Legislation to limit governor’s emergency powers die in committee

The House Judiciary Committee tabled two pieces of legislation related to terminating states of emergency on Wednesday. Both HB 80 and HJR 3 sought to terminate states of emergency after 90 days unless the legislature is called into special session to address the circumstances of the state of emergency. “They are two pieces of legislation that I have worked on since about May of 2020 and have worked on in the language that’s before you and both pieces of legislation are the words that former Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and I negotiated,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said. “I bring before you these pieces of legislation because I feel strongly about the separation of powers.”

Committee member Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, asked about the legislature’s current constitutional power to call itself into extraordinary session by a three-fifth supermajority. “What I don’t understand is why we need this.

Bill to eliminate gross receipts tax on infant diapers clears first committee

A bill that would end gross receipts tax on diapers received bipartisan support and cleared the House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday. HB 222 seeks to eliminate gross receipts tax on infant diaper sales in New Mexico. State Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, sponsors the bill. State Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, is also a sponsor of the bill. He said during the committee hearing that families in New Mexico are paying “$1,000 annually for this basic necessity.”

He called it a “crushing” cost and said that diapers are not covered by either Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program nor the Women, Infants and Children Program.

Little sign of pandemic worry at Roundhouse this session

By Robert Nott and Daniel Chacon, The Santa Fe New Mexican

For a while there, Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, wasn’t wearing a mask during this year’s legislative session. Then one day, he was — after he was out sick for a while because he contracted COVID-19. Here and there, you see signs others are being careful, like the cleaning person who had his mask tucked under his chin until one other person approached him in an otherwise empty chamber, or the sign on the door of one senator’s office that reads, “No More Than Three (3) People In Office at One Time.” Within the office sit two Senate assistants, both wearing masks. 

But that’s just here and there. The unmasked greatly outnumber the masked in the state Capitol, currently teeming with hundreds of visitors nearly every day — a sign, perhaps, that some have grown to accept the respiratory disease as part of day-to-day operations. 

This year’s session marks the first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic without masking, vaccination or testing requirements to gain entry to the state Capitol.

Bill limiting governor’s powers dies in committee

Senators tabled a bill that would put more power in the hands of legislators in when it comes to emergency declarations and public health orders on a 5-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. The bill, SB 65, was more than about limiting executive branch powers and more about giving some power back to the legislature. “The bill allows, essentially, a review of a public health order under certain conditions,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Gregory Baca, R-Belen, said. “It allows for 90 days for a health order to stay in effect as issued by the executive and upon the expiration of 90 days, it would either have to be reviewed by the legislative body– if we’re in session, we would simply do a majority or or majority vote on the health order– otherwise, it would be given to (legislative) council, where it would be reviewed by a portion of our members and it would be voted on at that point.”

The committee seemed to agree that the legislature should find a way to get some of their powers back but not the way SB 65 proposes. “We have very equal branches of government here and we are by far the weakest and so anytime, in general.

A bill to fill service gaps in sexual assault programming passes first committee

A bill that will help fill gaps created by reduced federal funding for sexual assault services in New Mexico passed the House Health and Human Services Committee with no opposition on Wednesday. HB 133, Recruit Sexual Assault Service Providers, will, if enacted, provide $2 million from the general fund for Fiscal Year 2024 to New Mexico to recruit and retain sexual assault service providers in New Mexico. The New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission would receive the funding. Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, is the primary sponsor of the bill but Rep. Liz Thomson, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, presented the bill before the committee on Trujillo’s behalf. “This is a very simple bill,” Thomson said.

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.

Budget proposals show record money after oil boom

The Legislative Finance Committee released its budget recommendations last Thursday. These documents are expected to be presented to the state legislature and include a policy and performance analysis, appropriation recommendations and supplemental charts and graphs

The LFC budget recommendations asks the legislature to spend $9.44 billion from the state’s general fund which is a $1.04 billion, or 12 percent, increase of fiscal year 2023 planned spending. Earlier in the week, on Jan. 10, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham released her executive budget recommendations. “Today, we have a historic opportunity for change in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release.

Legislative Finance Committee releases projected revenue estimate for FY24

On Monday, the NM Legislative Finance Committee released its Consensus Revenue Estimate for fiscal year 2024 which begins July 1, 2023. The projected revenue for FY 2024 is $11.994 billion. Legislators will craft a budget based on these numbers in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January, including how much to include in reserves for any possible future budget shortfall. “The December forecast indicates New Mexico is still in a solid position fiscally,” Taxation and Revenue Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke said. “The strong revenues we’ve seen over the past couple of years allowed us to deliver significant tax relief to New Mexicans and still maintain historically high reserves to protect against unforeseen shocks.”

NMDOH asks for $2 million for funding family planning and women’s reproductive health services

The New Mexico Department of Health will request $2 million for the family planning and women’s reproductive health services from the New Mexico Legislature to replace reductions in federal funds to maintain current family planning services. The $2 million is part of an 11 percent increase DOH is requesting from the Legislature in 2023. According to a news release, DOH is asking for the increase in its Fiscal Year 2024 budget request due to the “massive disruption” the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. The funds will replace reductions in federal funds and will maintain, rather than increase, current family planning services, according to the release. Other DOH budget priorities include $5.8 million additional funding for School-Based Health Centers to expand services to include primary care, behavioral health and suicide prevention for the 25,073 students who attend 70 rural and Tribal community schools.

Federal government extends Real ID requirements again

Those who need to update their driver’s licenses or identification cards before the REAL ID enforcement date have two more years to become compliant. The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, announced on Monday an extension to the REAL ID full enforcement date by two years to May 7, 2025. This means that states have more time to ensure their residents have driver’s licenses and identification cards that meet security standards set forth in the REAL ID Act of 2005. These are the requirements necessary to board airplanes or enter some federal facilities. Once the May 7, 2025 deadline passes, federal agencies including Transportation Security Administration will not accept driver’s licenses and identification cards that are not REAL ID compliant, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security news release states.