The House Appropriations and Finance Committee held a three-hour hearing on allocating some of the $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief aid but will wait until Wednesday to vote on the bill. HB 2, a general appropriations bill, will enable the legislature to begin spending some of the federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The 2021 Legislature already allocated the federal relief funds, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham line item vetoed that portion of the spending bill last spring. A group of state senators from both parties sued Lujan Grisham arguing that she did not have the authority to spend the money without the Legislature’s input and won their case in state Supreme Court this past fall. Related: NM high court: Legislature, not governor, has authority over federal COVID-19 funds
Once it passes and is signed by the governor, the federal money will transfer to a contingency fund within the general fund.
Renters in New Mexico who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are still protected under the New Mexico Supreme Court’s stay on evictions, said a court official. Barry Massey, public information officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, told NM Political Report that the state supreme court’s stay has no set time limit to it and will continue until the justices decide to end it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new order Tuesday that would stay evictions for most renters impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic until Oct. 3. Maria Griego, economic equity director for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said through email that the CDC eviction moratorium would cover areas heavily impacted by the virus, which amounts to about 90 percent of the U.S. population.
The Administrative Office of the Courts announced cost-cutting measures designed to help balance the state budget amid the current crisis. Further cuts, however, would be painful and impact the courts, according to the state Supreme Court Chief Justice. The announcement Tuesday said the judiciary will reduce spending by about $500,000 by dropping the mileage reimbursement for travel. The reduced reimbursements will affect “judges, staff, jurors, interpreters and court-ordered witnesses,” according to the press release. Beginning Oct.
State lawmakers are debating whether to ask voters to change the Constitution and give judges more flexibility in the state’s longstanding cash bail system. Two proposals vie for their attention and if either wins the Legislature’s approval, it would go before voters in November. One would allow judges to deny bail to defendants deemed dangerous but let those who are not go free before trial if financial hardship is all that’s keeping them behind bars. The other addresses dangerous defendants but not individuals too poor to afford bail. Currently, the New Mexico Constitution allows nearly all criminal defendants the chance for freedom before trial, so long as they can afford it.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has approved changes to a court order relating to time limits for criminal trials in Bernalillo County. The order, known as the case management order or CMO, was made to speed up trials in the Second Judicial District amid arguments that felony cases weren’t being tried on time. Among rules the CMO imposes are that criminal investigations must go to trial or be finished within six months, or, if a case is sufficiently complex, up to a year. Both the Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg have criticized time limits from the CMO, arguing that they don’t provide enough time to try cases. They have blamed the CMO for releasing offenders who are quickly again arrested.