On June 16 a total of 117 new laws passed during 2023 legislative session enacted by the Democratic-controlled 2023 legislature during this year’s 60-day session and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took effect. Under the New Mexico Constitution, legislature enacted bills take effect 90 days after the end of a legislative session. Bills can also take effect on other dates, if specified in the legislation itself.
Some of the most notable of the laws that took effect on June 16 are as follows:
House Bill 306 (Purchase of Firearms for Another): This bill is directed at “straw purchases” of firearms and makes it a felony to purchase a firearm for someone who is legally prohibited from possessing one or who intends to use the firearm to commit a crime.
House Bill 9: This bill is referred to as the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act also known as “Bennies Bill” and makes it a misdemeanor to negligently allow a child access to a firearm and would make it a felony if that negligence resulted in someone dying or suffering great bodily harm. The bill establishes a new crime for adults who fail to safely store a firearm out of a child’s reach.
House Bill 234 (Robbery and Organized Retail Crime): This bill creates the crime of organized retail crime, allowing for the aggregation of multiple retail theft crimes over a period of time to target repeat offenders.
Senate Bill 64: Ensures juveniles sent to prison are entitled to a parole hearing 15 to 25 years into their sentence.
Senate Bill 133 (Catalytic Converter Sales Records): This bill requires secondhand metal dealers who purchase or receive catalytic converters to keep records of the transaction that include the seller’s information, a copy of their identification, and legal documentation that demonstrates their ownership of the catalytic converter.
Senate Bill 13 (Reproductive Health Provider Protections): This bill codifies the protections outlined in Governor Lujan Grisham’s August 2022 executive order, including prohibiting entities within the state from sharing patient information related to reproductive health care for New Mexico patients and providers. SB 13 also goes further by prohibiting public bodies from restricting access to abortion and gender-affirming health care.
House Bill 7 (The Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act): This law Prohibits public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting, or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care or health care related to gender.
HEALTHCARE ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY
Senate Bill 7 (Rural Health Care Delivery): This bill provides $80 million to support rural health care delivery in areas of New Mexico often underserved by available health care options.
Senate Bill 13: This bill shields nurses and doctors who perform abortion services from out-of-state warrants.
Senate Bill 16 (Creating Health Care Authority Department): This bill establishes a single unified department responsible for health care purchasing, regulation and policy that provides a foundation for effective management and oversight of heath care. It aligns licensing and oversight with the purchasing of health care services and improves transparency.
Senate Bill 51 (Cost Sharing Contributions for Prescriptions): This is a consumer protection bill that is the result of the Prescription Drug Taskforce who studied the increasing cost of prescription drugs.
Senate Bill 245 (Rural Emergency Hospital Licensure): This bill amends the Public Health Act to allow for certain rural health facilities to apply for rural emergency hospital licensure to meet federal health care reimbursement.
Senate Bill 397: This bill enshrines school-based health centers in state law.
Senate Bill 521 (Medical Malpractice Act Changes): This bill amends the Medical Malpractice Act to cap claims for independent healthcare facilities, such as urgent care, ambulatory surgical centers, and free-standing emergency rooms that are not hospital-controlled.
House Bill 134: This bill requires the free distribution of menstrual products in public school bathrooms.
VOTING RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
House Bill 4 (Voting Rights Protections) This bill enacts the first-in-the-nation Native American Voting Rights Act allowing Indian nations, tribes, and pueblos to amend their request for voting locations and to apply for secured ballot drop boxes and allows electors to use government buildings as their mailing address. The legislation automatically registers voters at the MVD or other local public offices designated by the Secretary of State. The bill restores the right of previously incarcerated individuals to vote upon their release from custody. The bill creates a voluntary permanent absentee voter list and prohibits the transfer or publication of voter data online. The bill mandates same-day voter registration at all polling places and mandates at least two monitored secure ballot drop boxes per county.
Senate Bill 180: Update state’s election laws by establishing mandatory training for poll watchers and clarifying process for updating voter rolls
House Bill 207: Expands scope of state’s Human Rights Act to cover gender identity.
MISCELLANOUS LEGISLATION ENACTED
Senate Bill 9: create permanent funding for conservation projects across the state.
Senate Bill 188: Makes the smell of roasting green chile New Mexico’s official state aroma.
Senate Bill 442: Provides salary increases for statewide elected officials, though pay raise for the governor won’ take effect until 2027.
Additional new laws that went into effect in June include:
- A new law to help cover the cost of breast exams
- A law to help people keep their driver’s licenses even if they fail to appear in court.
- A law aimed at preventing public bodies from discriminating against people for accessing reproductive healthcare.
- A new law will allow small communities to join together in order to supply water to residents.
- A new law to set aside funds to build wildlife corridors
Additional new laws going into effect in July 2023 include:
- A new law to let all children in public schools access free lunch programs
- A new law to reorganize the state’s probate courts.
- Several new laws will let the state issue special license plates, such as plates supporting driver safety.
- A law to expand outdoor youth programs offered through the Department of Game and Fish.
- A law requiring the Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department to plan a cleanup of the land around the San Juan Generating Station.
