With the Legislature at the midpoint of the current session, the four state legislators representing the East Mountains and Estancia Valley talked with The Independent about the session and their priorities.

The current session closes March 16.

Rep. Matthew McQueen

District 50

McQueen said he is working on legislation to make transparent the allocation of money given by the state for specific, one-time expenses called capital outlay funds. He said he, like all legislators, receives requests from communities within his district to fund projects and some cross-district projects.

He said he co-sponsored House Bill 262 that would make those allocations public, “because right now they’re not, which seems inappropriate to me. The public should know how we’re allocating that money,” McQueen said, adding, “It passed the house unanimously and is now over in the Senate.”

McQueen said he is co-sponsoring House Memorial 39 to investigate the possibility of a national New Deal art museum in an old Park Service building on museum hill in Santa Fe. “If we could make that happen, that would be huge for New Mexico,” he said, adding, “It’s up to the feds … I talked to Ben Ray Lujan and he was interested.”

Another bill, McQueen co-sponsors, HB 428, would provide public funds for Secretary of State candidates. He said it includes an appropriation of $500,000. “If we can get that on the books,” he added, “then maybe we can fund it next year.”

House Bill 425, sponsored by McQueen, has two different parts addressing how we vote for president, he said. McQueen said it ensures that electors of the electoral college vote as the people of the state vote, preventing them from voting for a personal favorite as occurred in several other states during the 2016 election.

The bill also, “has a provision in it that says if the national popular vote is in effect, then that controls it [the way electors vote],” McQueen said, adding, “A bunch of people were saying that I was attacking the national popular vote … and that’s not true.”

The bill states, “If the agreement among the states to elect the president of the United States by national popular vote has been adopted and is in effect in New Mexico and in states in the United States that cumulatively add up to two hundred seventy or more electoral votes, the compact known as the Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote shall govern…”

Another piece of legislation would allow the Oil Conservation Division of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources to assess fines without going through the [Attorney General’s] office,” McQueen said, adding, “We also had an administration that really wasn’t interested in enforcing the rules.”

House Bill 186, co-sponsored by McQueen, would “restore the ability of the Oil Conservation Division to enforce the rules and assess fines,” McQueen said. He explained significant increases in fines saying, “The current fines were set in 1935 and haven’t been updated.”

Asked about the bill’s chances, McQueen said, “It’s an uphill battle.”

“We have this big pot of money to explore diverting water from the Gila River,” McQueen explained. “They’re just wasting it left and right,” he continued, “the Gila diversion is never going to work … it doesn’t pencil out.”

He co-sponsored HB 417 to use that money for developing drinking water sources for the Silver City area, Deming and “for water projects they actually need,” in the southwest corner of the state, he said.

McQueen is also sponsoring HB 263 to “make the Game Commission less political and more professional,” he said. “Now, they’re all appointed by the governor. We could get a new Game Commission, seven members,” he said, continuing, “I’m creating some positions … one commissioner from each congressional district, a scientist, a hunter, a conservationist, and a farmer or rancher … and do six-year staggered terms.”

HB 366, co-sponsored by McQueen, would “ban trapping [of animals] on public lands.”

By co-sponsoring HB406, McQueen also wants to provide for public input, which is currently not required, when installing transmission lines for renewable energy sources.

Rep. Gregg Schmedes

District 22

Schmedes said he is co-sponsoring house joint resolution HJR 7 which would put an amendment to the state constitution to voters, as the bill states, “to create a parental right to direct the upbringing, education and care of a parent’s children.”

Schmedes said, “We are one of nine states where a parental right can be revoked solely because of disability, and this affects blind individuals disproportionately … They lose their parental right much more easily than people who are not blind,” he said, adding, “The African American community disproportionately loses their parental rights,” as well.

Schmedes said he co-sponsored a bi-partisan bill, HB 96, specifically to protect blind parents, but “unfortunately CYFD [Children, Youth and Families Division] is opposed … because they are not ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and it’s going to require they update some of their rules and regs and they’ve shown some resistance to doing that,” he said.

Another bill, HB 576, sponsored by Schmedes, “is a bill to end water speculation in New Mexico,” he said, adding, “water speculation is supposed to be illegal and unconstitutional.” Wells in the Sandia Basin “have been dropping two feet a year,” he said. The bill states it would require “the identification of end users in applications for the appropriation of underground water.”

Schmedes said he sponsored HB 483 which “made it through committee unanimously” and is “specific to District 22 and to the East Mountains,” where zoning requirements disallow a second dwelling with a kitchen. He said it “tells the municipalities and the county you need to come up with a conditional use permit specifically for accommodating [family members] with disabilities.”

