State lawmakers ended a 12-day special legislative session Friday by placing a final stamp of approval on a controversial Senate redistricting map and a bill clarifying language in the state’s Medical Malpractice Act.
In contrast to an evening of emotion and bitterness on the Senate floor only a few hours before, Friday’s business was reserved and efficient: the Democrat-dominated House passed and moved a redrawn Senate map to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who in the morning signed the bill that reconfigures New Mexico’s three congressional seats.
But as legislators began leaving the Capitol, several noted it wasn’t just the maps that are different.
The mood was, too.
Republicans remained angered by Democrats’ changes to maps offered by the Citizen Redistricting Committee, complaining they were altered to favor one party and also marginalize GOP Hispanics in the Legislature. But Native leaders said the session offered Indigenous people a chance to have a long-overdue say in New Mexico politics.
Those different viewpoints weren’t hard to find.
“It does appear that what we have done in this Legislature is to further divide,” said House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.
But Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said the bad feelings stirred by the redistricting fight were an orchestrated attempt by some to use “people of color” as “political pawns,” artificially pitting Hispanics against Native Americans.
“Our people are smarter than that,” Lente said.
Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, who is Black, said the outcome of the redistricting fight will affect the state for years. Powdrell-Culbert, whose district will shift to encompass a heavily Democratic area of Sandoval County, urged lawmakers to come together to address the growing conflict.
“This [redistricting] process sucks, to be totally honest,” she said.
The debate on the Senate floor on Senate Bill 2 on Thursday whipped up emotions on all sides, as Republican senators argued the bill marginalized Hispanics and favored Democratic lawmakers. The Senate approved the measure Thursday night.
While some House Republicans, including Montoya, played many of the same notes during Friday’s debate, their tone was softer as they argued the Senate map was gerrymandered and decreases the number of majority-Hispanic voting districts by one, from 16 to 15.
House Democrats countered the approach was fair and based on a number of factors, from the need to connect communities of similar interest to adjusting for population shifts in certain parts of the state. The House voted 38-22 along party lines to approve the bill, which now goes to Lujan Grisham for her signature. Also waiting for her is the new map for the state House of Representatives, which was approved by the Senate late Thursday night.
The Senate also approved a bill amending language in the Medical Malpractice Act. That law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, puts a $4 million cap on malpractice claims against big hospitals in the state and a $750,000 limit for smaller providers.
But the law is unclear when it comes to independent providers who also serve as hospital contractors. As such, those health care providers have said they may have to close if they can’t afford the $4 million insurance for malpractice payouts.
New language added to the bill postpones enactment of those new fees for two calendar years, giving state leaders and health care providers time to find a solution.
The House on Friday voted to concur with the Senate’s changes to the bill and sent it to the governor.
New Mexico’s past efforts at redistricting have often ended up in the court system. Voting districts in New Mexico were last drawn in 2012 by a state District Court after then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, vetoed a redistricting plan drafted by a Legislature with a majority of Democrats following the 2010 census.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who announced his departure from the Democratic caucus before the special session, said Thursday he and others are considering a legal challenge.