Guv signs omnibus crime bill 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an  omnibus crime bill into law on Wednesday, which officials say will reduce crime. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, pushed a “tough on crime” agenda during the 2022 Legislative session. Lawmakers rolled several crime bills into one to create the omnibus bill, which increases penalties for violent offenders. State House Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Santa Fe, sponsored HB 68. The new law will also eliminate “gay panic” defense in criminal cases.

Series of bombshells at the end of Legislature’s 30-day session

This year’s 30-day legislative session ended with a surprise. Or, more accurately, a series of bombshells. As the Legislature concluded its business at noon Thursday, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — considered a key architect of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and one of its most influential players — announced he is not seeking reelection this year. That was one one of the day’s rapid-fire shockers, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced only an hour or so later she was rescinding New Mexico’s indoor mask mandate. Though most legislators seemed wrung out by a difficult month, punctuated by a nearly daylong marathon in the House of Representatives, the session’s conclusion was anything but anticlimactic.

Pretrial detention measure tabled by Senate committee

A key “tough-on-crime” initiative supported by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hit a roadblock Monday. Members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee voted 5-3 to table Senate Bill 189, which would make a major change to the state’s pretrial detention process for defendants suspected of certain violent crimes. Under the measure, a defendant would have to prove to a judge they are not at risk of committing further violence if they are allowed to remain free until their trial. It is one of the most contentious bills in this year’s legislative session, despite its bipartisan support. Republicans have long pushed for similar legislation, arguing the current system, in which prosecutors must show evidence a defendant poses too great a danger to be released, has led to some heinous crimes by repeat offenders.

Bill to end life in prison without parole for juveniles clears committee

The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, with some members absent, voted 5-to-1 to pass SB 43, which would eliminate the possibility of a child being sentenced to life in prison without parole. Republican state Sen. Gregg Schemedes of Tijeras voted against the bill. State Sens. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, David Gallegos, R-Eunice and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, were not present for the vote. All the Democratic members of the committee voted in favor.  

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, a Democrat from Albuquerque, said the courts have asked the legislative branch to clarify this particular part of the law, which if passed would prevent a child from receiving a life sentence without parole and would allow a parole hearing after 15 years of time served.

Legislature sends spending bill to Governor’s desk (Updated)

Updated: The House concurred on HB 2 as amended by the state Senate by a voice vote on Thursday. This sends the legislation to the Governor’s desk for signature. HB 2 appropriates $478 million of the ARPA funds into various projects, such as road work, broadband expansion and conservation projects. The Legislative Finance Committee staff put the spending bill together based on requests from state agencies made during interim legislative committee hearings. The spending for some of the money, such as $10 million for smaller airports around the state, has not been appropriated in specific terms and will be left up to the agencies, in this case the Department of Transportation, to make the final decisions on the best use of the funds.

Senate Finance Committee passes amended appropriation bill, reducing allocation to $478 million

The Senate Finance Committee approved an amended version of a bill to allocate some of the American Rescue Plan Act immediately to various agencies. The amendment to HB 2, which passed unanimously, removed $26 million appropriated for broadband and reduced the overall funding package to about $478 million. The vote of approval for the amended bill was unanimous and bipartisan. State Sens. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, and Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, were absent.

Senate committee hears discussion on $35 million of relief act money

The state Senate Finance Committee heard from two departments that will receive one-time funds of $35 million total if HB 2 passes. The state Senate Finance Committee did not take action on HB 2, as the bill still sits in the  House Appropriations and Finance Committee which originally intended to meet Wednesday to vote on the bill. But state Rep. and HAFC Chair Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said during the House floor meeting Wednesday that HAFC would not meet that day. Lundstrom said on Tuesday that HB 2 needed some language cleanup, and appeared to be willing to consider a new appropriation to help the state’s chile farmers with the red chile harvest. HB 2 appropriates the federal American Rescue Plan Act money of $1.1 billion into a contingency fund of the state’s general fund.

Sen. Candelaria leaves Dem party, registers as decline to state

A New Mexico state Senator and the most vocal critic, from within the party, of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced Monday morning that he had left the Democratic Party. 

“I announce today that I’ve submitted to the Secretary of State a reregistration, changing my registration,” Candelaria said during the start of a special legislative session aimed largely at redistricting. “I am now decline to state.” 

In New Mexico’s election code, decline to state is the designation for voters who do not wish to align themselves with any political party. Candelaria’s reregistration now makes him the sole independent member of the state Senate. 

His announcement comes on the heels of a New Mexico Supreme Court case where he and a Republican senator successfully petitioned the high court to compel Lujan Grisham to hand over spending control of federal relief money to the Legislature. Days after the court’s ruling, Candelaria announced that he was going back to the court to ask that justices censure the governor for allegedly spending a portion of the federal funds after the court’s decision. Lujan Grisham’s office maintained that the money was owed for services that were completed prior to the ruling.

State supreme court sets date for arguments on pandemic aid case

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over who has the authority to distribute federal pandemic aid funds in November. The case, which will have oral arguments on Nov. 17, is brought by legislators who say the governor’s veto of language that directed the use of federal COVID-19 pandemic aid is illegal and that the Legislature should have the authority to direct where the money goes. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Republican from Belen, filed the petition in September. 

At the time, the two said the governor’s action was unconstitutional. The Lujan Grisham administration said that previous state supreme court precedent allowed the governor to direct federal funds. “The Supreme Court of New Mexico has concluded that federal contributions are not a proper subject of the Legislature’s appropriative power, and the Legislature’s attempt to control the use of such funds infringes ‘the executive function of administration,’” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message regarding the funds. 

When asked about the dispute when State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, said he believed the money should be handled by the Legislature, a spokeswoman for the governor said she believed the Legislature had the authority to dispense state, not federal funds.

State treasurer says COVID-19 relief money should be governed by Legislature

The New Mexico state treasurer agrees that federal COVID-19 relief funds should be handled by the state Legislature and not the governor, according to a response filed on Tuesday by his attorney. 

Treasurer Tim Eichenberg was named as a party of interest in a case filed last month by state Sens. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, and Greg Baca, a Republican. Candelaria and Baca asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to order Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to stop appropriating any more money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and to leave the rest of the spending decisions to the state Legislature. 

In a response on behalf of Eichenberg, his attorney wrote that while the ARPA funds can be spent legally on a variety of different issues, the Legislature should decide where it would be best spent. 

“The Treasurer respectfully submits that the question of whether some or all funds should be used for any or all of these areas requires considerations of public policy and public priorities that must be conducted in the open with opportunity for public participation, which can and will only happen in a legislative process,” the response reads. 

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers tried to include spending of the federal money in the state budget. Lujan Grisham line-item vetoed that appropriation on the grounds that a previous state supreme court case ruled that the spending of certain federal funds is the responsibility of the governor, not the legislature.  

In their initial petition to the state supreme court, Candelaria and Baca argued that the case Lujan Grisham cited in her veto message was narrowly focused on federal funds specifically designated for higher education. In this case, the two senators argued, the federal funds had a wide range of acceptable uses. 

Eichenberg’s lawyer also argued that Congress approved the relief money to be used in a wide variety of ways, “according to needs assessments made by state decision-makers, driven by state considerations, and priorities.”

And those decision-makers, Echineberg’s lawyer argued, are legislators. 

“Legislative action—the power to make law and appropriate money from the State Treasury—rests exclusively with the Legislature,” the response reads.