Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

45 Days Remaining In 2023 Session

Legislative Roundup
The Santa Fe New Mexican

COVID-19: An unknown number of positive COVID-19 cases have resurfaced at the Roundhouse, which has been fully open to the public during a legislative session for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“I just wanted to let the audience know that many people are wearing masks because we do have COVID starting up again among our committees, our committee secretaries, the hallways, so please be careful,” Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said at the start of Tuesday’s Senate Conversation Committee, which she chairs.

“If you’re not going to wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart. That’s just a recommendation, not a requirement,” she added.

This year’s 60-day legislative session also marks the first since the start of the pandemic without masking, vaccination or testing requirements to gain entry to the state Capitol.

Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, wrote in an email the Legislature isn’t keeping track of COVID-19 positive test results this year.

“We are being made aware of some, but not all, so we have no number to report,” he wrote.

Chris Nordstrum, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Office, wrote in an email the Legislature is “still being very mindful of the ongoing risks” posed by COVID-19, even though it isn’t tracking cases.

“Individuals experiencing symptoms or with known exposure are asked to self-test and follow the latest [New Mexico Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance which was provided to all employees,” he wrote. “Per this guidance, those who test positive are asked to self-isolate for 5 days. If someone knows they’ve been exposed, they are asked to wear a mask for 10 days and test 5 days following exposure or when symptoms develop.”

Money in state politics: The oil and gas industry isn’t just a major source of revenue for state government coffers.

The industry is also a big source of money in state politics, contributing more than $4.5 million to political campaigns during the 2022 election cycle, according to a report released Tuesday by New Mexico Ethics Watch.

The report — Oil And Gas Industry Influence During The 2022 Election Cycle: So Much Spending, So Much Losing — found a large share of the contributions went to unsuccessful campaigns.

“The most glaring example was Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti, who decisively lost his race against incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham,” the report states. “The industry gave Ronchetti more than four times the amount it gave to Lujan Grisham.”

Of all the oil and gas contributions in New Mexico last year, almost 20 percent went to Ronchetti’s campaign, the report states.

The report found the oil and gas industry spent significantly more on political causes last year than in the 2020 election cycle, when it contributed $2.8 million. “That’s likely because there was no governor’s race in 2020,” the report states.

Yellow socks: First-term Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Bosque, is perhaps the quietest member of the Senate.

His socks are a different story.

Sanchez likes to pair his suit and tie with socks that make a statement.

On Monday, he wore a maroon suit with green Yoda socks. On Tuesday, his black suit contrasted with bright yellow Tweety Bird socks.

From legislator to legislative staffer: Phelps Anderson of Roswell didn’t run for reelection in November, but he’s been at the state Capitol every day nonetheless.

Phelps, a Republican turned independent, is working as a legislative analyst for the Senate Finance Committee.

“You know, public service gets in your blood,” he said.

Phelps said he’s been tasked with work on the budget and capital outlay because of his past experience.

“I tell people it’s great to see the forest and not just the trees. You realize that when you’re in the Legislature, after about the third week, it’s this,” he said, covering his eyes with his hands.

Phelps, who had been elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican, had a falling out with leaders of the GOP after he joined a majority of Democrats in 2021 in support of repeating a 1969 law that criminalized abortion. After a redistricting that would have put him in a matchup against a sitting Republican legislator, Phelps opted not to seek reelection in the heavily Republican area.

Money for wildlife corridor: According to the state Department of Transportation, an average of 900 crashes a year were caused by collisions with wildlife between 2002 and 2018.

Lawmakers on the Senate Conservation Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to support Senate Bill 72, which would provide $50 million for the state to build wildlife corridors — underpasses, overpasses and game fencing — to protect humans and animals along some prioritized roadways.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, told committee members the funds could be used to leverage hundreds of millions of federal dollars to use to support all aspects of the Wildlife Corridors Act, which the state Legislature passed into law in 2019.

Stewart said funding the act will help with “fixing cars, fixing people, health care costs — and that doesn’t include the animals” hurt or injured in crashes. She said such crashes cost the state about $20 million.

SB 72 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

New funds for funds?: The Senate Conservation Committee also unanimously voted to support Senate Bill 9, which would add two new funds to the State Treasury: The Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund and the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. The bill appropriates $150 million from the general fund to the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund, which will be invested by the State Investment Office.

On July 1 of every year, the fund would distribute any income in excess of $833,000 to the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund.

The money from the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would be distributed to six state agencies to support water, land, wildlife and other conservation and preservation programs and entities in the state. SB 9 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

Quote of the day: “Every time we have something like this, some people are like, ‘You’re going up there and wasting time, making the biscochito the official whatever.’ This one really is different because it is so true to the marketing of New Mexico that we already have.” — Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, responding to criticism to a bill he is sponsoring to make the aroma of roasting green chile in the fall the official aroma of New Mexico.

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