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.
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.
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.
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.
The Senate passed a second bill that would create a tax credit for electric vehicles late Wednesday evening, after passing a similar Senate bill one day earlier. On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 2, sponsored by Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, by a narrow vote of 19-18. The Senate then passed HB 217, sponsored by Mesilla Democratic Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena and Santa Fe Democratic Rep. Jim Trujillo, by a vote of 23-13, late Wednesday night. RELATED: Senate version of electric vehicle tax credit passes floor by one vote
“This bill is almost a mirror bill to SB 2,” Woods said. “The only difference between this bill and the electric vehicle income tax credit bill that I passed earlier was that this bill requires you to be a resident of the state of New Mexico before you receive a tax credit.”
“This bill was amended in Senate Finance [Committee] to mirror my bill,” Woods added.
A bill to reinstate a solar tax credit is headed to the governor’s desk. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, passed the House floor Wednesday by a vote of 51-19. SB 29 would create a personal income tax credit to cover 10 percent of the costs of a solar thermal or solar photovoltaic system for residential, business or agriculture applications. Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo is the House sponsor of the bill.
New Mexico initiated a similar tax credit in the last decade, which expired in 2016. The Legislature passed a bill to reinstate the credit that same year, but it was pocket-vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez.
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.
A proposal to restructure the Public Regulation Commission died in the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee after a two-plus hour debate. The bill was tabled by a vote of 5-4. Democratic Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe presented HB 11 to the committee Tuesday afternoon. Small and Trujillo told the committee the bill would help address staffing issues at the PRC and make the commission more efficient.
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.”
A Senate proposal to create an electric vehicle tax credit passed the Senate floor Tuesday by just one vote. SB 2, sponsored by Sens. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, would create personal income tax credits for New Mexico residents who purchase or lease plug-in hybrid vehicles or 100 percent battery electric vehicles. The bill provides a $2,500 tax credit for residents whose annual income is above $50,000; but the tax credit jumps to $5,000 for residents who make less than $50,000. “We’re talking really about taxing the poor,” said Albuquerque Republican Sen. Mark Moores during the debate.