The Legislature of the state of New Mexico continues its historic 30-day session at the state capitol in Santa Fe.
This year’s session started on Tuesday Jan. 21 and it continues through Thursday, Feb. 20. During the 10 days since the session came to life, prefiled legislation began to make its way through different committees, new legislation was introduced and some measures were modified or updated. The Governor also gave a speech and made the rounds to support her favorite bills, including those for education, budget initiatives and recreational cannabis legalization.
Here’s a look at some of those legislative activities as seen through the eyes of an observer.
This senate-based bill is known as the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act. It provides a legal framework for removing firearms from the possession of New Mexican citizens who pose a threat to themselves and others. Under the law, a judge or a member of law enforcement would make case by case decisions about gun removal.
There was a lot of debate over this measure. Many citizens showed up for the public committee hearing to tell tales of gun violence in the state. Many of those present favored stronger gun laws, but many others came to protest the intent of the bill.
More than a dozen county sheriffs from around the state attended the hearing to argue that the legislation infringed on the constitutional right to bear arms. A NRA rally on the capitol steps on Friday drew hundreds of firearm enthusiasts who also came out against the bill. Many of them brought their weapons to the steps of the roundhouse for the protest.
The bill got a fair hearing in the state Senate Public Affairs Committee last week. It passed by a margin of 4-3 and now advances to the Judiciary committee.
The governor’s proposal to fund an early childhood education trust using windfall profits realized from the state’s close association with the oil and gas industry advanced through one committee and awaits further discussion.
The Senate Education Committee cleared the plan on an unanimous vote, sending the proposal to the Finance Committee for an in-depth look at the legislation’s economic feasibility.
SB 3 calls for some New Mexico tax profits from oil and gas to be diverted to an early childhood education trust fund. That would happen in years when state cash reserves are 25 percent larger than spending levels for the same time period. During this upcoming fiscal year, the plan would secure about $320 million for use in such a trust.
This year, recently appointed Democratic Albuquerque State Senator Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez is the sponsor of the legislation. Though the bill was prefiled, it has yet to be heard in committee and may have to wait until next year’s full 60-day session.
Nonetheless, Senator Sedillo-Lopez is hopeful about the legislation which would basically ban fracking in New Mexico, telling the local daily on opening day, “ I think it’s important for the state to take a breather and look at it.”
Opponents of SB 104 say a ban on fracking, even a temporary stop, would endanger up to 100,000 jobs in the southeast and northwest of the state.
Two bills, HB 29 and HB 77, would reduce the amount of taxes that people who retire in the State of New Mexico pay through the social security system, and they made it through their respective committee hearings this week and are now on the way to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
Santa Fe non-partisan think tank Think New Mexico reports that this state is only one of 13 nationwide that taxes social security benefits.
Under the proposals—which were approved by unanimous votes in the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee this past Friday—that tax would be reduced or entirely repealed. That would mean about $700 extra annually for state seniors’ social security checks.
Opponents of the measure point out that a repeal of the tax would mean almost $130 million per year in lost revenue for the state. Overall, six different proposals for reducing or eliminating the tax on social security have been introduced at this year’s legislature.
Besides providing money to improve and repair the state’s public education system, some legislators are convinced that the revenue from New Mexico’s booming oil and gas industry—New Mexico is now third in the nation in terms of oil and gas production—could be used for other things, too.
The New Mexico Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act would set aside money from surplus oil and gas revenue. This money would be used to fund habitat restoration and sustainability as well as to fund sustainable agriculture projects across the the state—and that includes using the fund to positively affect areas “impacted by residential, energy, mineral or industrial development.”