Speaking of HB 68, Schmedes said, “Medicaid is crumbs for the poor. It doesn’t cover these folks with developmental disabilities (D.D.), it doesn’t cover a lot of the services they need. If you have the good fortune of getting onto the D. D. Waiver you can have these other services covered by Medicaid. The D. D. Waiver waiting list is thousands of people, so it’s a big problem. I’m optimistic that we can appropriate more money and get some people off the waiting list, but we’re only talking three or four hundred people. It’s incredibly expensive,” Schmedes said.

He also said he voted for HB 443, which passed the Health and Human Services Committee to fund a task force on family representation in child welfare proceedings.

HB 137 passed unanimously in the same committee, Schmedes said, which encourages, “the development of comprehensive, community-based health planning councils to identify and address local health needs and priorities,” as the bill states. “A lot of these councils have taken a big hit in the last decade, so there’s been an ongoing effort to re-vitalize those health councils,” he said.

Asked about the East Mountains, Schmedes said, “One of the things I’m going to be fighting for is our public lands. There’s all kinds of legislation … that’s addressing public lands and when I look at those I’m always thinking about our district and how we can promote and protect our public lands, even trying to put some capital outlay funding toward some public land improvement.”

He added he’s looking at capital outlay projects in the East Mountains including, “a brush-fire truck in Tijeras, water infrastructure and sewer infrastructure in Edgewood, and a senior wellness center in Edgewood.”

Sen. Liz Stefanics

District 39

Stefanics co-sponsored with McQueen HB 592 which recognizes La Merced del Manzano Land Grant, confirmed by Congress in 1860 and patented by the U. S. in 1907, currently in the House Local Government, Land Grants & Cultural Affairs Committee.

Addressing her co-sponsored HB 95, a bill raising employee and employer contributions to the Retiree Health Care fund, Stefanics said, “We have a lot of retired public employees and school teachers in the district.” The bill would ensure “solvency in the future,” she said, adding, “It won’t hurt current retirees, but it would help future solvency of the fund.”

Referring to HB 168, a bill that requires “the Public Education Department to track student identification numbers and report students who are not continuously enrolled,” to CYFD, Stefanics said a student was taken out of West Las Vegas Schools by his mother, “and was not enrolled anywhere else. Here was a child that nobody was tracking … he was held captive … tortured and killed,” by his parents.

Stefanics said she co-sponsored SB 218 and HB 204 dubbed the Healthy Soils Act in both houses. “This was brought to us by the soil and water conservation districts and we’re working … on environmentally protecting our soil.”

Soil health would be determined by, “testing the carbon content, water infiltration rate, microbiology and aggregate stability of soils, in addition to monitoring soil cover or bare ground percentage,” the bill states.

The bill asks for $5.15 million for a program at New Mexico State University to be administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. “Priority may be given to districts … serving young producers, veterans, small farms or ranches or for projects that benefit economically or socially disadvantaged,” the bill states.

Stefanics co-sponsored SB 25 that prohibits charging more based on a customer’s gender. “Gender pricing is about, let’s take advantage of people,” she said, adding, because gender pricing is prohibited in the Affordable Care Act, “When we take that bill to the house we have to [make sure] health care is covered as well.”

SB 309 prohibiting prior authorizations for ultrasounds, “has to do with pregnant women,” Stefanics said. “If … the doctor decides they need an ultrasound lots of times they [the patients] need to get a prior authorization if they’re pregnant. To just get regular X-rays and ultrasounds is going to be covered.”

Stefanics said, “I talked with the State Parks Director,” concerning Senate Memorial 26 to study the feasibility of a wild horse park, “to ask how many acres would we need, and what kinds of conditions,” would be required, “to get us thinking and planning. Alto, that has the wild horses, is in my district,” she said.

The Renewable Energy Transmission Authority, Stefanics said, is funded by the industry. To avoid conflict of interest, her bill SB 281 would say, “you can’t be funded by the industry, you have to be funded by the state general fund,” she said. “When the wind farms came through Torrance County,” Stefanics explained, “there were a lot of landowners not happy with where they put their transmission towers.”

Stefanics sits on the Senate Conservation Committee where SB 459 proposes to “halt the issuance of new permits,” for hydraulic fracturing (fracking). “My position is, I have to respect what every county decides to do,” Stefanics said, adding, “Instead of prohibiting, I feel better, legally, saying, if you’re going to do it, let’s protect the health and safety of the people.”

