If you started the clock at midnight Monday and counted down to the end of this year’s legislative session at noon Thursday, you’d come up with 84 hours. That’s how long legislators in the state Senate have to make adjustments to the state budget. “Putting out fires. That’s what it looks like,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith of what promises to be a frenetic three and a half days. Entering the final moments of the 30-day legislative session, the state budget encompassed in House Bill 2 remains in limbo.
The New Mexico Senate on Wednesday approved a $76 million investment in the state Public Employees Retirement Association in a move to get the pension system on a path to solvency. Senate Bill 72, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, also comes with costs for government employers and public workers — who will pay more into the retirement system — and retirees, many of whom will receive smaller cost-of-living increases in their payouts. The state has no choice, Muñoz told fellow senators, because of the $16 billion PERA fund’s unfunded liabilities of about $6.6 billion. “We are avoiding the cliff if we do this,” he said. “At the end of the day, this fund has to be solvent.”
The New Mexico Senate approved high-profile gun legislation in a narrow vote Friday, likely clearing the way for the bill to become law. The chamber voted 22-20 to pass an amended version of Senate Bill 5, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. Under the legislation, law enforcement officers would be able to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if they are found to pose a threat to themselves or others. The measure now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass and make New Mexico the 18th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to have a similar so called red flag law on the books. A comparable bill passed the House in last year’s session but didn’t make it to the Senate floor.
New Mexico for years has taken a large share of federal education aid intended for rural schools that lie in areas with large parcels of public and tribal lands and has distributed it to other districts, including urban ones. Legislation that would have undone the long-standing practice quietly died last year. State lawmakers have renewed the effort with more force in the current legislative session, introducing at least four bills designed to make up for tens of millions of dollars in federal Impact Aid diverted each year from rural districts, including many that serve Native American students. “It’s an issue of fairness,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who co-sponsored one of the bills. While New Mexico funds public school districts through a formula based on student numbers using money from several sources — including oil and gas revenues — school districts in many states heavily rely on property taxes.
A Senate Democrat stood outside a Roundhouse committee room Thursday with the head of New Mexico’s retirement system, expressing her concerns about a proposal to reform it. Wayne Propst, head of the Public Employees Retirement Association, tried to alleviate her worries. But Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez isn’t alone. Several members of her caucus, as well as retirees, are expressing unease about the bill, aimed at putting the pension system on a path to solvency. “It is a concern that I’ve been raising,” Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque said in an interview later, adding she’s getting questions from worried constituents.
Eight Senate Democrats joined with Republicans Thursday evening to defeat a measure that would have removed a currently non-enforceable ban on abortion. State Representatives Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, sponsored House Bill 51. which would repeal a 1969 state law which made both performing and receiving an abortion fourth-degree felonies, except with special permissions. The law is currently unenforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which federally recognized the right to have an abortion. “We’re terribly disappointed,” Ferrary said.
The New Mexico Senate on Monday voted 38-0 for a bill creating a division of outdoor recreation, one of the favored initiatives of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It is not to be a promotional agency but one that would be responsible for building the private-sector economy by helping businesses find ways to draw more visitors to New Mexico’s rivers, forests, caverns and peaks. The proposal, Senate Bill 462, next moves to the House of Representatives, where the Democratic leadership will fast-track it. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it’s clear that the Democratic governor wants this bill passed. “New Mexico has the greatest outdoor opportunities in the West,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after the Senate’s vote.
In a clash between urban and rural lawmakers, the New Mexico Senate voted 22-17 on Wednesday to outlaw coyote-killing contests that are staged for prizes or entertainment. The proposal, Senate Bill 76, now advances to the House of Representatives. Similar bills have twice cleared the Senate in the last four years but died in the House. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said he had a simple reason for co-sponsoring the latest attempt to end the contests targeting coyotes. “I don’t want to live in a culture of wanton killing,” Moores said.
The state Senate narrowly approved a bill Thursday that would require just about anyone buying a firearm to undergo a background check. This legislation has been a priority for gun control advocates, but all 16 Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate said it would not prevent the sort of mass shootings that have spurred calls for such laws. Scheduled for the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, the Senate’s vote was the biggest test yet for gun control during this legislative session. Majority Democrats won the day on a 22-20 vote. Senate Bill 8 now heads to the state House of Representatives, which already has passed a law on background checks this year and might approve this measure.
Three incumbent Democratic state House members lost in their primaries Tuesday according to unofficial numbers. In a Santa Fe area district, Carl Trujillo was perhaps the most embattled incumbent. A lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment last month, though Trujillo denied the allegations. He now faces an investigation by the state Legislature in accordance with the state’s new sexual harassment rules. Trujillo was beat out by former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romero.