Guv signs more bills ahead of deadline

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed five bills into law Monday, including legislation that authorizes New Mexico law enforcement to apprehend traffickers of endangered wildlife. Senate Bill 75 makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly buy or sell animal species or part of any species covered by Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The law sets up penalties of up to $10,000 or three times the value of the product. Owners of antiques or heirlooms containing ivory or parts from other endangered animals are not affected by the legislation. Lujan Grisham has now signed 80 bills into law and has vetoed only one out of the 88 passed by the Legislature in the 2020 session.

Senate Finance chief says he’s OK with possible spending vetoes

Only two weeks after crafting and approving the state budget, the New Mexico Senate’s top finance chief has told Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham he would have no problem if she decides to pare back spending. “I’ve already sent word to the executive branch that if they feel vetos are necessary, I’m not going to be objecting to those,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, the influential chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “The last thing I want to do is go back into special session.”

Why such drastic talk only two weeks after the House and Senate agreed on a $7.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2021? To put it briefly, coronavirus. U.S. oil prices closed at their lowest point in almost four years Friday.

Guv signs a slew of bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her pen a workout Friday, signing a slew of public safety, child welfare, anti-discrimination, economic development and veterans bills. The governor signed into law a crime prevention package — House Bill 184 and House Judiciary Committee substitutes for House Bills 6, 35 and 113 — that will increase the penalties for being a felon in possession of a firearm and brandishing a firearm in the commission of a felony. In addition, the legislation will:

• Create funding for the training of school resource officers, including instruction on de-escalation techniques and adolescent-specific issues. • Increase funds available for training and equipment for police departments, county sheriff’s offices and university and tribal police officers. • Allocate up to $2 million to the Department of Public Safety to offset expenses for special deployments of state police in counties and cities across the state.

Affordable prescription, other health bills, become law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a quartet of health-related bills into law Wednesday, including legislation strengthening New Mexico’s health insurance exchange and opening the door for the state to import wholesale drugs from Canada. Among the pieces of legislation signed was Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen and Rep. Debbie Armstrong, which aims to make medicine more affordable for New Mexicans by allowing the state to apply for federal approval to import medications from Canada, where prescription drugs are an average of 30 percent cheaper. 

“My goal is to make health care so much more cost-effective and affordable for New Mexicans,” Lujan Grisham told reporters at a Roundhouse signing ceremony. 

Lujan Grisham also put pen to paper on House Bill 100, sponsored by Armstrong and Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, which gives the state’s health insurance exchange more autonomy in helping uninsured residents gain access to affordable health insurance plans. The bill is aimed at protecting the state exchange and residents’ access to health insurance regardless of the future of the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a major challenge to that law, also known as Obamacare. 

“It does absolutely no good to have an insurance plan if you can’t afford to use it,” Lujan Grisham said. “This will have a meaningful impact on insuring New Mexicans more comprehensively.”

Guv signs pension solvency bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a bipartisan bill into law that aims to put New Mexico’s state pension system on a path to solvency. 

Senate Bill 72, one of the high-profile bills of the 2020 session, calls for increasing contributions from public workers and the state in a bid to eventually eliminate the Public Employees Retirement Association’s $6.6 billion unfunded liability. “By paying out more than it was taking in, PERA was on a path to eventual bankruptcy,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement on Monday. “Now we’ve reversed course, and I’m confident New Mexico can keep its promises to current and future retirees.” Lujan Grisham made the bill one of her priorities for the session after issuing an executive order last year to create a working group that drafted a pension reform proposal. Many of that task force’s recommendations were incorporated into the eventual bill, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell.

NM expands free school meals

A bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will provide free breakfast and lunch to thousands of low-income public school students who have been required to pay a reduced fee for meals through a federal program. 

House Bill 10, funded through a $650,000 appropriation to the Public Education Department that was included in the main state spending bill for fiscal year 2021, will eliminate copays of 30 cents or 40 cents per meal for about 12,500 students across the state who qualify for federal reduced-price breakfasts and lunches. “A 40-cent copay should never come between a child and the food they need to grow and learn,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. Her signature on HB 10 came on the first day of National School Breakfast Week. The national nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, in its recently released school breakfast scorecard, found New Mexico ranks third in the nation, behind West Virginia and Vermont, for the ratio of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches who also take advantage of school breakfast programs.

For every 100 New Mexico students who eat subsidized lunches, 69.4 also eat breakfast at school, the nonprofit said. “This school year, New Mexico is on track to serve more than 13,500,000 school breakfasts,” said Public Education Cabinet Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a news release.

Governor signs senior dignity fund into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three bills into law Tuesday, including legislation aimed at improving services for seniors as a growing elderly population and rising costs have made it more difficult for New Mexico to meet needs. 

House Bill 225 sets up the Kiki Saavedra Senior Dignity Fund, which is named after a longtime state representative from Albuquerque. It will help address services like transportation, food insecurity, physical and behavioral health, case management and caregiving. The law, which goes into effect May 20, is designed to help New Mexico boost services, given the state is expected to have the fourth-largest senior population in the U.S. by 2030. The governor’s original proposal called for $25 million for the fund, but the budget bill passed by the Legislature only appropriated $7.3 million. The Aging and Long-Term Services Department will be able to request a maximum of $3 million in the fund’s first year, the agency said.

Hundreds of millions for education, but will it satisfy court’s order?

State Rep. Derrick Lente spent much of the last year crisscrossing New Mexico to speak with Native American leaders about the needs of kids in their communities. To address them, he sponsored a handful of legislation endorsed by all 23 of the state’s tribes. “It’s unprecedented to have that sort of support for legislation,” said Lente, a Sandia Pueblo Democrat. “I approached this from the bottom up. I went to every single tribe and got their buy-in for a bottom-up remedy.”

Governor appears open to exploring salaries for NM legislators

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sounded a favorable tone Thursday about exploring the possibility of allowing New Mexico lawmakers to earn a salary. An independent body should take a look at the issue, she said. Speaking at a news conference just after the close of the legislative session, Lujan Grisham said it was difficult for state lawmakers to do their work because most of them don’t have staff. “New Mexico needs to take a hard look,” the governor said. “We make it nearly impossible for people to serve.

Five takeaways from the 2020 legislative session

Fourth floor diplomacy

Before the session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said her strategy for the session — and governance in general — was to employ diplomacy and compromise with legislators to win support for her initiatives. It sounded like a fuzzy talking point at the time. It turned out to be largely true. A number of the bills Lujan Grisham prioritized during the session did indeed pass, but important ones didn’t, such as recreational cannabis. And her marquee Opportunity Scholarship proposal, announced with much fanfare last year, was scaled down in a big way.