ARTESIA — Four state representatives from the southeast region are sponsoring legislation that could make New Mexico a Right To Work state, although the head of one New Mexico think tank is hoping individual counties will take the lead.
House Bill 169 is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 7 in the House Labor and Economic Development Committee, according to the New Mexico Legislative website.
It is sponsored by Larry Scott (R-Hobbs), Jim Townsend (R-Artesia), Greg Nibert (R-Roswell) and Bob Wooley (R-Roswell).
Rep. Townsend said the legislation allows employees, “the right to choose whether they believe being represented by organized labor or a union, or not, is an expense they want to incur.”
He added, “I think passing this bill is imperative if New Mexico wants to grow and be a state where we can offer our children greater opportunities.”
Rep. Townsend said New Mexico needs to join the majority of states across the country and become a business-friendly state with a Right To Work law.
Paul Gessing of the Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Foundation free market think tank has been pushing the issue to lawmakers for some time. He said the concept was brought up decades ago when Democrat Gov. Bruce King kicked around the idea.
“Right To Work has been a longtime issue in New Mexico,” Gessing said. “It was most prominent in the early ‘80s, under Bruce King, there was a serious effort to make New Mexico a Right To Work state.”
Gessing said his organization has done research and produced data that shows states with Right To Work are growing faster than those states that don’t have it. He said 28 states are in the Right To Work camp.
“When Republicans in 2015 had the (New Mexico) House and governorship, Susana Martinez made Right To Work one of her top issues and priorities,” Gessing said.
“The legislation passed out of the House in 2015 and was defeated ultimately in the Senate,” he added.
Gessing said it was brought back in 2016, however it was turned down in the Senate.
Gessing doesn’t have very high hopes that HB169 will pass during this session.
He said in order to get Right To Work going in New Mexico, the conservative areas of the state are going to have to take action. Gessing said New Mexico should look to the Blue Grass State of Kentucky.
Some two to three years ago, he said Kentucky had talked about Right To Work. He said some counties got fed up and they took matters into their own hands and adopted Right To Work ordinances.
The unions took those counties to court and Gessing said a federal appeals court validated Right To Work on a county level.
Gessing said those counties are suborganizations of a state and they have abilities to enact policies to help the economy.
“It was 12 counties in Kentucky that had gone Right To Work,” Gessing said.
“There were major investments in that timeframe. Several of those counties saw tremendous gains,” he said.
“In 2017, the stars aligned for Kentucky, with a Republican governor and houses under Republican control, the state went Right To Work,” Gessing added.
Gessing praises Sandoval County for being the first in New Mexico to pass Right To Work.
“Sandoval County had some elected officials interested in leading the charge on this using Kentucky as a template for county-level Right To Work,” he said.
Gessing said county officials approved the measure earlier this month. He is now hoping that Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties will join the Albuquerque-area county in adopting the same legislation.
Despite increases in oil and gas revenue, he said New Mexico faces severe economic challenges. He added that New Mexico still has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation and has less jobs than this time 10 years ago when the recession hit.
He said Right To Work has to be a discussion to get the economy going.
“The state Legislature doesn’t seem inclined to push for real (economic) reform,” Gessing said.
“Something has to be done,” he added. “It’s up to the county commissioners to lead the charge.”
Gessing added that his organization has been talking with government leaders in our region to push Right To Work.
“There are going to be lawsuits filed by hostile unions that don’t want to see their donations dry up a little bit and their political power reduced a bit,” he said.
Gessing said Sandoval is a purple county in New Mexico. He said Right To Work will be more impressive if more counties across the state adopt it.
“We know Southeast New Mexico and the conservative areas don’t get much attention,” he said.
Gessing added such legislation could be a strong statement for the population centers like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.
General assignment reporter Mike Smith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 307, or at email@example.com.