N.M. governor signs voting, civil rights bills

By Jens Gould
jgould@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 6/29/20

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three pieces of legislation from the special session into law Friday, including bills aimed at streamlining voting during the novel coronavirus pandemic, creating a …

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N.M. governor signs voting, civil rights bills

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three pieces of legislation from the special session into law Friday, including bills aimed at streamlining voting during the novel coronavirus pandemic, creating a civil rights commission and putting money back in the state's coffers.The election reform, which passed with bipartisan support in the Senate and along party lines in the House, will allow county clerks to automatically send absentee ballot applications to registered voters.

Senate Bill 4 is intended to make the voting-by-mail process more efficient in the November election after county clerks were overwhelmed by the huge volume of absentee ballots they received during this month's primary election, leading to long delays in tallying results in several areas of the state.

"It was critical that we respond to the needs of our state in stepping-up with legislation that ensured safe, accessible voting in November's elections," Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

The bill underwent two key alterations during the legislative process, neither of which was mentioned in statements released Friday by the Governor's Office and House Democrats.

The most contentious of the changes was a Senate amendment that allows independent voters to cast ballots in primary elections by registering with a major party on Election Day.

That addition triggered a dramatic revote in the House, which finally passed the legislation after a number of Democrats initially joined with Republicans to vote down the entire bill. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said earlier this week legislators would look into removing that part of the bill next year.

The other major change came when a Senate committee diluted the bill by removing a provision that would have also allowed county clerks to automatically mail out ballots.
Other provisions in the new law require that poll workers wear personal protective equipment and give the state Department of Health the power to set public health requirements specific to each county.

Additionally, the legislation stipulates polling places located on Indian nation, tribal or pueblo lands cannot be closed without the written agreement of the tribal government.
It also mandates there be at least one polling station set up on those sovereign nations if their residents are unable to leave because of local public health restrictions.

The legislation goes into effect immediately, according to the House Democratic caucus. It will be repealed at the end of this year, except for the clause regarding primary elections.

The governor also signed into law House Bill 5, which sets up a nine-member commission to examine violations of state constitutional rights and review the use of "qualified immunity," a legal doctrine that can shield law enforcement officers from being held personally liable for actions that violate a person's constitutional rights.

A debate over qualified immunity has intensified across the country since George Floyd was killed May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer, fueling scores of nationwide protests against police brutality.

"Our communities are marching to demand changes that rethink policing," said Egolf, a co-sponsor of the bill. "With the creation of a New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, we'll begin making real steps toward a future when violations of civil rights result in swift and certain consequences."

According to the law, the Legislative Council will appoint six members of the new body, while the governor will name the other three.

No more than five people on the commission can represent the same political party, and at least one member will need to have law enforcement experience.

The third bill signed Friday was Senate Bill 5, which aims to help boost New Mexico's solvency as the pandemic and oil market volatility sap state revenue.

The legislation increases nonrecurring revenues by $124.2 million, saves $16.7 million in recurring funds and allows for $195 million through the issuance of bonds for capital outlay projects. Some money will be restored by voiding 70 capital outlay projects authorized in 2019 that still had no expenditures, saving the state $10.9 million. New Mexico also will reduce transportation projects authorized in 2019 by $75 million.

"This budget fix was able to get us out of some hot water for the time being without having to raise taxes," said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales and a co-sponsor of the bill.

The Santa Fe New Mexican is a sibling publication of the Taos News. 

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