State Sen. Brenda McKenna (D, District 9) said the 2023 New Mexico legislative session had its ups and downs as she reflected on it during a recent Legislative Conversation with the Observer.

The highs

“I think the highs were the passage of the what I regard as human rights, the reproductive health provider protectors. I think that was really important,” she said. “The medical malpractice law, once again, that came to the forefront because a lot of independent providers were saying they would have to leave the state because of the way it was.”

McKenna was also pleased with voting rights bills that passed, including restoring felon’s right to vote when they leave incarceration. “Beforehand, I think there were different databases that were not in concert with each other,” she said, “and so me, as a voting registrar, I would tell folks who had just finished their incarceration, ‘Oh yeah, do this. Show them your discharge papers and you’ll vote again.’ Well, in fact, that wasn’t happening, so I’m really pleased that that got fixed this year.”

Additionally, she was happy about Election Day being made a school holiday and the Native American Voting Rights Act.

McKenna was also pleased that the bill she co-sponsored that officially made bestiality a crime passed and is awaiting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature and that a pay raise for statewide elected officials was approved.

She also gave high praise to the work and professionalism of the Roundhouse staff, legislative council services, the chief clerk’s office, the custodians, the cooks and the assistants during they session, saying they don’t get enough credit for all they do.

The lows

McKenna spoke out on her disappointment on a bill regarding taxes on tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaping cartridges and alcohol getting “stripped by the house.” “New Mexico has some of the worst rates for alcohol disease and the like, and we really could have made a difference, I think, with increasing tax for deterrence and putting money into programs for education, for DUI, to address underage drinking and it got blown up, so I’m really disgusted with that,” she said.

She was also upset by the tabling of a bill that would have required every freight train in the state to operate with a crew of at least two people as well as the free-roaming horse bill she co-sponsored.

She said current law precludes the removal of the horses from locations such as Placitas and Ruidoso and placing them in a state shelter for adoption. She also said the bill removed the requirement of a genetic test that doesn’t exist as well as removes the requirement of the University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology participating in the free-roaming management. “They have no interest in participating in such management, and so consequently this left no qualified scientific oversight and guidance for the free-roaming horse management and birth control implementation.”

While the bill she sponsored wasn’t perfect, McKenna said it was manageable and that it was supported by the New Mexico Livestock Board, New Mexico Counies and “a lot of my constituents in Sandoval County.”

She also expressed great disappointment that a number of bills addresisng food insecurity, tenants’ rights and skyrocketing rent in the state got tabled.

Looking ahead

She also touched on her disappointment regarding bills on radio communications for first responders..

The communications bill, McKenna said, would have provided funds for a half million first responders to be on a single radio system, increasing the ability and efficiency of departments being able to coordinate with each other.  “That is something I regarded as an urgent public safety bill that I want to work with stakeholders on in the interim and then ask the governor to please consider it for her call,” she said.

And while she was pleased with the passage of the Bennie Hargrove safe gun storage bill passing, she wants to see more action on gun safety.

McKenna also made a call for introducing a “professional legislature” in New Mexico, saying she was “disgusted” a bill to put that on the ballot for the voters “did not rise to the top.”

“We miss out on a tremendous amount of talented folks who would like to ser as a legislator, but once they see the terms, once their employer sees that they have to be gone for 30-60 days … a lot of them just disqualify themselves because it’s not doable.

“New Mexicans also miss out on many of us giving them our full-time attention as their representative or senator because many of us work,” she said. “It’s been estimated New Mexico is behind many of our states that do have professional legislatures, like 2 ½ years, because of our short session and many of us are not full time.”