by Milan Simonich, Santa Fe New Mexican

For a time, it seemed that state Reps. Nora Espinoza and David Gallegos had locked up the prize for the most mean-spirited bill of 2016. Now they have competition.

Espinoza, R-Roswell, and Gallegos, R-Eunice, have introduced the measure that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people on the grounds that this would protect the religious freedom of the business owners.

Espinoza, who wants to run for secretary of state and is collecting petition signatures for her effort, couldn’t have worse timing. Under her bill, a print shop could refuse to produce campaign fliers for a candidate who is gay. Espinoza’s bill is similar in concept to old, unconstitutional laws in which restaurants refused service to people because of the color of their skin.

If Espinoza ends up as the Republican nominee for secretary of state, her bill treating gay people as the enemy, not as paying customers, will be the anchor that sinks her.

The upside for New Mexicans is that her proposal to enshrine discrimination in law isn’t going to advance in the Legislature. Her bill is dying a slow and justified death, not having received a message from Gov. Susana Martinez so it can be heard during this 30-day session.

But another bill that is just as destructive is alive in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

House Bill 211, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, would repeal a law that allows home-rule cities and counties to authorize or keep a higher minimum wage than the state’s rate of $7.50 an hour.

Three of New Mexico’s four largest cities, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, and the counties of Bernalillo and Santa Fe, have enacted minimum wages higher than the statewide rate.

There’s no shortage of poverty in Santa Fe or the rest of New Mexico. Harper’s bill, which lists Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque as a second sponsor, would worsen the problem.

Santa Fe’s minimum wage will increase from $10.84 to $10.91 an hour March 1. The bill by Harper and Moores would cut the pay of workers making that minimum wage by almost $3.50 an hour.

Bill Jordan, a lobbyist for New Mexico Voices for Children, says the bill would take away about $6,000 a year from a Santa Fe worker now making $22,000. “It’s a good way to increase poverty,” Jordan said.

Moores is an affable politician who once was a varsity lineman for The University of New Mexico football team. A big man, he has often spoken against the curse of big government, such as last year when he voted against the state capping the interest rates of payday lending companies accused of predatory practices.

Yet this bill by Moores and Harper would allow state government to crush the will of home-rule cities and their residents to pay a higher minimum wage.

New Mexico lawmakers have not raised the statewide minimum wage since January 2009. Two bills this year for increases, both sponsored by House Democrats, have been left in limbo by Republican Martinez and will die.

Local governments should be able to authorize a higher minimum wage if they believe the state rate is outdated or inadequate. It costs more to live and work in Santa Fe than it does in Deming or Tucumcari or Truth or Consequences, so the capital city has opted for a higher minimum wage.

In addition, service jobs are key to Santa Fe’s economy. Its people have recognized the contributions of those who do that work, both with a higher minimum wage and by providing for small, annual increases to try to keep up with rising expenses.

Troubles abound in Santa Fe, especially drug addiction, property crime and an undisciplined city government that spends too much.

But sanctioning a higher minimum wage than the rest of New Mexico is not one of Santa Fe’s problems. It’s a sign of the city’s commitment to offering boots to people who’ve been told that they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many of them are doing just that.

Copyright 2016, Santa Fe New Mexican (