Alibi V.29 No.8 • Feb 20-26, 2020 

New Mexico News

Goodbye, Legislature Number 54

Highlights from the latest 30-day session

House Chambers, NM Legislature
House Chambers, NM Legislature
courtesy nmlegis.gov

Thirty days sure passes quickly. By the time you read this, the second session of New Mexico’s 54th Legislature will either have ended or will be just about to finish things up (the state’s bicameral governing body adjourns at noon on Feb. 20).

Public safety, education and finances were the big themes at this 30-day session. And although the Lujan Grisham administration had several successes during this year’s short-lived session, the Dems in charge also faced a couple of notable letdowns.

Up and Down

A bill to make recreational cannabis legal in The Land of Enchantment, The Cannabis Regulation Act, was tabled after brief but intensive debate about the time it would take to fully vet such a bill before it becomes the law. You can almost see next year’s entrada forming in the tall grass with a streamlined cannabis bill ready to do battle against the powerful windmills where folks like state Senators Cervantes of Las Cruces and Smith of Deming do their business.

The bill will eventually become law; Weekly Alibi cannabis correspondent Joshua Lee offers his thesis for getting it done sooner rather than later in this week’s cannabis section. Read all about it on page 28 of this issue.

In the meantime, other disappointments include a stalled free college plan and the failure of the social security tax repeal act. The good news for the governor and her allies was great in comparison, however.

SB 5, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, passed through multiple committees and was passed by both chambers of the legislature. The governor said she’d sign it when it arrives on her desk.

Likewise, legislation aimed at earmarking money from the general fund to support a childhood education trust fund is on its way to becoming law. The measure, HB 83, passed in the senate by a vote of 37 to 1.

Here are some more details about some of those bills and the business of our citizen legislature—as it winds down until next year’s January 2021 meet-up.

SB5

Despite formidable outcry from some of New Mexico’s duly elected county sheriffs—Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton met with constituents at the Eunice, New Mexico City Hall last week to tell those gathered that he would rather go to jail than enforce the soon-to-be law—who claim that the law violates the Second and Fourth Amendments of the US Constitution. The bill has been notably favored and heavily promoted as a solution to gun violence by the governor this year.

Next door to Burque, in Torrance County, former Bernalillo County Commissioner, onetime Albuquerque mayoral candidate and current Torrance County Manager Wayne Johnson complained that the law puts the state in “an untenable situation.” Johnson made his concerns known after the Torrance County Commission passed a unanimous resolution to oppose the bill.

Commenting on this right-wing dissent from a group of elected law enforcement officers, Lujan Grisham said at a press conference on Friday that she will not abide any lack of enforcement by government officials opposed to confiscating guns from citizens who are a known danger to themselves and the community.

The law, as it is written, gives law enforcement agents in New Mexico the power to petition to have firearms temporarily removed from the possession of individuals who have been deemed a threat through their demonstrated actions.

HB 83

Oil and gas revenues are at an all-time high for this state and we’re now rated third in the nation for oil and gas extraction. The good news about all that non-renewable fossil fuel is that it can be used as a funding source for one of the governor’s premier initiatives. That project would entail creating a trust fund to finance, support and grow early childhood education in this state. According to the plan, when revenue from oil and gas outpaces spending by 25 percent, money would be contributed to the trust fund via the state’s general fund.

The result would be the ability to plan and implement crucial education programs that are essential to raising productive, literate and active citizens. The bill, as mentioned earlier in this article, passed the Senate on a near-unanimous vote. The only dissenting voice came from longtime progressive Senator—and former Weekly Alibi columnist—Gerald Ortiz y Pino, who questioned the fund’s priorities and financing.

HB6

There is still some question as to whether HB 6, a wide ranging anti-crime bill that passed effortlessly through the house on a 59 to 9 vote, will make it out of committee in the state Senate.

The original version of this legislation called for stiffer penalties for non-murderous gun-related crimes as well as providing for broadening of funding for community police projects across the state—and calling for better treatment of PTSD in law enforcement officers who have been exposed to violence and its aftermath.

The bill made it through one senate committee, but not before being substantially rewritten to disinclude the parts that propose better PTSD treatment—that would be handled in a separate bill, said members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate Finance Committee will hear the legislation mid-week, just before the session ends on Thursday at noon.