N.M. legislative roundup: COVID-19 relief bills move forward, Gov. signs abortion ban repeal

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — A bill that would allow essential workers who contract COVID-19 to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits has advanced to the House floor after passing the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 5-3 vote on Feb. 26.

House Bill 268, or Coronavirus and Workers Comp, was sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque.

“House Bill 268 came about because we heard firsthand from constituents who unquestionably caught COVID-19 at work, but were denied Workers’ Compensation,” said Rep. Hochman-Vigil in a press release. “Essential employees put their health and safety on the line every day to provide the services that New Mexicans need. Should they become infected at work, they deserve the same protections they would receive from any other workplace injury.” 

A National Guardsman places test kits and information about the coronavirus under a windshield wiper during the free COVID-19 testing site on May 5 at Shiprock High School in Shiprock. A bill that would make essential workers eligible for workers compensation if they contract the coronavirus is heading to the House floor.

The sponsors highlighted that businesses have not always followed COVID-safe practices, such as requiring masks. 

“It seems common sense that businesses should take public health orders regarding this deadly virus seriously, but sadly, this has reportedly not always been the case,” said Rep. Chandler in the press release. “HB 268 not only provides benefits for those who fall ill, but it promotes compliance by incentivizing both employers and employees to follow protocols and even take proactive testing and tracing steps.” 

1969 abortion ban repealed 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 10 on Feb. 26 that repeals a 1969 statute criminalizing abortion.

“A woman has the right to make decisions about her own body,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham in a press release. “Anyone who seeks to violate bodily integrity, or to criminalize womanhood, is in the business of dehumanization. New Mexico is not in that business – not any more. Our state statutes now reflect this inviolable recognition of humanity and dignity. I am incredibly grateful to the tireless advocates and legislators who fought through relentless misinformation and fear-mongering to make this day a reality. Equality for all, equal justice and equal treatment – that’s the standard. And I’m proud to lead a state that today moved one step closer to that standard.”

A woman carries a sign opposing abortion, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, as she searches for a seat in the Farmington City Council chambers. A 1969 law that prohibited abortion in New Mexico has been repealed. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill repealing the law on Feb. 26.

The bill passed the Senate on a 25-17 vote and passed the House on a 40-30 vote.

COVID-19 COVERAGE:Updates on cases in northwest New Mexico and Navajo Nation

COVID-19 small, medium-sized business relief bill heads to governor

A COVID-19 relief bill that would provide $460 million in low-interest loans to struggling small and medium-sized businesses in the state has passed the House of Representatives and now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed.

Senate Bill 3 was sponsored by Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque. It expands upon the Small Business Recovery Act that was passed during the June 2020 special session.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a bill repealing a 1969 law that banned abortions.

Another bill that provides $200 million in grants to small businesses to support hiring and rehiring of employees was signed by the governor on Feb. 26. These grants are available to assist with payments of rent and mortgage obligations for small businesses that are hiring or rehiring employees.

“New Mexico will continue to get meaningful financial assistance out the door to businesses all across the state,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release. “Our economy will bounce back. And businesses will get back on their feet.”

Transgender athlete bill fails in committee 

A bill that would have prohibited transgender female athletes from competing in women’s and girls’ sports was tabled in a committee meeting on Feb. 25 on a 3-2 vote.

House Bill 304, or the Women’s Sports Protection Act, was sponsored by five Republican legislators, including Farmington Rep. Rod Montoya and Rep. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso. Cook is the lead sponsor and presented the bill to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Proponents argue that allowing transgender women to compete as females would lead to only having male sports — one for elite male athletes and another for mediocre male athletes competing as females.

Others are reading:Bill seeks to prevent transgender females from competing in girls, women's sports

Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said she agrees that there are multiple genders, but she supported the bill because of fairness. She expressed concern that a transgender female could injure a cis-gender female.

Lord was one of two representatives on the committee who voiced support for the bill and voted against tabling it.

“There’s a lot of junk science that ends up being touted as science regarding how bodies work, how athletics may work, how we perform and how society is meant to be run for fairness and for the sort of ideals that some have on what they believe equality to be and what some others believe equality to be,” said Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe. “Sometimes this has taken the form of eugenics. This has taken the form of separate but equal.”

She said the more barriers are put up for certain people to access opportunities to better their lives the more it creates divisions in the society.

“I cannot and will not ever support something like this,” she said.

Rep. Brittney Barreras, D-Albuquerque, said she had flashbacks to her childhood and things that aren’t easy for her to remember. Barreras is an openly-lesbian member of the House of Representatives. She gave examples of some of her experiences as a lesbian. 

“Like in middle school when I was playing basketball and I was told that nobody wanted to play with me because they thought I was a boy,” she said. “Or when they told me that the reason I was so good was because I was like a boy. That was around the time that I had my first suicidal thoughts as well. It’s not easy to be from my community. We don’t need legislation like this to make it even harder.”

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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