State Rep. Kathleen Cates (D-District 44) joined the Observer’s Legislative Conversations this week.

During the 10-minute conversation, she said her priorities have been bills to help those with disabilities and veterans, workforce bills and a peer-support behavioral health program for firefighters.

“They save our lives for a living and go through so much, they suffer through PTSD. They have all kinds of behavioral health needs,” she said. “They tend to be individuals a lot like our veterans, and really would prefer to  only speak with other firefighters … somebody with a shared experience.”

Such a group has been established already with the town of Bernalillo, the city of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, but the process of developing one is very heavily involved with training needed. “It’s a very good program that has gotten very good success,” she said.

She also said she was working on some ethics bills. On Wednesday night, House Bill 5, on which Cates was the lead sponsor, passed on a unanimous vote of 61-0. It updates the Governmental Conduct Act to make the exchange of sexual acts for official favors from government officials or legislators in a quid pro quo arrangement and ethics violation and increases the maximum penalty for ethics violations from $5,000 to $10,000.

“We cannot tolerate sexual coercion or harassment from our elected leaders and public officials. Every New Mexican should feel safe in interactions with our government and know that those who abuse their power will be held accountable,” she said in a separate statement on the issue.

Cates also urges her constituents to actually read the bills going through the legislative process. “The bills themselves the people are concerned about, I will say to them: Please read the bill. I find that so many people react to what’s been told to them or an analysis that’s been provided for them, but they’re not reading the bill. The bills that I have read, especially once they’ve gone through several committees … they are not scary bills.”

As a freshman representative, she said she is proud of the accessibility of New Mexico’s legislators compared to those in other states. “If you go to any other state, you’re not going to bump into the elected official at the grocery store. You’re not going to be able to  to go out to coffee with them, you’re not going to be able to stop by their office … It’s just one of the things I love about the state.”

And while some bills may grab bigger headlines, Cates said she is focused on smaller bills this session. “I have put my time and energy in advocating for the small bills, for the small, incremental changes that actually very much impact the day-to-day lives of my constituents. … I have been, so far, I guess, very successful in getting my bills through, and I don’t know enough to now if that is odd.”

Full interview with state Rep. Kathleen Cates