Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

legislative roundup; Jan 25, 2023

Jan 24—Days remaining in session: 53

Wildfire aid: Members of the Senate Conservation Committee wasted little time Tuesday voting unanimously to approve Senate Bill 6, which will provide no-interest loans to counties and municipalities still reeling from the historic Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

The funds would go directly to infrastructure needs, such as repairing or replacing roads, bridges and water treatment plants in the burn zone.

Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, told the committee anyone who has not seen the destruction in the wildfire zone will never understand how much it affected lives and homes.

Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, who co-sponsored the bill with Sanchez and Rep. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tasked with administering about $4 billion in federal wildfire aid, may support initiatives that fall under the state loan. That means the state could get reimbursed from FEMA and local governments would not have to pay back the loans.

Prescribed burns: The Senate Conservation Committee on Tuesday also tabled a bill that would prohibit federally prescribed burns in New Mexico in the spring.

Senate Bill 21, sponsored by Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, and Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, was a response to the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which burned over 300,000 acres in 2022. The fire was the result of federal burns that spread out of control. Griggs told committee members the bill “is one way to reduce the chance of these fires from occurring again.”

After hearing both sides of the issue from members of the public, Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, motioned to table the bill before committee members discussed it.

Mail call: Nestled on the ground floor of the state Capitol is an office Christal Branch calls the “hub” of the building — the mailroom and bill room. Branch and her staff of six collect and distribute mail for lawmakers, legislative aides and others who work in the building. They also make color-coded copies of bills for committee hearings and floor sessions.

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Branch, who manages the mailroom and bill room, said she couldn’t say how many pieces of mail her staff processes in a day, but she gestured to a mail log showing arrivals of hundreds of items Tuesday, including invitations, reports, flyers and constituent letters.

“There’s still a lot of people not connected to technology,” she said, adding most lawmakers stop by every day to check their mail and say hello.

The room is open whenever the Legislature is in session. If lawmakers argue bills late into the night, Branch’s staff is on hand and ready to provide copies of bills.

Branch, who has worked in state government for more than 30 years, retired in the summer but returned to work for this 60-day session.

Bill to ban TikTok: New Mexico would be the latest state to ban TikTok from government-issued devices under a bill sponsored by Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras.

“In addition to the federal government, more than half of all the states have already banned TikTok from their government devices,” Schmedes said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Both the FBI and the [Federal Communications Commission] have warned about user data being shared with the Chinese government,” he added. “This bill is a simple step we can take to mitigate national security risks and protect people’s personal information.”

Under Senate Bill 208, all three branches of government would be responsible for “implementing controls to prevent the use of TikTok on state government-issued equipment or networks under their control,” a news release states.

In remembrance: The Senate held a moment of silence to honor the mother of Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, who died early Tuesday.

“Father, we just lift up the Gallegos family for their loss today,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who led the chamber in prayer in remembrance of Maria Espinoza Gallegos.

“Father, I’ve gone through this recently myself, and I know how hard it is and how difficult it could be,” he said. “But we know that David’s mom is with you and that he will be able to see her again.”

Quote of the day: “We’re checking the school lunch menus across Santa Fe, Española. We’re trying to get the best meal that we can get. The governor wants to talk about school meals, so why not have a school meal ?” — Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who said the Senate Finance Committee will take a close look at meals in public schools — what students are eating and how much ends up in the trash — amid the governor’s push to provide free meals statewide.

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