The New Mexico Senate on Monday voted 38-0 for a bill creating a division of outdoor recreation, one of the favored initiatives of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It is not to be a promotional agency but one that would be responsible for building the private-sector economy by helping businesses find ways to draw more visitors to New Mexico’s rivers, forests, caverns and peaks. The proposal, Senate Bill 462, next moves to the House of Representatives, where the Democratic leadership will fast-track it. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it’s clear that the Democratic governor wants this bill passed. “New Mexico has the greatest outdoor opportunities in the West,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after the Senate’s vote.
New Mexico’s governor and other statewide elected officials would get 15 percent raises starting in 2023, under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate. The proposal, Senate Bill 547, next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The state’s five public regulation commissioners, who are elected from districts, also would receive 15 percent increases. Salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials were last increased in 2002. Sens.
One of the biggest unanswered questions during this year’s legislative session is whether New Mexico will become the next state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis is dependent on a handful of hold-outs in the state Senate, but one bill that would ease the state’s laws on cannabis, years in the making and sponsored by one of those hold-outs, cleared its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 323 on a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored similar legislation to replace criminal charges with fines for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis since 2015. With each attempt, the proposal has gained more support in the Legislature.
Governors typically come into office with high expectations, after telling voters what legislation they’ll ensure passes to improve the state. But they can run into one major challenge: the state legislature. Any legislation must pass both the House and Senate with a majority from each chamber. To do so, the governor must convince and cajole members who represent ethnically, socio-economically, geographically and ideologically diverse districts throughout the state to advance the legislation. At times, their efforts crash upon the rocks and the promised progress is stalled.
The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed a new nurse licensing compact on Thursday, averting what one lawmaker warned would be a health care crisis by ensuring nurses with licenses from more than two dozen other states can continue practicing in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sped the bill through the Legislature in the first days of this year’s month-long session as they faced a deadline late Friday to either approve the new compact or leave dozens — potentially hundreds — of nurses with licenses from other states unable to work in New Mexico, only making worse a shortage of medical professionals around the state. “Some hospitals, as high as 70 percent of their staff are out-of-state nurses. This is critical,” Rep. Deborah Armstrong, a Democrat from Albuquerque and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, told representatives before the chamber voted 68-0 to approve the new compact without debate. After the swift vote, the measure headed to the governor, who signed it Thursday afternoon surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Lawmakers face a hard deadline this week to make sure that dozens or even hundreds of nurses can continue working in New Mexico. Legislators have until midnight Friday to approve a new nurse licensing compact, an update to an agreement that allows nurses licensed in other states to practice in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. Hospitals say the compact is key to recruiting in a state facing a shortage of medical professionals. Missing the deadline to join the new system would leave New Mexico with fewer nurses to care for patients, they say. Though not much usually happens during the first days of a legislative session, the high stakes amid a particularly rough flu season have forged what appears to be a bipartisan consensus that lawmakers must approve the compact and fast during their 30-day gathering that begins at noon Tuesday.
Legislative leadership in both chambers and of both parties announced a bipartisan group of legislators will address the state’s sexual harassment policy. The sexual harassment policy was last revised in 2008, which was also the last time legislators underwent sexual harassment training. The group of legislators will work with the Legislative Council Service as well as outside attorneys to review the existing policy and recommend an updated draft policy to the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council, which is made up of members of each chamber, will then vote on adoption of the new policy in January. Leadership announced that the working group will look at applying the policy to staff, contractors, lobbyists and outside vendors in addition to legislators as well as “clearly outlining terms of enforcement” and outlining protections for those reporting sexual harassment from any retaliation.
For most of this year, the budget was the hottest topic for legislators and the governor. Both branches battled, then came to an agreement no one seems enthusiastic about. The deal suggested by Gov. Susana Martinez essentially amounted to using bonding money normally reserved for state infrastructure to balance the budget. State lawmakers request the bonding money for state infrastructure projects. Issuing bonds works like a home mortgage: the state borrows money backed by oil and gas revenue and pays it back with interest over the years. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said the funding method “sets a poor precedent” while Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he didn’t “like to do this either.”
And yet, the plan passed with a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives and just two dissenting votes in the Senate.
Without much drama or even an attempt to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of tax increases, legislators ended a special session where a budget deal became law. The legislators in both chambers came to order around 1 p.m. on Tuesday after recessing ahead of the holiday weekend. The legislators recessed last Thursday rather than adjourn after passing bills related to the budget and taxes. Staying in session while recessed meant Martinez had to make a decision on legislation to three days instead of 20 days. Martinez ultimately signed legislation on Friday reinstating funding for higher education and the state Legislature, both of which she vetoed entirely after the regular Legislative session earlier this year.