By MORGAN LEE Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators unveiled initiatives on issues ranging from minimum sick-day requirements as a precaution against contagions in the workplace to halting discrimination based on hair styles and rights to clean air and water.
The year’s first draft bills were posted Monday and Tuesday on the Legislature’s website and hint at an ambitious agenda for New Mexico’s annual legislative session that starts on Jan. 19.
They included a highly anticipated initiative to funnel state trust funds toward early childhood education, under a proposed constitutional amendment from Democratic state Reps. Javier Martínez and Antonio Maestas of Albuquerque. Approval by three-fifths vote of the state House and Senate would send that measure to a statewide vote. Congressional approval also would be required because the changes affect income-generating land granted to New Mexico by an act of Congress.
Hundreds of bills, resolutions and proposed constitutional amendments are likely to be heard during the first full-length session since the outset of the pandemic.
A proposal from Democratic state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos would establish a minimum amount of sick leave that can be used to care for family members. Under the proposed healthy workplaces act, employees would accrue at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
The bill includes sick-leave entitlements during a 12- month period of 40-64 hours, depending on the size of the business. Employers who violate the law would be responsible for damages of at least $500 and an additional payment equal to twice the unpaid leave.
The secretary of the Workforce Solutions Department would be responsible for enforcement.
Separately, Democratic state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque has drafted legislation that would outlaw schools from discrimination involving Black and Native American women’s hairstyles — including braids, cornrows, bantu knots and Afros as well as headdresses.
California was the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination against Black people for wearing hairstyles such as braids, twists and locks.
Democratic lawmakers — who hold majorities in the state House and Senate — are still putting finishing touches on anticipated bills about abortion rights, internet access, policing reforms and recreational cannabis regulations.
Other newly unveiled initiatives would enshrine in the state constitution the right to a healthy environment. It would require that state government officials conserve and protect natural resources such as “waters, air, flora, fauna, climate and public lands.”
Democratic State Sefn. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque says the proposed amendment builds on environmental guarantees approved by voters in 1972 to ensure that state officials treat a broad range of natural resources as a public trust.
“This is a limitation on the government’s power, just like free speech or the right to bear arms,” said Sedillo Lopez, who is sponsoring the measure along with Democratic Sens. Bill Soules and Joanne Ferrary, both of Las Cruces. “Government action must take into account the impact of their actions on their responsibility as stewards.”
Approval by the Legislature would send the constitutional changes to a statewide vote.
Sedillo Lopez is a contender for the 1st Congressional District seat to succeed U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland if Haaland is confirmed as Interior secretary.