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.

Small wins for cannabis in 2020 legislative session

Cannabis legislation was not a complete loss for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during this year’s legislative session, but it was far from a complete win. Despite almost a year of work from a group assembled by Lujan Grisham to come up with proposed legislation for cannabis legalization, the proposal she backed failed early on in the session. The only Lujan Grisham-backed proposal that made it to her desk is a bill that would limit enrollment in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program to New Mexico residents. 

During a press conference after the Legislature adjourned on Thursday, Lujan Grisham said she will keep pushing for a safe and comprehensive legalization measure, even if it means changing the state constitution. New Mexico law does not allow for voter initiatives, which is how most states, including Colorado, legalized cannabis. The only way to change law through an election question is to propose a constitutional amendment, and Lujan Grisham said that’s not off the table. 

“I’m open to any number of pathways,” Lujan Grisham told reporters. 

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SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, was promoted as a fix to legislation that was passed into law last year.

The clean energy bills that cleared the legislature

The 2020 Legislative session finished promptly at noon on Thursday after a week of long nights in debate that resulted in the passage of the number of clean energy bills backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. However, not every priority passed the legislature this year. Here’s a look at the clean energy bills that made it to the governor’s desk this year, and the ones that didn’t. Solar tax credit: Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, often joked about how many times she sponsored a bill to reinstate the solar tax credit since the credit expired in 2016. “I hate to count how many times the committee’s actually heard [this bill],” Stewart joked with a House committee during the session.

Bill that backers say can help healthcare around the state goes to Guv’s desk

The Senate unanimously passed a bill that will enable pharmacists to be paid for time spent prescribing emergency contraception and hormonal contraception. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed. Backers say HB 42 will particularly help rural pharmacists and rural patients. Senator Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, who carried the bill in the Senate, said it helps pharmacists because they are paid for filling prescriptions, but they are not paid for the time they spend prescribing medications. Because there are doctor shortages in rural areas in New Mexico, this could help rural patients, say backers of the bill.

Elections cleanup bill never gets Senate vote

A bill to make changes to the state’s elections code never received a vote in the Senate. The bill failed after stalling by opponents of the bill, including a filibuster that lasted nearly two hours. After a lengthy debate on a number of proposed amendments, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, requested a Call of the Senate. This requires that all senators be in the chambers, with the doors locked by the sergeants at arms. One Senator, Linda Lopez, was already in Albuquerque with a young child and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said rather than have her drive back to Santa Fe, they would roll the bill over until later in the morning. 

The Senate did not hear the bill before the end of the session. The bill would have made a series of technical changes to the state election code ahead of this year’s elections.

Legislature adjourns sine die

Legislators in both chambers adjourned sine die at noon on Thursday, ending the 2020 legislative session. The at-times contentious legislative session finished with most key bills crossing the finish line and heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk, though many bills failed to get hearings in the House because of stalling by House Republicans. The Legislature finished the budget process early Thursday morning, with less than 12 hours until the end of the session. Capital outlay legislation, which provides funding for public works throughout the state, also passed in the final hours of the session. The thirty-day session is focused on the budget; any legislation not related to budget needs to be put on the agenda by the governor to be considered.

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.