Fewer New Mexicans than estimated will qualify for one-time unemployment check

Debates among New Mexico lawmakers over the best way to use federal relief funds is likely far from over. Last week, the state’s Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) learned that the estimated number of New Mexicans to receive a one time bump in their unemployment benefits will likely be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 fewer than expected. 

During the second special legislative session this year, which took place during the week of Thanksgiving, lawmakers passed a COVID-19 relief bill, allowing the state to use additional federal funds from the CARES Act. 

Part of the package that state lawmakers passed allocated $194 million to the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions in order to add a one time supplemental payment of $1,200 to those who qualify for unemployment benefits. Workforce Solutions originally estimated that 140,000 people would qualify for that extra payment. But according to an LFC activity report sent to committee members last week, the department now estimates that 110,000 to 140,000 will qualify for the payment.  

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said his department based the original estimation on how many people qualified for unemployment benefits in June.   

“We were saying, ‘Okay, if we have X amount of people get in that match where we were at our height, what would that be? And let’s make sure we have that amount in there,” McCamley said.

Legislature passes COVID relief bill during quick special session

The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide over $300 million in relief provided by the federal CARES Act in a very short special session that lasted less than eight hours. The bill included $194 million to provide $1,200 for those who qualify for unemployment and lost work because of the pandemic. It also would provide $100 million in grants to local small businesses and nonprofits, with smaller amounts to provide aid for rent and mortgage payments, money for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine rollout and money for households that did not receive federal stimulus money earlier this year. Update: Lujan Grisham signs COVID-19 relief package into law

The bill ultimately passed with widespread majorities in both the House and Senate, though many legislators voiced concern about the proposal and said they wished they had more input. Only one amendment to the introduced legislation passed, one that would include 501(c)8 organizations to be eligible for funds.

Gov. Lujan Grisham announces special session date, plans on a $300 million relief package

During a weekly news conference with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about COVID-19, the governor covered the usual topics and encouraged people to stay home and wear masks. 

But likely the biggest news was that Lujan Grisham has a date planned for a special legislative session. 

“I’m happy to announce right now that the special session I will call, will be called for this coming Tuesday right before Thanksgiving,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve spent the last several days working with legislators, both chambers, both sides of the aisle, to work on those details.”

Lujan Grisham’s office announced last week that she planned on calling on legislators to meet and arrange for extra financial support for New Mexicans. 

During this week’s news conference, Lujan Grisham said she wants to see $300 million from the New Mexico CARES Act go to unemployment benefits, housing grants and grants for small businesses that have been impacted by the public health order. 

“We want to get this relief out to New Mexicans. They need unemployment, they need housing assistance and businesses need grants,” Lujan Grisham said. That gives us a day to get the processes well underway on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving so that the Monday when we get back we’re pushing money out the door. It’s critical that we do that.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, New Mexico is also seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases and related deaths.

Guv to call Legislature into special session for COVID-19 relief

The governor will call the state legislature into a special session soon to discuss further efforts to aid businesses and residents as the state enters a two-week shutdown because of the spread of COVID-19. Lujan Grisham said that repurposing CARES Act funding to assist businesses and those who are unemployed would likely be on the agenda, which she said was still being discussed. Related: State to reimpose shutdown starting Monday: ‘We are in a life or death situation’

She said the special session, which would be the second this year, would take place “As immediately as we can to make sure we can ensure that families can have food on their table and pay their bills.”

One reason a special session would be necessary, the governor said, was because of inaction from the federal government.“The federal government did not give us a stimulus package,” Lujan Grisham said. The U.S. House, which is led by a Democratic majority, passed a large recovery package in May. The U.S. Senate, which is led by a Republican majority, was unable to pass a smaller relief bill in September.

Lujan Grisham signs body camera bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed into law a requirement for all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, regardless of jurisdiction. According to the new law, agencies must also keep footage for at least 120 days. 

Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, SB 8 would also allow the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board to revoke certification from any law enforcement officer who is found guilty of using illegal use of force while on duty. 

The law comes amid a national push for police accountability, but also after years of pushing from advocates to get local police departments to start using body cameras. 

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, is one example of an agency that resisted supplying officers with body cameras. Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzalez has long argued that body cameras present an unnecessary cost to his department. 

Lujan Grisham added the issue of police body cameras to the list of proposals the Legislature could consider during the special legislative session that took place last month. 

According to a press release sent out by Lujan Grisham’s office, the governor added body cameras to the call after George Floyd died while a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.   

Prosecutors have charged the officer, Derek Chauvin, with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and charged three officers who were nearby and did not intervene with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Video of the killing prompted worldwide protests, including in New Mexico, against police brutality and calls to defund police departments.

Governor signs revised budget, vetoes items

Governors don’t usually sign a budget twice in one year. But this is no normal year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her blessing to New Mexico’s revised budget legislation Tuesday, but she also used her veto power to cancel some of the cuts legislators approved during the special session. “We must recalibrate our state’s budget to meet these challenging times,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a letter to the state House of Representatives upon signing House Bill 1. “However, we should not lose sight of the important work that is still needed to create lasting opportunities for all New Mexicans.”

The budget plan uses a combination of spending cuts, reserves and federal funding to deal with a projected $2 billion drop in state revenue for the next fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.

Guv signs tax relief bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a new bill into law to provide tax relief for New Mexicans and businesses on Monday. The bill would waive interest and penalties on late payments of taxes to allow New Mexicans and businesses to pay their taxes by July 15 without penalties or interest. “The financial pain caused by COVID-19 is real. This bill will help New Mexicans who through no fault of their own were unable to pay their taxes on time,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement on Monday. “It will help local governments, and it will help small businesses, all of whom have been suffering the dreadful effects of this pandemic.

Guv signs civil rights commission, election, budget solvency bills

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three pieces of legislation from the special session which ended earlier this week: a bill to create a state civil rights commission, a bill to aid in voting amid a pandemic and a solvency bill related to the budget. Other pieces of legislation, including the revised budget, remain on her desk. The governor can issue line-item vetoes of bills that include an appropriation, including the budget. She has until July 12 to decide on those, though the new fiscal year begins on July 1. The civil rights commission bill was one of the pieces of legislation aimed at police reform that passed the Legislature this year.

What police reform efforts happened, and didn’t happen, during the special session

This year’s special session wrapped up on Monday and the state now has a balanced budget. But as with many special sessions, legislators were tasked with considering other law changes, including those aimed at holding law enforcement officers more accountable. Those bills included issues like mandatory body cameras for police officers, new processes for reporting police use of force and creating a civil rights commission. It was a mixed bag on what types of reform proposals passed and there were mixed feelings from civil rights advocates. 

Body cameras

One of the bills that made it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk is SB 8, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. The bill would require all police in the state, regardless of jurisdiction, to wear body cameras.

Bill requiring police to wear body cams while on duty heads to governor

Amid calls for increased scrutiny of law enforcement, the House of Representatives voted 44-26 to approve a measure that would require all New Mexico police officers to wear body cameras. 

The legislation, passed by the House two days after the state Senate concluded its business and departed a special session that focused on shoring up the state budget, now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. Lujan Grisham praised the work of the Legislature during the special session, but noted it is only the start as New Mexico looks to the 60-day session in January amid a severe economic downturn brought on by falling oil prices and the COVID-19 crisis. “Let me be clear: The work of rebuilding our state economy has only begun,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “But we will, I have no doubt, construct a more robust and inclusive economy than ever before as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with everything we’ve got. “And the work we’ve begun on civil rights and public safety reform and election accessibility and small business relief will remain a chief priority of my administration,” she added.