This year, the New Mexico Legislature begins a 30-day session that commences on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Given the short schedule—the state’s governing legislative body meets in 30-day sessions on even years, 60-day sessions on odd years—this year’s convocation focuses on economics and education.
That isn’t to say other bills being submitted won’t get their due. A comprehensive package aimed at legalizing recreational cannabis is in the works. Its passage was named as a legislative priority last year by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and heroic measures are currently being taken to assure that the bill reaches the governor’s desk.
Among these priorities, the governor also announced her budget recommendations on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, as of this reporter’s deadline, a number of bills have been prefiled in the New Mexico House. Here’s a look at what’s happening at the Merry Roundhouse as the days before the second session of New Mexico’s 54th Legislature count down.
Two weeks before the Legislature was due to begin their annual confab, Governor Lujan Grisham outlined her budgetary hopes and dreams. Using a windfall profit from sustained oil and gas production in the state as a model for more spending, the Governor’s budget proposal calls for increases in several areas.
And although income from such sources is expected to outpace spending from the state’s general fund by a whopping $800 million this coming fiscal year (FY 2021), the Democratic leadership has taken a cautious tack on continued reliance on the volatile—but still sustained—income generated by digging for dinosaur juice in the Southeastern and Northwest parts of The Land of Enchantment.
Said recommendations call for using 75 percent of that money from black gold, while maintaining the remaining 25 percent as a cash reserve designed to prevent economic trouble if and when those precious petro-dollars lose value. Under the proposal, general fund spending would rise to about $7.68 billion in FY 2021—that’s an 8.4 percent increase over last year’s spending.
Of course, education is at the top of the list. Lujan Grisham’s wish list includes the following nuggets.
• A 4 percent raise for teachers, a 3 percent raise for employees of the state of New Mexico and a 2 percent increase in pay for employees of public colleges and universities.
• The proposed increase in general fund spending also includes a $74 million rise to sustain and expand the early childhood education initiatives that were part of Lujan Grisham’s election platform.
• A separate, $320 million trust fund, using investment earnings, would be created to ensure the program’s sustainability.
• The budget proposal also calls for paying the tuition of some 55,000 New Mexico college students. This year’s bill for that expenditure would cost New Mexicans about $35 million if approved by the legislature.
Lujan Grisham’s budget also includes $164 million in funding to hire more New Mexico State Police officers and increase public safety in the state. Sixty new state cops would be added to the roster under the governor’s money plan for 2020. In addition, the governor will seek about $40 million in funding to support local economic development and $28.7 million to fund a new behavioral health network in New Mexico aimed at addressing substance abuse disorders. And $25 million would be spent on providing more comprehensive health care services to senior citizens in The Land of Enchantment.
Meanwhile over in the House and Senate chambers of the notoriously named New Mexico Roundhouse—it’s where things like recreational cannabis measures just go round and round, que no?—several legislators have pre-filed legislation ahead of the Jan. 21 start date. More than 230 pieces of legislation have been pre-filed. Here is some of what we know so far. These are the measures that caught our eye in a year that’s all about spending that glorious oil money in a productive and progressive fashion.
• HB52, sponsored by State Representative Patricia Roybal Cabellero (D) would provide for multicultural programming at the state’s flagship university, UNM. The measure would provide $225,000 each to sustain Africana Studies, Chicano Studies and Native American studies courses and curriculums.
• SB25 is all about outreach and services to homeless veterans in the state of New Mexico. Sponsored by State Senator Bill Tallman (D), the bill would appropriate $300,000 from the general fund to help reduce homelessness among those New Mexico citizens who have served in the armed forces.
• SB78, sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Senator Liz Stefanics, aims to curb Latino youth suicide by using $50,000 from the general fund to finance prevention programs through the Department of Health.
• SB80, the community solar act sponsored by state Senator William P. Soules (D), would establish a community of state solar facilities and provide the state public regulation commission with oversight and rule making abilities for such. The bill would also establish a community solar energy assistance fund to help low-income New Mexicans make the switch to sun power.
• HB46 would make changes to the state educational retirement fund. Sponsored by Democratic State Representative Tomas Salazar, the legislation would not call for an increase in contributions by state employees who are part of the pension system.
• HB35, sponsored by William R. Rehm, a Republican member of New Mexico’s House of Representatives, calls for an increase in penalties for those who use a firearm in the commission of a crime by three years. This added jail time would not be eligible to be suspended or deferred by the judge that said alleged criminal might face.
• SB27, a Republican-sponsored bill, provides the legal groundwork necessary to have the governor—at her discretion—detail members of the New Mexico State Police to certain municipalities “to bring about proper law enforcement in the state, to handle disturbances or to investigate certain law violations.”
• HB16 is another attempt to pass the paid medical and family leave act. This year the bill is sponsored by Rep. Christine Chandler, a Democrat. The measure would create a medical and family leave trust fund, establish parameters for time contributions for employees and provide funding of the program through the New Mexico Workforce Development Department.
Interested readers can read about all 231 pre-filed bits of legislation for the 2020 New Mexico Legislature, from memorials and resolutions to bills, at legiscan.com.
News Editors Note: The print version of this article contained a production error in the headline and a reporting error with regards to HB46. Both have been corrected and Weekly Alibi regrets these errors.