Who’s Water is She Carrying? Last Minute “Dummy” Bill Filed by Senator Liz Stefanics for Governor’s Unvetted Strategic Water Supply

Yesterday, during the New Mexico Senate’s floor session, State Senator Liz Stefanics introduced a last minute substitute for one of her so-called ‘dummy bills.’

Senate Bill 294, morphed into a new bill trying to keep Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s controversial Strategic Water Plan alive after receiving tepid support from legislators and raising concerns from long standing water policy advocates.

The bill purports to be about the “oceans of brackish water” the Governor spoke of in her state of the state address.

And although there is no reference to produced water, a product of oil and gas fracking and other industrial operations, the language in at least two sections of the bill appears to be broad enough to allow state agencies to lay the groundwork for what some critics claim is the Governor’s quest to bail out oil and gas interests in cleaning up the billions of gallons of water contaminated by fracking.

Left to Right: Senator Liz Stefanics, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Senator George Muñoz

Legislative sources told The Candle yesterday that the “fourth floor” – a common reference to the Governor’s team – is pushing for SB 294, but there is a lot of head scratching by legislators wondering what is really going on with this bill – and why the late, rushed effort.

Also signed on the bill as sponsors are Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Muñoz and Senator William Sharer.

Why a Dummy Bill

Dummy bills are placeholder bills that have a generic title about the so-called peace and welfare of the state, and emergencies – but deliberately containing no language in the draft.

The reason they exist is supposedly to allow chairs of committees and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle to introduce legislation after the deadline has passed for filing bills.

It is not a secret among those who follow the workings of the New Mexico legislature that dummy bills can and have been used to advance the interests of highly connected special interests.

The purpose and special interests lurking behind many of these types of spring-loaded measures usually don’t become known until the last few days of a legislative session – with little or no time for the public to investigate and provide legislators enough time to thoughtfully deliberate.

Another Hail Mary Pass?

One of the more famous such bills was the 2013, massive corporate and film tax break bill jammed through the session in the last few hours – and passed over the vocal objections of several House members.

The bill literally was approved as the clock ran out – a corporate Hail Mary pass, executed by former Democratic Speaker Kenny Martinez, former Governor Susana Martinez and film and other corporate lobbyists.

Most Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for that corporate bailout, learning later that they had been lied to about the fiscal impact of the bill which ended up hurting counties and cities across the state.

Stefanics scheduled a hearing for the SB 294 for this morning at 9:00 a.m. Click here for details and links the hearing this morning and here to link to a copy of the SB 294.

New Energy Economy, representing thousands of New Mexicans concerned about water and environmental matters, issued a call to action late yesterday in response to the last minute effort by Senator Stefanics on behalf of the Governor.

The alert states, “The new bill [SB 294] does not mention produced water from fracking waste, but still merits significant concern, especially because the connections between deep brackish water aquifers and potable groundwater aquifers in New Mexico are not well understood.”

Hydrologists are concerned that these deep aquifers cannot be replenished and that drilling could compromise our potable water resources. Any plan to subsidize extraction and treatment of brackish water requires study and careful review before implementation,” the message continued.

Other environmental organizations are also reviewing the legislation.

More to report later today.