By Robert Nott and Claudia Silva, The Santa Fe New Mexican
You need over a quarter of a million dollars, on average, to buy a house in Albuquerque. It’s at least twice that much in Santa Fe. Want to rent an apartment? Even a one-bedroom will be more than $1,000 a month on average according to data from apartmentlist.com, in a state with an average household income of $54,000 before taxes. And, of course, there are plenty of New Mexicans who make less, including at least 2,600 homeless. “We must act, and act now; lives depend on it.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s push to eliminate assault weapons in New Mexico may dominate the Legislature’s discussion on guns. But it will have company. Several gun-related bills have been or will be introduced in this year’s 60-day session, promising a battle royale over the role of guns in a state with a long history of gun ownership — and a searing violence problem. “There’s a lot of appetite to do this,” Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, said in an interview. “Every single day we hear something else in the news about what is going on with gun violence and this is the right way to do this.”
Just as the last day of the 2022 legislative session ended with a bombshell of surprise when then-House Speaker Brian Egolf announced he was not running for reelection, the first day of this year’s session ended with a shock. Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was removed from her post as chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee by new House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, during an evening floor session on committee assignments. Lundstrom will be succeeded by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces. The action took place shortly before the House of Representatives adjourned for the day.
Lundstrom said in an interview Martínez had told her of his plans about 20 minutes before he announced the move. Seeming to fight back tears, Lundstrom told lawmakers who approached her after the floor session, “This is unbelievable.”
ByRobert Nott and Daniel J. Chacón, Santa Fe New Mexican |
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.
This year’s 30-day legislative session ended with a surprise. Or, more accurately, a series of bombshells. As the Legislature concluded its business at noon Thursday, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — considered a key architect of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and one of its most influential players — announced he is not seeking reelection this year. That was one one of the day’s rapid-fire shockers, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced only an hour or so later she was rescinding New Mexico’s indoor mask mandate. Though most legislators seemed wrung out by a difficult month, punctuated by a nearly daylong marathon in the House of Representatives, the session’s conclusion was anything but anticlimactic.
After an eleventh-hour dispute between the House and Senate, New Mexico’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 — the largest on record — is back on track. A conference committee made up of three members from each chamber brokered a compromise over spending disagreements during a Wednesday morning meeting that lasted less than 10 minutes. By the afternoon, the deal won bipartisan support in both chambers, advancing the nearly $8.5 billion spending plan to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The budget agreement was critical as the session rolls to a conclusion, but as of late Wednesday night, several key issues — crime, tax cuts and expanding voting access — remained unfinished, with both the House and Senate debating bills past midnight. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about tackling such an aggressive agenda in a short session meant to focus on legislation dealing with budget and tax issues, though the governor has the authority to place any item on the agenda.
The state Senate late Wednesday debated a sweeping crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for violent offenders and recruitment and retention stipends for police officers — all part of a larger effort to combat a wave of lawlessness that has been plaguing New Mexico. The push to aggressively fight a rising crime problem that has emerged primarily in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, comes as the unrest has become a major political talking point leading up to the November general election. “What’s important about this bill is it recognizes that attacking the crime problem requires a multifaceted approach,” said Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who has been one of the lead architects of the crime package. “It requires us looking at law enforcement on the streets, law enforcement officers’ needs, and it requires us looking at prosecutors and public defenders. It requires us looking at the court system.
As the clock on the legislative session continued winding down to the noon Thursday deadline, a battle over New Mexico’s proposed $8.48 billion budget blew up. The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted against a motion to concur with amendments adopted by the Senate. “I urge the body to vote no” on concurrence, said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, before the House voted overwhelmingly against the Senate’s changes to House Bill 2. The spending plan, the highest on record, is poised to go to a conference committee made up of three members from each chamber with a goal of working out differences before the end of the session. It was unclear late Tuesday when the committee would meet.
Advocates calling for teacher pay raises have reason to celebrate.
The House of Representatives voted unanimously late Monday night to approve Senate Bill 1, which would increase the minimum pay at each level of the state’s three-tiered teacher licensing system by $10,000. The measure is one strategy aimed at addressing a crisis-level teacher shortage across New Mexico. SB 1 now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who put her support behind the legislation early on. She called it the largest educator pay raise in recent years and announced after the House vote she planned to sign the bill into law. That means starting teachers will see their pay rise to $50,000 from $40,000, while middle-tier teachers will see a jump in the base pay to $60,000 from $50,000.
With just a few days to go before the end of this year’s legislative session, members of both the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve a broad crime reform bill — though it isn’t keeping critics from lambasting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But rather than focus on imposing stricter laws and penalties, Senate Bill 231 targets providing stipends to recruit and retain police officers; adding more officer training programs; creating a statewide database through which state and federal law enforcement agencies can share information; and generating three additional judgeships to increase trial capacity. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for a vote.
The vote came in the same week police arrested two people, including a man with a lengthy criminal record, in the nonfatal shooting of a state police officer near Edgewood, and the random stabbings of 11 people in Albuquerque Sunday. Some lawmakers alluded to those events as they discussed the merits of SB 231 during a Monday morning joint committee hearing held on the floor of the Senate.
Initiatives included in the legislation, its supporters said, will do more to prevent crime than locking criminals up for longer periods of time. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said longer incarcerations are an “overly simple” approach to fighting crime, and did not deter Caleb Dustin Elledge, the suspect in the shooting of the state police officer, from committing more crimes.
“He wasn’t too concerned about serving the original sentence or an enhanced sentence,” Cervantes said of Elledge, who is from Los Lunas.