New Mexico’s 60-day 2021 Legislative session finished up on Saturday March 20th, and it was an unusual session to say the least. The COVID pandemic and security concerns in January led New Mexico to conduct its first-ever virtual legislative session, with all committee hearings held via zoom and Floor sessions as a mix of legislators on zoom and in person. Members of the public were not permitted to participate in person, which led advocates to develop new ways of testifying on bills and contacting legislators. While the virtual set-up did allow people from rural areas of the state to have unprecedented access to the proceedings (something we anticipate will continue to be an option in the future even as we return to “normal”), the usual hubbub and mingling at the Roundhouse many of us have come to love was deeply missed.
We look forward to the next legislative session when we will likely be able to participate in person, but even virtually, the New Mexico State Legislature accomplished great things this year, including many wins for the environment. Many of these wins were due to our membership, which responded to our Action Alerts spectacularly. Thank you to our members who sent nearly 1,000 emails and phone calls to legislators this session, having a direct impact on the bills that passed!
Environmental Database Act (HB 51: Representative Chasey, Representative Louis, Senator Stewart)
Right now, if you (or an agency for that matter) wanted to know everything going on in a given part of the state, you’d have to dig through data on many separate agency websites. HB 51 will create a centralized, map-based database of the state's basic environmental and public health data, so that a user can zoom in on an area of interest and know right away what the status of that area is, and even get a report back about what uses and resources are in that area.
Data that will be available on the new map includes threatened and endangered species' critical habitats, locations of oil and gas wells, the status of all waterways in the state as well as poverty and child asthma rates by zip code, and much more.
While the bill does not require agencies to use the database in any particular way, our hope is that it would naturally lead to better and more comprehensive land-use planning decisions. We believe it will help the public, agencies, and industry to have all this info consolidated. We are thrilled to announce this bill passed the legislature and was signed by Governor Lujan-Grisham! The database will be up and running in the summer of 2022.
The bill is available here.
Prescribed Burning Act (HB 57: Representative McQueen)
Periodic use of prescribed fire has been shown to minimize the catastrophic effects of natural wildfire. HB 57 mandates that prescribed fire on private land by private individuals may be used, and creates a fire certification program for private landowners. This bill passed the legislature and was signed by Governor Lujan-Grisham.
The bill is available here.
Gila bill (HB 200: Representative McQueen, Representative Small, Senator Stewart, Senator Correa-Hemphill)
For many years there has been interest in damming or diverting the Gila River for agricultural use, something which would decimate the Gila region we treasure for its recreational opportunities, and which many endangered species rely on. The federal Arizona Water Settlements Act granted New Mexico a certain amount of money to use on water projects in SW NM without specifying what those projects should be. Many years ago the New Mexico legislature created the New Mexico CAP Entity and delegated it authority over this money. Unfortunately the CAP Entity became fixated on Gila River diversion, despite many studies showing it was economically unfeasible and ecologically disastrous. HB 200 is a response to that stalemate. It takes spending authority over the money New Mexico was allocated away from the CAP Entity and gives it to the state’s Water Trust Board, comprised of scientists and other experts. This bill effectively puts the nail in the coffin for a Gila diversion, and will ensure New Mexico’s money is spent instead on infrastructure and water conservation projects.
The bill has been signed by Governor Lujan-Grisham and is available here.
Community Solar (SB 84: Rep. Roybal-Caballero, Senator Stefanics, Senator Lopez)
Legislators have introduced this bill before, but were successful this year. It will allow communities (like condo complexes, solar gardens, etc) to purchase solar panel systems collectively, and would require utility companies to purchase the energy they produce. The bill will help address both climate and environmental justice issues and has been signed by Governor Lujan-Grisham.
The bill is available here.
We worked on some other bills this session which did not make it all the way through. These bills will likely come up again in future legislative session, and we will continue to advocate for them. They include a bill to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides known to be harmful to bird and insect pollinators, a bill to restructure the Game and Fish department to focus more on “non-game” species, and a bill to further the climate resiliency goals of 2019’s Energy Transition Act. These, along with bills to address drought and water management, will surely be among our policy goals for the next several years. Stay tuned to learn more about how you can help!