Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces: From the start, he was leery of the bill to legalize recreational cannabis. Cervantes helped derail the measure after becoming convinced it was written for a favored few.
He said the 189-page proposal was really “about picking and eliminating who would make the hundreds of millions of dollars as the kingpins of a new drug industry.”
Cervantes did more than stop a high-profile measure. He was the primary sponsor of a bill to seize guns from people who might be a danger to themselves or others. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, says she will sign it into law.
With the gun bill, Cervantes — who ran against Lujan Grisham for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018 — drew the anger of most of the state’s 33 sheriffs. They said it violates constitutional rights. Cervantes, an attorney, predicts it will survive any legal challenges.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham: Legislators allocated $17 million for her new Opportunity Scholarship program to send more people to college at no cost to them.
With crushing student debt a national scourge, Lujan Grisham’s initiative filled newspapers and airwaves. The question many state residents asked was why the governor didn’t use her influence to shore up the existing Legislative Lottery Scholarship Program, which has a similar mission.
Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops: A relentless lobbyist for full statewide funding of early childhood education, he moved legislators more to his point of view.
Sánchez’s toughest foe, state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, co-sponsored what is now a law that dedicates another $20 million to $30 million a year to education programs for infants and their parents.
It’s only a partial solution, Sánchez said. He plans to return in 2021 for the 11th consecutive year with his grander initiative. Sánchez wants the state to spend 1 percent of its $19.7 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund on early childhood programs.
A slimmed-down version of that proposal advanced through the House of Representatives and all the way to Smith’s Senate Finance Committee. It died there.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces: He’s one lawmaker who means it when he advocates for open government.
Steinborn sponsored a change to Senate rules after a couple of observers were barred from photographing a public committee hearing. Then the Conservation Committee ejected a television reporter who had her camera rolling at another open hearing, giving extra momentum to Steinborn’s cause.
His proposal to allow anyone to film or photograph hearings without receiving prior approval from the committee leaders sailed through an embarrassed Senate.
Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque: An up-and-coming lawmaker, she co-sponsored two bills that might improve life in cities and school districts.
One measure is a sweeping crime-fighting bill that includes heightened penalties for offenses committed with guns. Stansbury’s hometown should be an economic engine, but high crime rates damage the cause.
The other bill covers meal costs for low-income public school students, a big step forward in a state with high poverty rates. The bill covers fees for about 12,000 kids whose parents’ earnings are low enough to qualify for reduced-price meals through a federal program but too high for free breakfasts and lunches.
Sen. Joe Cervantes and other members of the Senate Conservation Committee: They either advocated for the ouster of KRQE television reporter Rachel Knapp or sat in silence as she was shown the door for filming a public meeting of the committee.
Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, objected to Knapp using her camera during the proceeding. Cervantes was one of those who failed to speak up publicly for a reporter doing her job.
Special condemnation goes to the committee chairwoman, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, and the vice chairwoman, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque. Stefanics said hearings already are webcast, as if a reporter working on a story had that same mission. Sedillo Lopez gave the order ousting Knapp.
Then these same lawmakers voted for a new Senate rule eliminating the requirement that reporters and members of the public receive permission to film or photograph public hearings. It carried 40-0.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham: Like Cervantes, Lujan Grisham makes both lists. Her push for cannabis legalization in a 30-day session ate up precious time in the Senate and ended with a predictable defeat.
Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque: She and the state’s other 111 legislators will say they’re believers in transparent government. But Stewart used what lawmakers call a “dummy bill” to revive and pass a proposal on collective bargaining laws that had died in a Senate committee.
Stewart prefers the term “emergency bill” to describe a bland placeholder that all at once transforms into specific legislation. Whatever it’s called, it leaves the public in the dark. The League of Women Voters and other good-government groups have condemned the use of dummy bills.
Stewart got what she wanted, as the Senate approved the bill on a 24-17 vote. Now it goes to the governor for consideration, but the process Stewart used tainted the bill.
Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces: To his credit, he tried to reform how business is conducted in one of the more dysfunctional state agencies, the Public Regulation Commission. But Small didn’t make a good enough case with fellow Democrats in the Senate, who might have saved his bill. Instead, they helped kill it.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington: He loves the sound of his voice and the ring of his clichés.
Sharer filibustered again this year, rambling for two hours Thursday about Africa, wages of fast-food workers and the clean air in coal towns in Wyoming and New Mexico. Senate rules allow even the weakest debater to hold the floor to bottle up other legislation.
It’s a dream come true for Sharer.