Regarding SB 186 raising fines associated with fracking, Stefanics said, “We tried to do that before under Gov. Susana Martinez and she wouldn’t accept it. And then it went through [the committee] … Richard Martinez [co-sponsor with McQueen] made the fines comparable to Texas,” she said. In one instance going from $1,000 to $15,000 per day, the bill shows.

Stefanics also sits on the Senate Public Affairs Committee where there are four bills dealing with cannabis. She said a student was taken from his mother after she pursued administering his legally prescribed medical marijuana. SB 406 and SB 77 say, “You can’t be punished for trying to take care of your child when you have a legal prescription,” Stefanics said.

SB417 would “clarify the purpose of the State Fish and Game Commission” and provide for “management and protection of all wildlife of New Mexico,” according to the bill. Stefanics, who sits on the Senate Conservation Committee said, “That would require more funding for more staff who would specialize in more species. … Game and Fish is a hunting and trapping organization and we don’t have anything in state government that takes care of all species.”

Sen. James White

District 22

White sponsored SB 263, which creates new licenses for the funeral industry. He said a constituent came to him and explained there is a shortage of people in the field and they put a bill together to create more licensed positions with more limited responsibilities than a funeral director.

Responding to other constituents, White sponsored SB 238 requiring property managers to be bonded. “If they abscond with the renter’s money or the property owner’s money, it can be reclaimed through the bond,” White said.

White said, last year he sponsored a bill addressing guardianship. This year he sponsored SB 395 to make some changes, “to improve the guardianship process because people weren’t abiding by the existing law,” White said, and are “taking advantage of those people needing guardianship.”

“There are corporate guardians out there that own big homes and take care of a bunch of people,” White explained. “In the past there’s been no certification of their skills, so we’re requiring them to get certified by a national organization,” White said.

Senate Bill 239, sponsored by White, would allow landing fees to be charged for general aviation. White explained, “Aircraft operate under three sets of rules, one for commercial airlines … a set of rules for charter aircraft … and all other aircraft fly under general aviation rules,” continuing, “Our existing laws say that … you can’t charge for general aviation. Nearly every state charges a landing fee but we don’t.”

White, by sponsoring SB 332, addresses “a vehicle that drives itself … vehicles with automatic driving systems.” White explained, “We don’t have anything in our statutes about vehicles that don’t have a driver.”

“I’m trying to get us up to speed and put some definitions in our statutes about these types of vehicles,” White said. “There’s some issues that come up, particularly, who’s at fault if a vehicle without a driver has a mishap.”

White co-sponsored SB 435 with Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, which requires disclosure of end users when applying for groundwater appropriation. White said speculators “get the water rights and never had any intent to use the water, they wanted to sell them and make a profit, so we’re trying to stop the speculation.”

Asked if the measure has support, White said, “I think it does, yeah, it makes sense. There’s a little resistance from the State Engineer because we say if a decision has been made … you can’t reverse it later on.”

Regarding capital outlay funding, White said, “This year we have more money than we’ve ever had before for projects.”

Projects he’s looking at include, “One to two million dollars for Carnuel to connect clean water … now they bring in their own water and have septic tanks.”

In Tijeras what they’re asking for is a brush fire truck … so we’re going to give them money so they can buy a fire truck, four-wheel drive with all the equipment on it … There’s a senior center in Tijeras and there’s almost a half a million dollars there … and we’ll give them some money to improve the roads.”

Since the closing of the detention center in Estancia, Moriarty has had to transport prisoners to Santa Fe or Bernalillo County, White said. “So, they need vehicles and we’ll help them do that,” White said.

“I really sympathize with Torrance County,” White continued, “It’s not a wealthy county,” He said he would give them some money to fix up the fairgrounds in Estancia, even though it’s outside his district.

“Edgewood, they’re looking for some money for their water system, to improve their wastewater, sewage system, I’ll support that.” White said. He said he would support funds to pave Church Street as well.

White said he was going to help out East Mountain High School to fund “work on their air conditioning system, upgrade the computer systems and some remodeling.”

“Another project we’re working on is to get a bike path, walking path on the west side of [Highway] 14,” White said, “from the shopping center up to Paako.”

White shared that the Department of Transportation is “going to change that intersection at 14 and Frost Rd,” he said, adding, “It’s all got to be re-engineered … I don’t think they’ve decided yet, it’s going to be either a round-a-bout or a stoplight. That’s still in discussion. That [project] has already been funded,” White said. 

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.