2017 Legislature Recap
Victories and Setbacks for Wildlife Bills
The New Mexico legislature adjourned Saturday, concluding our 2017 legislative campaign. SWEC backed six great wildlife bills this year, from ending coyote killing contests to reforming wildlife management and more. One bill passed both the Senate and the House and is currently awaiting the Governor's signature. The other five either made progress relative to previous years or introduced bold new ideas. Read our full report below:
SB 81 - Wildlife Trafficking Act
Sponsors: Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo), Gail Chasey (D-Bernalillo)
The United States is one of the world's largest consumers of illegal wildlife products, and the current patchwork of national and international laws is incomplete and difficult to enforce. State-level laws, like SB 81, are necessary to drive down demand for these products. SB 81 bans the sale of products made from elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, great apes, marine turtles, and several other species. It also provides increased law enforcement resources at ports of entry to the state.
SB 81 passed the Senate and the House and is now awaiting Governor Martinez's signature.
SB 268 - Prohibit and Define Coyote Killing Contests
Sponsors: Jeff Steinborn (D-Doña Ana), Mark Moores (R-Bernalillo)
This was SWEC's top priority bill this year, and many of our supporters worked hard to advocate for it. In fact, we have been pushing for a bill to ban coyote killing contests for three legislative long sessions. This year, the bill made it further than ever before, passing a floor vote in the Senate, clearing committee and being sent to a floor vote in the House. However, due to time constraints at the end of the session, the House failed to vote on SB 268, meaning it will not pass this year.
However, not passing does not mean we have failed! Bills often require several sessions before they pass, undergoing a long process of refinement, and SB 268 went further than similar bills have in the past. It had bipartisan support at every stage (sponsors, committee votes, Senate floor vote). In the Senate, it passed 26-15 (almost exactly the same margin as in 2015). Two years ago, a similar bill died in committee in the House; this year, it passed House Judiciary easily, with an 8-4 vote across party lines, sending it to the floor. While the floor vote never happened, we did expect it to pass narrowly.
Public opinion is decisively on our side on this issue. All three major newspapers, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal, and the Las Cruces Sun-News, editorialized in favor of SB 268. SWEC and other groups presented premiere screenings of Unfair Game, a documentary produced by Project Coyote, to capacity audiences in Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. A broad coalition of interest groups supported the bill; faith leaders, hunters, and scientists all sent sign-on letters to the House of Representatives and the Governor, urging them to support the bill. (Read those letters here.) And everyday New Mexicans like YOU played a huge role, writing letters to the editors of both urban and rural newspapers, mailing nearly a thousand postcards to elected officials, making over 100 phone calls to representatives, and signing petitions by the thousands. Legislation can't pass without that kind of public support, and we know history is moving in our direction on this issue.
While we are disappointed we didn't get a law signed this year, we know we are in position to do so in 2019. New Mexico is leading on this issue; no other state legislature in the country advanced a bill banning coyote killing contests this year. It is only a matter of time before we make history!
SB 266 - State Game Commission Mission and Purpose
SB 267 - Protection of Furbearing Animals and Coyotes
HB 254 - Game Commission Legislative Appointments
These three bills all aimed to reform wildlife management in New Mexico in different ways. Currently, New Mexico leaves almost half its species with no legal protection, including coyotes (which is what allows coyote killing contests in the first place). SB 266 would have expanded the Commission's mandate to protect "all species" in the state, while SB 267 took the more modest step of protecting coyotes and skunks. Both bills were new this year, introduced by wildlife champion Senator Jeff Steinborn (D-Doña Ana), and while they did not advance out of committee, they received important feedback. HB 254, introduced by Matthew McQueen (D-Bernalillo) in the House, would have made the Game Commission more democratic by giving the Legislative Council power to appoint a majority of its seats, mandating that some seats be reserved for scientists and conservationists. (Currently, the Governor appoints all seats with no oversight or influence from the Legislature.) HB 254 also did not pass committee.
SWEC is committed to the kind of broad-based wildlife management reform represented by these bills, and we will work to refine these bills for future sessions.
SB 286 - NM Wildlife Protection and Public Safety Act
Sponsors: Pete Campos (D), Gay Kernan (R)
This bill would have banned trapping and poisoning on public lands in New Mexico. There was some confusion in committee over technical issues, and it was sent back to its sponsors for revision. It was not tabled or voted down, but ultimately time did not permit it to be reintroduced. Just like the coyote killing contest legislation, this bill is popular with the public and will be back in 2019!
Passing legislation is a long, often frustrating process, and change often comes slowly. While we didn't get every result we wanted this time, we are always continuing to make progress. We couldn't do our work without the help of our supporters. As always, thanks for everything you do for wildlife!