NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – From protection against hair-based discrimination to the legalization of to-go alcohol delivery, the 2021 lawmaking sessions led to nearly 150 bills being passed. Now, after receiving the governor’s signature, many will go into effect on July 1, 2021. Below are some new laws of interest.
- 2021 Legislative bills signed by Gov. Lujan Grisham
- Recreational marijuana becomes legal in New Mexico on June 29
- Marijuana: Economics of New Mexico’s newest industry
- Gov. signs LEDA expansion bill aimed at helping recruit companies to state
Several new changes to New Mexico’s alcohol regulations are now on the books. Alcohol retailers are no longer allowed to sell “minis” — closed containers with less than three ounces — for off-site consumption. However, alcohol delivery is now an option. The new laws, of course, require that delivery include a verification of the purchaser’s identity. Deliveries from restaurants require a minimum purchase of $10 worth of food, and the alcohol quantity cannot be more than a standard 750-milliliter bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer.
Under a new law, local and state governments can take a tougher approach to tackle air pollution. In the past, New Mexico law prevented local governments from adopting regulations that were more strict than federal standards. But now, groups like the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board — which helps set and regulate air quality rules — can go above and beyond federal standards. The new rules also allow for tougher regulations against hazardous waste.
Another new law creates a “mining act forfeiture fund” to support land cleanup if a mining company starts a digging, but then goes belly-up. The mining company would have to pay money into the fund at the start of the project, as a show of financial responsibility. The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department can then use those funds for cleanup, if necessary.
Finally, another new environmental law puts $100,000 towards creating a “sustainable economy task force,” which will create a plan to move New Mexico’s economy away from oil and gas. The task force’s initial plan will be created in fiscal year 2022, and will be maintained until the end of fiscal year 2027.
Hair and human rights
A new law is going into place to protect students from hairstyle discrimination. The law prevents local school boards from disciplining students based on race, religion, and culture, especially when expressed via hairstyle. The law specifically mentions cultural and religious headdresses and protective styles, such as braids, weaves, and wigs.
The New Mexico Civil Rights Act now allows individuals to sue state or local government agencies for violating their rights. So, if a New Mexican feels that a public official or organization has violated their rights or privileges under the New Mexico Constitution, they can take the public organization to court. In some circumstances, the public organization may be required to pay for damages. In such cases, the maximum they may be required to pay is $2 million per person — and this maximum amount will be adjusted each year to account for increases in cost of living.
The new law also prohibits public officials from using qualified immunity as a defense if they are being accused of violating a person’s rights. “Qualified immunity is just a legal doctrine that provides defense for government employees, particularly in the law enforcement realm,” explains Barron Jones, a policy strategist at the New Mexico affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It has often been used to protect bad law enforcement officers and government employees who violate people’s rights,” he says.
Under the new law, public officials can no longer use that defense against potential violations of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. “This is landmark legislation,” Jones says, “that allows victims of police violence and other government abuses to sue for damages.” It also allows New Mexicans to take such a case to any New Mexico district court.
Special treatment in enrollment
A new law going into effect will make it easier for children of charter school employees to enroll in the school where their parents work. Existing laws allow for charter schools to give enrollment preference to returning students and siblings of current students. Now, teacher and staff members’ children can also receive preferential enrollment. While this law goes into effect as of July 1, 2021, charter schools won’t be able to begin preferential enrollment until the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Medical debt protection
Under a new law, health care facilities licensed by the Department of Health can no longer hire debt collection agencies to try to collect money from patients that are indigent. Indigent patients are those that cannot pay their bills and have a household income less than or equal to twice the federal poverty level. So, a three-person family with an income less than $43,920 would qualify for this protection.
Voting district transparency
A new law requires the state to collect data on each voting district. This data will be free for public access starting January 1, 2022. The law also creates the “citizen redistricting committee,” which will hold public meetings to adopt district plans based, in part, on public opinion. The congressional districts they create will be “as equal in population as practicable.” And districts they create should “attempt to preserve communities of interest.”
*Note: Information in this post comes primarily from bill analyses from the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee as well as the bills themselves. To read the state’s full report on bills passed during the 2021 legislative session and the date they go into effect, visit the following link: https://www.nmlegis.gov/Publications/Session/21/effective_dates_by_date.pdf