As Water Trust Fund dries up, Wirth champions bill to infuse it with $250M

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A state fund that has helped finance dozens of water infrastructure projects around New Mexico since it was created nearly two decades ago is drying up. The State Investment Council has been sounding the alarm for years, warning the so-called Water Trust Fund, which it manages, could be depleted within 15 years without an additional infusion of capital or a restructuring of its distribution requirements of $4 million a year. “This fund is on a terminal path,” Charles Wollmann, the council’s director of communications, legislative and client relations, said Thursday. “It is going to die unless there are additional appropriations or it would have to slash its annual distribution.” A windfall to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars may be on the way.

Bill would add penalties for livestock rustling

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

This is no bull — and no joke. There’s a crime still all too common to those who run farms and ranches around New Mexico: livestock rustling. And not just cattle theft. Horses, donkeys, pigs, llamas and all sorts of poultry are also being hauled away by truck, trailer and any other means possible, agricultural experts say. In the days of the old West, rustlers who were caught ended up hanging from a tree or scaffold, said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell.

Legislative Roundup: 1/26

Days remaining in session: 51

Active shooter training: The full Senate and legislative staffers attended a closed-door active shooter training Thursday. “Training taking place — no entry,” stated signs on the doors to the Senate gallery. Before a reporter was asked to leave the media gallery overlooking the chamber, Paula Ulibarri, sergeant at arms for the Senate, told attendees she didn’t want them to be paranoid but prepared. “I know you have other places you should be and want to be and have things to do,” she said. “But in this day and age, this is very important to every one of you.”

Ulibarri continued, “This can happen anywhere at any time, and I want you, if nothing else, when you go from this class, I want you to be aware of your surroundings.”

The training was conducted by two New Mexico State Police officers, one of whom told the group the FBI had changed the term from “active shooter” to “active killer.”

“That’s what the person who’s in the building [is] trying to do,” he said.

Governor-backed fund would address shortage of health care providers in rural areas

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Immediately after Dr. Valory Wangler opened a nonprofit health center serving Gallup and McKinley County last year, patients started to pour through her doors. “We certainly could tell that we had identified a critical need,” said Wangler, founder and executive director of Gallup Community Health. Since then, the health center has expanded from mostly only Wangler seeing patients to 11 providers working in the burgeoning facility in some capacity or another. “We believe in paying our staff fairly and making sure that they’re able to meet their basic needs, and that has certainly put us at an operating loss,” she said. Under a bill lawmakers started to pore over Wednesday, health care providers such as Wangler could see some financial relief.

Democrats introduce bill providing $1 billion for governor-backed tax rebates

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

New Mexico taxpayers who received rebates in 2022 are likely to see another round of payments. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said late last year she wanted to use part of the projected $3 billion in new state revenues to provide $750 to individual taxpayers and $1,500 for couples who file jointly. She announced Wednesday the introduction of Senate Bill 10, sponsored by four Democratic lawmakers, which would fulfill her wish. 

The bill would appropriate $1 billion to provide payments to about 875,000 taxpayers who are at least 18 years old. Dependents of other taxpayers would not be eligible for the money. Lujan Grisham said in a news conference Wednesday the money should be seen “as a stimulus.

State Legacy Fund would help draw federal dollars to conservation programs

By Scott Wyland, The Santa Fe New Mexican

At least a billion dollars in federal conservation money is available to aid New Mexico in everything from restoring watersheds and protecting imperiled species to helping ecosystems better withstand climate change. The state is missing out on most of it because it lacks matching funds. Some state leaders, environmental groups and businesses hope the Legislature will approve a $75 million fund to draw federal money to a medley of state conservation programs among a half-dozen agencies. A bipartisan bill to establish the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is expected to be introduced this week — not to be mistaken with the proposed $50 million bond with a similar name that stalled in the Legislature last year. “Our goal in coming together is to ensure that these programs have a dedicated funding stream at the state level so that they can leverage literally billions of dollars that are available at the federal level that New Mexico isn’t taking full advantage of,” Brittany Fallon, senior policy manager for lands at Western Resource Advocates, said during an online conference.

Legislative Roundup: 1/26

Days remaining in session: 52

Legislature wants a say: The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to support House Bill 80, sponsored by three Republicans, including Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell. The bill would limit a governor’s call for a state of emergency to 90 days — unless the governor convened a special session of the Legislature, which would then have the power to restrict, suspend or end the state of emergency. Many members of the House and Senate, as well as members of the public, complained when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued and extended public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic that essentially shut down much of the state.. Nibert said the Legislature needs to play a role in extending such orders beyond 90 days to ensure a “separation of power” between the executive and legislative branches. Similar legislative efforts to curb a governor’s power during a state of emergency have failed in the past.

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon approaches the lectern in the state house chamber to deliver the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature Tuesday, January 24, 2022.

Supreme Court Chief Justice talks virtual hearings, criminal justice reform

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon addressed the Legislature during a joint legislative session on Tuesday. This was the first time in four years a State of the Judiciary Address has been delivered in New Mexico. “The Judiciary is battered and bruised, strong, resilient, creative, committed, and caring. I hope through my words today, this will be evident,” Bacon said. Bacon discussed four issues including the judiciary’s efforts through the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting programs that help the community, criminal justice reform and the judiciary’s legislative requests.

Expansion of prohibition of storage of radioactive waste bill heads to judiciary committee

A bill that would expand the current prohibition on storing radioactive waste in New Mexico passed its first committee—the Senate Conservation Committee—on Tuesday on a 6-1 vote. Under the proposal, companies like Holtec International would not be able to store radioactive waste from activities like nuclear power generation without first receiving consent from the state and without having a permanent repository for nuclear waste operational

The bill, SB 53, also expands the state’s radioactive waste consultation task force membership to include the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; the secretary of the Department of Indian Affairs and the commissioner of public lands. 

The task force, in the past, has been limited to dealing with federal facilities. The proposed bill would expand that to include private facilities as well. This comes in light of plans to move nuclear waste, including spent fuel, from power plants across the United States to a facility near Carlsbad. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Reps.

Funding to support rebuilding after fire passes committee while spring burn ban dies

With questions remaining surrounding allocation of federal assistance, the communities impacted by the largest wildfire in state history are asking the legislature for $100 million to replace and repair infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the blaze. This funding would come in the form of zero-interest reimbursable loans. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Reps. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, and Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, are sponsoring SB 6 to provide that funding to the impacted communities. The bill received unanimous support from the Senate Conservation Committee and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.