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New Mexico passes bill to safeguard abortion providers

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators raced against the clock Friday to advance hard-fought proposals aimed at safeguarding abortion access, delivering tax relief and reducing gun violence in the final hours of a 60-day legislative session.

Republicans in the legislative minority raised a series of objections during a House floor debate to a bill that aims to protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state interference, prosecution or extradition attempts.

In a victory for abortion rights advocates in New Mexico and states where the procedure is banned, the House secured final passage of that bill, in a 38-30 vote with Republicans and some Democrats in opposition. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign it. The governor already signed a law to block local abortion-ban ordinances.

Lujan Grisham on Friday said it was increasingly important for New Mexico to broaden its protections for access to abortion, along with gender-affirming health care, amid litigation backed by Republican-led states that threatens the nationwide availability of a leading abortion medication.

“We’re broadening those protections to everyone who should be constitutionally protected to make their own decisions ... in light of, right now, Republican attorneys general and others trying to restrict access to medication abortion,” Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexico stood up for science, for women.”

Legislators have until noon on Saturday to send other bills to the governor for consideration.

Votes were pending Friday on gun control measures including a prohibition on firearms at polling places during an election.

Republican and Democratic legislators found common ground in a bill that would allow state prosecution and apply felony penalties to straw purchases of firearms, in which a weapon is bought legally in order to sell it to someone who can’t lawfully possess a gun.

A 28-10 vote of the Senate sent the bill to the governor's desk. Sponsors include Republican House minority leaders T. Ryan Lane of Aztec and former police captain and Republican state Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque.

It was unclear whether other gun bills would come to a final vote, including a proposed ban on assault rifles, a 14-day waiting period on most gun purchases and a proposal to raise the minimum purchase age to 21 for some firearms. Lujan Grisham signed a bill last week that makes it a crime to store firearms in places that children could access.

At a news conference Friday, Lujan Grisham acknowledged a strong culture of gun ownership in New Mexico, including women, and said the state has steadily adopted gun safety measures with that in mind since she took office in 2019.

“If you take that context and you look at universal background checks, red-flag laws, the relinquishment of a firearm in certain domestic violence cases — and the safe-storage and the straw-sales purchase bill — we’re doing a lot more on guns in a short amount of time than most states certainly around us," she said.

In the closing days of the legislature, Republicans rallied around a bill to overhaul medical malpractice regulations. The initiative aims to lower insurance rates for independent clinics and attract more medical professionals to state, especially in remote, rural areas. The Democratic governor helped negotiate provisions of the bill and is expected to sign it into law.

The Democrat-led Legislature passed bills in the final days of the session that would boost pay for statewide elected officials, including the attorney general and secretary of state.

Among criminal justice initiatives, the governor signed legislation establishing penalties for organized retail crime and end the possibility of life prison sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as children.

A bill that would eliminate court fees that can have a disproportionate effect on the poor won Senate endorsement Friday on a 35-1 vote, advancing to the governor's desk. Fines imposed as a punishment for an offense would not be waived.

Lujan Grisham has signed a bill that ends the widespread practice of suspending driver’s licenses because of overdue court debts or missed court hearings. Sponsors of the bill, including Republican state Sen. Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, say that debt-based license suspensions are counterproductive.

Another bill on the governor’s desk would use opioid settlement funds to provide treatment at county jails to inmates for drug addiction and alcohol dependency, by administering drugs including methadone and buprenorphine that can stop drug cravings without causing a euphoric high.

The governor on Thursday signed a bill that will establish an office of renewable energy to oversee the expansion of wind and solar-energy production leases on state trust land.

The State Land Office would oversee the new division. The agency that once focused on oil and natural gas development has expanded renewable energy development in recent years to oversee 27 leases for wind energy production.