Harold Pope, along with our partners, Equality New Mexico (EQNM), NM Black Voters Collaborative (NMBVC), OLE, Progress Now NM, Native American Voters Alliance (NAVA) and the Center for Civic Policy (CCP) to pass House Joint Resolution 14 – a constitutional amendment to allow run-off elections at the local level, particularly for school boards. After being stalled for weeks, HJR 14 was passed by the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, but stalled in the House Judiciary Committee as the session ended. We know that we have some momentum and support behind the amendment, and look forward to reintroducing it at the 2023 regular session.
As a member of the New Mexico Voting Rights Coalition, with America Votes and many of the same partners, we worked to pass Senate Bill 8, the New Mexico Voting Rights Act. Senate Bill 8, if passed, would have made New Mexico a voting rights leader in the nation. SB 8 would have streamlined the restoration of voting rights, greatly improved Native voter protections, developed a permanent absentee list, improved automatic voter registration and given 16 & 17 yr olds the opportunity to engage in the electoral process. SB 8, after multiple amendments, passed the Senate Rules Committee and was then moved onto Senate Judiciary and Senate Finance where it faced still more amendments, stripping it of many major provisions. SB8, sponsored by Senator Peter Wirth and Representative Javier Martinez, made it to the Senate Floor, but was blocked through a procedural move by its opponents.
Senate Bill 144, Acts of Intimidation Against Election Workers, originated as legislation that would help provide greater protection to election workers and those administering elections. As stall tactics continued to bog down SB8 in the Senate, SB144 was amended to include important pieces of the NM Voting Rights Act. Upon adoption of the amendments, SB144 became the most important piece of democracy legislation circulating in the roundhouse. During the final hours, the House of Representatives successfully passed SB144, sending it to the Senate for concurrence. SB144 needed a final concurrence vote from the Senate where it failed as a result of a filibuster by Senator William Sharer. As a result, no important voting rights or election protection bills were passed during this session.
Another bill about the judiciary branch, Senate Bill 2 was passed by both the House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb 15th. This bill, if signed by the governor, will pay judges on par with federal magistrate judges (currently appx. $205,000/year). By upping the pay of the justices, we will encourage more qualified applicants to seek judicial positions. While some federal judge vacancies have received more than 80 applicants for a single position, a recent state judgeship position in Las Cruces received only three applicants (of which only one was considered qualified by the nominating committee). We encourage the governor to sign this bill.
Senate Joint Resolution 3 was also passed by both the House and Senate on Tuesday, Feb 15th. This joint resolution, if signed by the governor, will mandate that any justices appointed by the governor must serve at least one year before running for election. By putting this law in place, the public will be able to make informed decisions when that judge runs for election as they will have served a year on the bench. It will also encourage applicants to apply when a vacancy occurs prior to an election. We encourage the governor to also sign this bill.
Common Cause NM worked throughout the session as part of the New Mexico S.A.F.E. coalition to support bills such as House Bill 81 that would have drastically reduced fines and fees for individuals or allowed them to complete community service if they could not afford some of the fines and fees levied against them as penalties. We also supported Senate Bill 43, otherwise known as the “Second Chance” bill, to protect children from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Both of these bills were withdrawn by their sponsors as they realized that they would be amended in a way that would harm their core intent. We applaud the sponsors for not compromising the integrity of this legislation.
Many other unconstitutional “tough on crime bills” were defeated thanks to the work of all of the organizations with NM SAFE including House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 281.
In the end, House Bill 68 combining the language added into Senate Bill 231, sponsored by Sen. Cervantes, was passed on the final day. While we do not support everything in SB 231/HB68, there is strong language and funding included in the bill that will address more accountability for law enforcement, training requirements for law enforcement, and additional resources for our courts, including the creation of several new judicial positions.
Additionally, thanks to the leadership of our community partner, EQNM, HB 68 was also amended to include a new “panic defense” law. This law will take away the ability to claim a defense that has been used against members of our trans and queer communities throughout the country. It will prohibit the use of this defense when those community members are injured or killed by someone who claimed they “panicked” when they learned of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We urge the governor to sign HB 68 into law.
While the session was not all that we had hoped for, Common Cause NM will continue to fight for voting rights, a more just and fair judicial system, appropriate salaries for judges and other elected officials, protection of our election system, and transparency in our political processes. We promise to keep you informed as bills land on the Governor’s desk.