Ethics watchdog issues report on payday loan industry lobbying

It has become a cycle of despair for low-income residents with poor credit scores: They take out a high-interest installment loan to tide them over in tough times and soon accumulate an unmanageable load. They pay off old debt with new loans at rates of up 175 percent. For years, state lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to introduce legislation capping the interest rate for such loans at 36 percent. Their efforts have failed repeatedly. An attempt last year to forge a compromise — with a 99 percent cap on the smallest loans, of up to $1,100, and 36 percent on higher amounts — stalled in the House of Representatives.

Gov. Lujan Grisham gives OK for legislature to make some cannabis law changes

In addition to high-profile efforts to improve public safety and education, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has called on lawmakers to address cannabis during the 30-day legislative session. 

Lujan Grisham issued a message on Thursday afternoon, authorizing lawmakers to add changes to the Cannabis Regulation Act to the legislative agenda. 

The governor’s message pertains to SB 100, which is sponsored by state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque. The bill, if passed, would increase production limits for cannabis microbusinesses, allow state regulators to require education requirements for cannabis servers, allow liquor license holders to also obtain a cannabis business license and allow some cannabis businesses to employ workers who are under 21, but over 18 years of age, as well as other changes to the law. 

The state’s Cannabis Control Division announced earlier this week that it planned to work with the governor and lawmakers to increase plant limits for cannabis microbusinesses as a way to combat expected shortages in April when sales are expected to begin. The division also announced an emergency rule change for non-microbusinesses, but production limits for smaller operations are written into statute. SB 100 proposes to increase plant limits for microbusinesses from 200 to 1,000 mature plants. The bill would also allow cannabis businesses that previously only sold medical cannabis to employ workers who are 18 years of age.

Effort to eliminate Social Security tax gains momentum

The push to eliminate New Mexico’s income tax on Social Security benefits is gaining traction at the Roundhouse. Two senators, Democrat Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Republican David Gallegos of Eunice, introduced separate bills Thursday that would eliminate the tax on Social Security income. Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, previously introduced a bill to repeal the tax, but it would still affect higher earners and increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to make up the loss in state revenue. Padilla said his proposal, Senate Bill 108, has been endorsed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called on lawmakers Tuesday during her State of the State address to end the tax and whose office issued a news release late Thursday reiterating the request. “We have never had a better opportunity to eliminate income taxes on Social Security like we do right now,” Padilla said.

2021 Kids Count Data Book indicates positives but also continued challenges

The advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children released the 2021 Kids Count Data Book on Wednesday and said that, according to the data, New Mexico saw 20,000 additional children enrolled in Medicaid in 2021. Emily Wildau, the New Mexico Kids Count Data Book coordinator, said that data was one of the biggest surprises for her to come out of the annual assessment of how New Mexico is doing in terms of how children are doing. “That was one of the biggest things that really stuck out,” Wildau said. Every year NMVC releases the Kids Count Data Book that assesses how New Mexico children are faring. Wildau said that this year, because of some data collection challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the data is based on earlier surveys and resources.

LFC report fleshes out crime surge

Lawmakers looking to push through an array of “tough on crime” bills got some legislative ammunition to support their cause this week. The Legislative Finance Committee released a memo to Rep. Patti Lundstrom,  chair of the committee, saying violent crime rates are going up, and not just in Albuquerque. 

The memo says at least 20 New Mexico communities — including Gallup and Albuquerque — have experienced increases in violent crimes. 

Santa Fe was not among those cities. The LFC document says Albuquerque’s 2021 homicide rate of 117 killings represented an “acute rise” from 2020 — a 48 percent jump. And New Mexico State Police investigated 17 homicides in 2021, up from 10 in 2020. 

The memo’s sobering details include that the reasons behind Albuquerque’s homicide rates have drastically changed over the past year. In 2019 just 15 percent of those killings happened through robberies or because of “personal disrespect.”

Dow seeks ban on teaching critical race theory in schools

By Robert NottThe Santa Fe New Mexican

A leading Republican lawmaker and gubernatorial hopeful has introduced a bill to prohibit the state from including critical race theory — a controversial and often-misunderstood concept that is seen by some as a potential electoral wedge issue — in New Mexico’s school curriculum. 

Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences said Wednesday the theory is “racist” and is being misrepresented. 

“We are a state of diverse cultures, and we should be promoting the thinking of Martin Luther King Jr.  — judging people on their character and not color of their skin,” Dow said. “Critical race theory takes us in the wrong direction.” A draft copy of her bill, which Dow provided to The New Mexican, says the state Public Education Department “shall not allow a course in critical race theory to be taught in public schools.” The legislation says critical race theory “espouses the view that one race is inherently racist, sexist or intentionally or inadvertently oppressive.” Some of Dow’s critics were quick to point out critical race theory isn’t currently part of curriculum in New Mexico and is an attempt by the lawmaker to increase her profile among the eight candidates vying for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2022.

In State of the State, governor asks legislators to think big

Saying the state has “unimaginable financial resources” at its disposal, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham challenged lawmakers Tuesday to think big and be aggressive on New Mexicans’ behalf during the 30-day legislative session. “Dating back decades, a timid mindset has afflicted people in this Capitol building, a pessimism that can be self-fulfilling,” the governor said during a live-streamed State of the State address she delivered from her office amid the ongoing threat of COVID-19. “Thinking small is a curse. Big and meaningful changes are possible, but the biggest change may be our attitude, our perspective,” she said. “At a moment in time when we have the money to do it all, let’s not limit ourselves; let’s not be unnecessarily incremental.

First day of session marked by demonstrations, protests

There were sure signs a sense of normalcy had returned to the state Capitol: Protests and demonstrations. As the 2022 legislative session got underway Tuesday in a Roundhouse open to visitors who provided proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 — including a booster — activists gathered both inside and outside the downtown building, carrying signs and rallying for their causes. The New Mexico Freedom Alliance staged a morning protest of the vaccination mandate. A woman held a sign that said, “Proof of Vaccination is Anti-American.” The government should not require anyone to get the shots, she said.

Republicans react to governor’s State of the State address

State Rep. Jim Townsend, the House minority leader, said for a second he thought the governor “almost became a Republican.” In a news conference Tuesday at the Roundhouse after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address, the Artesia Republican said the most “heartening” part of her 25-minute speech was the talk on fighting crime. The governor reiterated her plan to push for a package of measures to toughen penalties for certain violent crimes and make it more difficult for defendants in violent crime cases to be released from jail before their trial. “That must be addressed, and it must be addressed quickly,” Townsend said. Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, the Senate minority leader said the governor’s “tough-on-crime” rhetoric seemed like an effort to court state residents fed up with rising crime rates.

The governor’s 2022 State of the State, annotated

Once again, NM Political Report joined New Mexico PBS and other news outlets in annotating Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State speech (as prepared for delivery). Our reporter Andy Lyman joined journalists from other outlets in the state to provide context and fact check comments made by the governor. See the full speech, as prepared for delivery, with annotations below.