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.

Lujan Grisham hails ‘really productive’ session

New Mexico’s 54th Legislature wrapped up Thursday amid congratulatory hugs and news conferences — a veneer of good cheer that masked a dose of sleep deprivation, early-morning procedural bickering, and finally, sighs of relief as key bills were passed just hours before the final gavel. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic legislators touted the passage of a number of their priority proposals, including the creation of an early childhood trust fund, passing a high-profile firearms bill and shepherding through the state’s $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year. “I think this was a really productive 30-day session,” Lujan Grisham said, surrounded by legislators and cabinet secretaries at a post-session news conference in  the Roundhouse. “We are building something new together. We’re investing for tomorrow and we’re delivering today.”

The governor won passage for the majority of bills she asked legislators to undertake — 80 percent of them, by her own count.

Budget goes to governor

The New Mexico House of Representatives descended into dysfunction as it tried to approve a budget early Thursday morning, finally sending the legislation to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk with just hours to spare in the session. The House ultimately voted to accept the Senate’s amendments to House Bill 2 in the wee hours of the morning after the upper chamber had passed an amended version of the legislation in much more civil fashion Wednesday afternoon. 

“We have a budget,” House Speaker Brian Egolf said. But that didn’t happen until after a bizarre and tumultuous false start. Around midnight, the House voted to concur with the Senate’s budget changes after a very brief debate. But Republican leadership soon came charging onto the floor, lambasting Egolf for calling a vote while knowing “damn well” that they were in the other room.

Collective bargaining bill passes Senate

The full state Senate passed a bill in the wee hours of Wednesday morning that proponents say would better protect workers and provide more consistency to New Mexico’s collective bargaining laws. The bill’s supporters say it will update and modernize its Public Employees Bargaining Act, which they call one of the weakest in the U.S. The legislation provides a timeline for the Land of Enchantment to restructure and standardize its unusual system of 52 local labor boards, which proponents say currently leads to inconsistent labor policy. Republican senators pushed the debate on House Bill 364 nearly three hours, picking apart the bill and aiming repeated complaints and criticisms at Sen. Mimi Stewart, who introduced it on the floor. The legislation eventually passed 24-17, largely along party lines, although one prominent Democrat voted against it. “It’s time to look at [the law] and change it, be thoughtful about it, and that’s what we’re trying to offer tonight,” said Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

Senate passes version of budget, sends back to House

The state Senate passed the main budget bill Wednesday by a wide margin after a lengthy debate in which Republicans warned of the dangers of New Mexico’s dependence on oil and gas, while a couple of progressive Democrats argued for spending more. The chamber approved its amended version of House Bill 2 by a vote of 35-7 after a two-hour debate, calling for a $7.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 that would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and leave reserves at 25 percent. The House now needs to agree with the Senate’s changes before the General Appropriations Act can move to the governor’s desk. A House vote on the amended bill was expected Wednesday night. NM Political Report update: The House concurred with the Senate changes early Thursday morning and the budget will be sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.

Senate panel trims 2021 budget

A cut here, a whack there — and a budget takes form. But not without some acrimony. The Senate Finance Committee released considerable changes to the state’s main budget bill Tuesday, trimming the House’s spending plan in high-visibility areas such as roads and teacher pay raises, and scaling down one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most prized pieces of legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship. The committee unanimously approved its amendments to House Bill 2, which calls for a $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year, and moves the legislation to the Senate floor. That would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and would target reserves at 25 percent.

House approves big capital outlay bill

The House on Tuesday approved more than a half billion dollars worth of local projects across New Mexico in a unanimous vote with no debate. That’s because the deals on how much money cities, state agencies or townships get for anything from new baseball fields to physical improvements to police and fire departments — known in state government parlance as capital outlay projects — all happen behind closed doors. And “because every member has a little food in the trough,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. “Normally that’s the way it goes if it’s split evenly. The Senate has always been split evenly whether you’re an R or D or an Independent.”