Other laws enacted by the 2022 legislative session that will go into effect in 2024 include a law to create a “Marketing Excellence Bureau” at the state’s Tourism Department and a law to move some transportation-related responsibilities from the Public Regulation Commission to the Department of Transportation.
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While some of the new laws that took effect passed with bipartisan support, others continue to be staunchly opposed by Republicans. The firearm storage measure that makes it a crime for adult gun owners to fail to keep their firearms out of a child’s reach, did not win a single “YES” vote from Republican lawmakers. State Republican Spokeswoman Ash Soular said this:
“We continue to see Democrats push for more gun laws that target law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, but at the same time, Democrats continue to reject laws that target criminals and crime in New Mexico.”
She also said the new abortion law would strip parents’ right to be notified if a minor child seeks to have an abortion or gender change surgery, pointing out Democrats rejected a proposed amendment on the issue. State law already allows for minors to have abortions without notifying their parents and Republican sponsored bills on the issue failed in the Democratic controlled legislature.
The new abortion and gender-affirming care law is also at the center of a legal battle between Attorney General Raúl Torrez and several eastern New Mexico cities and counties that enacted anti-abortion ordinances. The state Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the ordinances from being implemented but has not yet issued a final ruling in the case.
REACTION TO IMPLEMENATION
Albuquerque Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she did not foresee implementation as a problem with the new laws enacted. She noted most of new laws were already implemented by executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also argued that the high-profile laws dealing with health care and firearms were thoroughly debated during this year’s session. Stewart said this:
“I think people might not really realize how hard it is to pass legislation like this. … The ideas in these bills have been fully vetted over numerous years, and they passed on strong votes.”
TARGETS FOR REPEAL BY REFERENDUM
The New Mexico Family Action Movement is targeting for repeal 6 laws in New Mexico passed during the 2023 sixty-day legislative session by the Democratic-controlled Legislature on abortion, elections and gender-affirming care. The 6 laws targeted for repeal are set to take effect on June 16, including the bill barring discrimination against individuals seeking abortion services and a separate bill shielding nurses and doctors who provide abortions from criminal investigation.
The New Mexico Family Action Movement has said it is prepared to go to court to get the measures on the ballot. The repeal effort is receiving significant support from the New Mexico Republican Party which strenuously opposed the legislation and other right-wing organizations such as Better Together New Mexico and the New Mexico Business Coalition that consistently opposes democrat initiatives.
The 6 bills targeted for repeal are:
House Bill 7: Prohibit public bodies from blocking access to abortion services and gender-affirming care.
Senate Bill 13: Shield doctors and nurses who provide abortion services and gender-affirming care from civil or criminal legal liability.
Senate Bill 397: Enshrine school-based health centers in state law.
House Bill 207: Expand scope of state’s Human Rights Act to cover gender identity.
House Bill 4: Change voting laws by expanding automatic voter registration and establishing permanent absentee voter list.
Senate Bill 180: Update state’s election laws by establishing mandatory training for poll watchers and clarifying process for updating voter rolls.
Jodi Hendricks, the executive director of the New Mexico Family Action Movement said the coalition has thousands of volunteers around the state gathering the necessary signatures to allow for a statewide vote on the targeted laws in 2024 and to block them from taking effect. Hendricks said this:
“We really believe that three of these bills … are major attacks on parent rights.”
REPUBLICAN PARTY, CONSERVATIVE ORGANIZATIONS ARGUE OVERREACH BY DEMOCRATS
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the six bills in question into law and her also defended the six bills, saying they were passed by duly elected lawmakers to benefit state residents. The Governor’s spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said this:
“Gov. Lujan Grisham signed these six bills because she knows, unequivocally, they will do good for thousands of New Mexicans so they can have healthy, productive lives, and participate fully in their communities as their true selves.”
Not at all surprising, the New Mexico Republican Party is supportive of the attempt to repeal the legislation by petition referendum. The Republican Party proclaims that citizen have the right to pursue the referendum process so much so that the party’s executive director Leticia Muñoz has been helping individuals who want to sign referendum petitions. The Republican Party also criticized Toulouse Oliver for blocking the petitions from moving forward and state GOP spokeswoman Ash Soular said this:
“The secretary of state should refrain from putting up obstacles to this citizen effort and respond to this effort following state law.”
The conservative organizations “Better Together New Mexico” and the “New Mexico Business Coaltion” are also behind the petition drive and referendum process to repeal the legislation. Carla Sonntag, the founder of the nonprofit group “Better Together New Mexico” and the Executive Director of the “New Mexico Business Coaltion” said supporters felt ignored by Democratic lawmakers, who hold strong majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Sonntag said this:
“They think it’s tremendous overreach and they’re exercising they’re right to have a say.”
The New Mexico Family Action Movement is fighting an uphill battle with the petition-referendum process. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has denied 23 referendum petitions since a 60-day legislative session ended in March due to technical problems with the paperwork and legal objections. The Secretary of State’s office has directed county clerks not to provide voter lists to those pushing the repeal effort, and warned voters that current petitions circulating are not valid since they have not been approved.
Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver has also ruled the bill blocking local anti-abortion ordinances from being enforced is exempt from repeal. Toulouse Oliver said the law meets the constitutional exemption for laws that provide for the “preservation of the public peace, health or safety” of the state. The Secretary of State said the bill ensures New Mexico women and transgender individuals will not be discriminated against based on their health care choices.
On May 26, Toulouse Oliver wrote in her ruling:
“Such health and safety purposes are clearly within the state’s inherent police powers exempt from referendum”.
New Mexico’s Constitution gives voters the ability to annul laws passed by the Legislature, but there are major exceptions. Those exceptions are bills dealing with public peace, health and safety. Other exceptions are budget bills and legislation dealing with public school maintenance.
If successful, this year’s referendum efforts could put targeted laws on the November 2024 statewide ballot for possible repeal. Before that happens, however, the referendum petitions must met legal requirement and be approved by the Secretary of State’s office.
Even if a repeal referendum measure is approved by the Secretary of State, the State Constitution requires that valid signatures must be obtained from more than 71,470 registered state voters or at least 10% of the number who voted in last year’s general election. The State constitution also has a geographic requirement that a certain amount of the signatures must come from at least 25 counties.
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COURTS UPHOLD SECRETARY OF STATE’S AUTHORITY TO BLOCK REFERENDUM PETITIONS
Backers have questioned Secretary of States Toulouse Oliver’s legal authority to decide whether the targeted laws are exempt from repeal, arguing it’s up to the court system, not the secretary of state, to make such a determination. Toulouse Oliver has denied 23 referendum petitions since a 60-day legislative session ended in March due to technical problems with the paperwork and legal objections.
Carla Sontag, the founder of the nonprofit group “Better Together New Mexico” said this:
“We don’t feel like we need her blessing to move forward. … We will see this through to the end [going to court if necessary].”
In April of this year, within weeks after the 60-day New Mexico legislative session ended, a court challenge against the Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver was filed by Ramona Goolsby of Rio Rancho. Goolsby is involved the coalition of groups seeking to get the targeted laws on the November 2024 ballot for a repeal vote. In her petition, she argued Toulouse Oliver overstepped her authority by ruling the abortion law is exempt from referendum, saying only the Legislature can determine whether laws or necessary for the public peace and welfare.
On June 8, 13th District Court Judge James Noel rejected a challenge by the New Mexico Family Action Movement to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s authority to determine whether New Mexico laws targeted for repeal are exempt from referendum under the state Constitution. The specific challenge was to Toulouse Oliver’s ruling denying the referendum petition targeting House Bill 7 which prohibits public bodies from limiting access to abortion services and gender-affirming care.
Judge Noel granted the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Secretary of State’s Office. The court upheld Toulouse Oliver’s determination that the bill meet the exemption for “public peace, health or safety” of the state.
Toulouse Oliver said this about the court ruling:
“This is a win for the rule of law and for all New Mexicans. … I’m pleased to see the court clarify this matter today with their ruling in favor of our position that the laws currently being targeted for referendum are, in fact, exempted from the referendum process. Bottom of Form … It is very disappointing that New Mexicans are being misled about the referendum petition process by certain groups and individuals.”
Goolsby who filed the law suit and who is representing herself, responded to the case dismissal by Noel by citing his appointment to the judiciary by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2020 by saying this: .
“Partisan politics are alive and well in our courts.”
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A state judge in Roswell also dismissed a request from Republican state Senate candidate Larry Marker to block one of the abortion laws from taking effect pending the outcome of a legal dispute over the referendum process.
Lindsey Bachman, the director of legislative and executive affairs at the Secretary of State’s office, said the court rulings have clearly established the secretary of state’s authority to determine whether new laws are exempt from referendum, with help from the Attorney General’s office. Bachman said this:
“Again, it is unfortunate that a group has not seen fit to educate themselves on the laws and requirements relating to the referendum process in New Mexico and instead continue to spread misinformation and encourage New Mexicans to sign invalid petitions.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
By all accounts, the 2023 legislative session was very productive in addressing public safety, health care, protecting a woman’s reproductive rights and voting rights. Many initiatives that failed in the 2022 legislative session were enacted in the 2023 session.
The petition drive by New Mexico Family Action Movement to use the referendum process to repeal the 6 laws enacted by the New Mexico legislature is totally within their rights and the rights of the Republican party. The lawsuit filed by against Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s challenging her authority is also a legitimate exercise of rights.
Notwithstanding, both are a reflection of the extreme length’s ultra-right conservative organizations opposed to woman’s right to chooses and the Republican party will go to interfere with the legislative process and to interfere with a woman’s right to choose, access to abortion services and gender-affirming care, and to stop protections and expanding voters rights. No politician, no voter, no government, and no one else has any right to tell a woman what she can do with her body and decide reproductive rights for her.
It is painfully obvious that when Republicans are not successful at the ballot box, not successful in the legislative process, they revert to the courts. When they are not successful in the courts, Republicans then call into question the motivations of the judiciary.