The Democratically-controlled 2021 New Mexico Legislature considered and passed legislation on a wide swath of issues reflecting concern for many underserved groups in our state and society. The long list of initiatives either already signed or currently on the Governor’s desk includes measures to:
- Repeal the unconstitutional state outlawing of abortions;
- Extend civil rights of workers at state agencies and adding language to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Give voters the option to approve an larger distribution from the permanent school fund; and,
- Ban animal trapping and snaring on public lands.
And that’s just scratching the surface of issues addressed. A truly impressive amount was accomplished this Session, particularly when one considers the degree to which Republicans tried to slow the Democratic legislative train down.
But if one also scratches that legislative surface continuously from now, through the period of the upcoming Special Session on cannabis, and until one has literally somehow scratched through the table upon which one is scratching, the floor in which that table stands, the earth’s surface, mantle, core, core and mantel again, and eventually exits on the opposite side of the world…
one would still not find any initiative passed, considered, or even proposed addressing the fact that drivers on New Mexico roads kill so many pedestrians that the state ranks 3rd worst nationally in the latest, just released “Dangerous by Design” annual report by Smart Growth America.
This extreme legislative transportational torpor extended as well to a lack of cycling safety proposals. Unlike the last 60-day session in 2019, no “five feet for cyclists” legislation was proposed this year, perhaps after the legislative debacle incurred in trying to enact it two years ago (the Governor vetoed it, long story). One sponsor of that bill, and new chair of the House Transportation, Public Works, and Capital Improvements committee, Rep. Angelica Rubio is a noted cyclist who has previously (pre-pandemic) ridden her bike all the way from her Las Cruces to each session in Santa Fe.
Perhaps the lack of mental freedom offered by a ~300 mile bike ride didn’t allow Rep. Rubio the chance to dream up any desperately needed legislation which would help keep her fellow cyclists and other non-motorized road users alive. Because she didn’t have any this Session. None. Zero.
As new chair of House Transportation, Rep. Rubio sponsored a curious lack of anything having to do with transportation other than the DOT funding bill, HB 3. This bill notably included Department performance measure goals of fewer than 357 annual traffic deaths (there were 390 in 2020, 425 in 2019, and 392 in 2018), and fewer than 125 alcohol-related traffic fatalities (there were 139 such deaths in 2020, and 175 in 2019). What’s most interesting about these goals is what’s missing: There’s no performance measure regarding pedestrian fatalities, despite such deaths accounting for ~25% of our overall total, and despite a level of carnage that places us 3rd worst in the nation in killing those who walk along/across our roadways.
Instead, one of the very few pieces of legislation having anything to do with transportation in this session concerned definition and regulation of autonomous vehicles. Yeah, that bill passed. Nothing even considered when it comes to the current public health crisis of walking deaths, but, yeah, we’re gonna be all over those self-driving cars…whenever the Hell they get designed to adequately notice people walking, that is, or when we force pedestrians to wear “see me safety gear” so that AVs can “see” them.
The fact so clearly illustrated by the 2021 Session is that there are simply no champions of traffic safety in New Mexico, either legislative or executive. Governor Lujan Grisham and her Democratic legislative colleagues care deeply about a great many inequities, but those cares do not meaningfully extend to the fact that many are dying on our roadways, and that a hugely disproportionate number of them are poor and people of color.
I’m not saying that these folks do not care. It’s just that the issue isn’t anywhere close to the top of their list of greatest concerns. This Session, the issue wasn’t even on the list. And it was a 60-Day Session.
In the last decade or so, the Legislature has considered and even passed measures such as the aforementioned “Five Feet for Bicycles” in 2019. Legislative memorials on Complete Streets have been passed and signed in 2010, 2014, and 2017 (and yes, I know they were only “memorials” and don’t get me started on what I think about “memorials”), including back when pizza elocutionist Susana Martinez was Governor. The 2021 Session was an undeniable failure in terms of addressing traffic violence, and with no champion on the issue to be found anywhere near the Roundhouse, prospects are also bleak for the foreseeable future.