February 18, 2022

What passed, what failed in the legislative session

Here’s what happened with notable legislation during the 30-day session that ended Thursday.

Budget: Lawmakers got the job done with about a day to spare. They approved a nearly $8.5 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2023 — a 14 percent increase over the current fiscal year, with raises for all state workers, including teachers, state police officers and judges. The budget also includes funding to increase the minimum wage for state workers to $15 an hour.

Tax cuts: House Bill 163 made a late dash across the finish line. The bill exempts Social Security income from the state’s personal income tax and reduces New Mexico’s gross receipts tax rate by 0.025 percent over two years — priorities of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It also includes tax rebates of up to $500, a child tax credit and tax exemptions for military veterans and nurses who work at least 30 hours in hospitals.

Education: Lawmakers gave unanimous approval to Senate Bill 1, which would increase the minimum pay at each level of the state’s three-tiered teacher licensing system by $10,000. That means starting teachers will see their pay rise to $50,000 from $40,000. The measure is aimed at addressing a crisis-level teacher shortage.

Though it wasn’t unanimous, Senate Bill 140, which would expand eligibility for the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, also cleared both chambers with bipartisan support. The scholarship provides full coverage of tuition and fees for New Mexico students attending in-state colleges and universities.

Native American language and culture teachers would earn the same salary as educators in the middle level of the state’s three-tier licensing system under House Bill 60, which won unanimous approval from both chambers.

Crime: Lawmakers approved a sweeping crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for violent offenders and recruitment and retention stipends for police officers. House Bill 68 also removes a statute of limitations on second-degree murder charges, creates the crime of operating a chop shop and makes it a fourth-degree felony to threaten a judge or a judge’s family.

The governor had pushed for a measure to alter the state’s pretrial detention process, putting the burden on defendants to prove they pose no further risk of violence if they are released until trial. That measure failed to gain traction.

Senate Democrats passed a contentious proposal to ban life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. But Senate Bill 43, which critics countered ran afoul of the governor’s tough-on-crime agenda, pulled the legislation from consideration amid pushback from some district attorneys.

House Bill 9, the Bennie Hargrove Gun Safety Act, which would have held gun owners liable if a child gained access to their weapon, stalled in a House committee.

Both chambers unanimously approved Senate Bill 13, which would create the position of a missing Indigenous persons specialist in the Attorney General’s Office who would work with law enforcement on such cases. A companion bill, Senate Bill 12, which creates a Missing in New Mexico event to support residents who have missing relatives, also received unanimous support.

The opioid fentanyl has become a leading killer of adults. Lawmakers proposing House Bill 52 — another winner — advocated to prevent this by decriminalizing the use and possession of test strips used to determine whether the drug is lurking in other substances.

Voting rights: A broad voting rights’ bill that aimed to expand voter access to the polls was a key priority for Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Despite several changes to the measure, Senate Bill 144 failed in the final hours. Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, prevented a vote on the Senate floor via a one-man filibuster. 

Hydrogen hub: Lujan Grisham championed a bill to turn New Mexico into a hub of hydrogen production. An initial bill creating a framework and incentives for the new industry was blocked — along with several subsequent attempts — by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Proponents said it would create jobs and boost the economy, but critics countered it would increase emissions amid a climate crisis.

Cannabis: Senate Bill 100 would have altered the Cannabis Regulation Act approved last year, in part increasing the number of plants a micro producer could grow. But an amendment stripping a requirement for cannabis producers and manufacturers to obtain water rights spurred controversy. Water rights activists cried foul as the bill staggered into the House Judiciary Committee, where it never received a hearing. 

Environment: The House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 164, which requires the state Environment Department to coordinate a statewide effort to clean up and reclaim legacy uranium mine and mill sites.

Over the objection of Republicans, the Senate signed off on a bill to create a statewide clean fuel standard in New Mexico. But Senate Bill 14, designed to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by going after greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, died in the House early Thursday morning on a tight 33-33 vote.

The Clean Future Act also had a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation, House Bill 6, survived two committees but never received a vote on the House floor. Similarly, a proposed constitutional amendment providing New Mexico residents with the right to clean and healthy air, water and soil did not get a floor vote.

A bill that would have prohibited the storage of spent nuclear fuel in the state, in response to plans for development of such a site in Southern New Mexico, didn’t get off the ground. Senate Bill 54 was heard by one committee that moved it forward without a endorsement.

Health care: House Bill 91, which streamlines the process for licensed out-of-state health care workers — including nurses — to obtain a license in New Mexico, was approved unanimously in both chambers.

Redistricting: House Joint Resolution 9, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have removed the New Mexico Legislature from the controversial process of drawing new election districts for legislative and congressional seats, made it only through one committee.

Predatory lending: After efforts in previous sessions failed, lawmakers approved a bill to cap interest rates on short-term loans. House Bill 132 will reduce the maximum annual interest rate on installment loans from 175 percent to 36 percent.

Land grants: A measure that will distribute a small percentage of state gross receipts tax revenue to eligible land grants passed both chambers with little opposition. House Bill 8 creates the land grant-merced assistance fund to be administered by the Department of Finance and Administration.