Lujan Grisham delivers State of the State address, remotely

After a challenging year marked by grief brought on by a deadly pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered a hopeful vision for New Mexico during her annual State of the State address Tuesday, including a plan to get more students back into classrooms in less than two weeks. “Every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on Feb. 8,” the governor said in her 26-minute address, which she delivered virtually, without the usual pomp and circumstance. The governor’s State of the State is typically given during a crowded event at the state Capitol on the first day of the legislative session. This one came a week after lawmakers convened.

WATCH: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2021 State of the State address

This year’s legislative session is like no other before it because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed nearly every aspect of American life. One big change is that there was no large gathering of family, dignitaries and other political overserves on the first day of the legislative session to hear the governor deliver annual state of the state address. Instead, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will deliver a remote State of the State address on Tuesday, which you can watch below, courtesy of New Mexico PBS. Below, you can read along to an annotated version of the speech, as prepared for delivery, be NM Politcal Report, New Mexico PBS and other New Mexico media outlets.

Bill to establish Health Care Affordability Fund expected during legislative session

A bill designed to lower insurance premiums for state residents on the New Mexico health care exchange is expected to be filed for the 2021 Legislature. The bill is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and is still being drafted, so not all the details have been worked out. But Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said one of the benefits of the Health Care Affordability Fund is that it would encourage more individuals to enroll and that, in turn, could lead to insurance premiums dropping for residents who are on the exchange. The bill, if it becomes law, would apply a surtax on insurance companies of 2.75 percent. That would generate $110 million in net revenue for the state, Cordova said.

NM cannabis producer sues state, claims retaliation

A prominent New Mexico medical cannabis producer filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the state Department of Health, alleging the department violated a previous court order and discriminated against the company regarding cannabis plant limits.  

Albuquerque-based attorney Jacob Candelaria, who is also a New Mexico state senator, filed the motion on behalf of Ultra Health, a medical cannabis company that has previously taken the state to court numerous times. In the motion, which effectively reopened a previous lawsuit against the state, Candelaria argued that the Department of Health, which oversees the state’s Medical Cannabis Program, failed to obey a court order that plant limits for medical cannabis producers be based on reliable data and that the department discriminated against Ultra Health specifically. 

The case that was reopened was originally filed in 2016 and argued that the state’s then-limit of 450 plants was not enough to provide an adequate supply of medical cannabis to the more than 26,000 medical cannabis patients at the time. In November 2018 a state district judge ordered the state’s Department of Health to come up with a data-based plant limit for medical cannabis producers by March 2019. 

With five days until the state’s deadline, then Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel sent an email to Jane Wishner, a policy advisor for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, about the department’s next steps in coming up with a data-driven limit on cannabis plants. The email chain began with the former director of the Medical Cannabis Program explaining that New Mexico seemed to be the only state with a medical cannabis program that used plant counts as a limit, opposed to facility size. Wishner, in reply, contemplated taking a look at the state’s medical cannabis law and coming up with a temporary plant limit for producers.

Governor, health officials discuss COVID-19 vaccine efforts

The governor and New Mexico health officials are optimistic that they have enough capacity to administer vaccines—with a bottleneck at the number of vaccines the state receives from the federal government. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the state has also seen its fair share of hiccups, including an overwhelmed call center devoted to vaccinations because of unexpected demand from the public. 

“We should stop underestimating that and we can do better, straight up. We can just do better,” she said. But she also placed blame on a much-criticized federal distribution of the vaccines to states. “The planning by the federal government was very poor,” the governor said.

WATCH: Gov. Lujan Grisham’s 1/14 COVID-19 press conference

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state officials will hold a press conference on Thursday at 3 p.m. to provide an update on COVID-19 in New Mexico. The press conference will also discuss the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Watch the entire press conference below, via the governor’s Facebook page.

Guv declares state of emergency as state prepares for ‘likely’ riots at government buildings

On Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency over “likely” riots at the state capitol and other government buildings this weekend and through next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. The governor cited last week’s “violent insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol and “credible intelligence that threats of similar riots exist and are likely to occur at the capitol building and other prominent government buildings in all 50 states either before or on January 20, 2021.”

The declaration directs the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to direct the response and the Adjutant General of the New Mexico National Guard “to order into service any element of the New Mexico National Guard as may be needed to provide military support to civil authorities.”

Earlier this week, the FBI warned in an internal bulletin that some protesters are planning on “storming” all 50 state capitols, the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and other government buildings including courthouses between now and Jan. 20. New Mexico leaders told NM Political Report earlier this week that they are preparing for such a protest, as the first day of the New Mexico legislative session and Biden’s inauguration next week. The FBI bulletin, according to ABC News, advised that local and state law enforcement beef up operations.

Legislators will again try to repeal antiquated abortion ban

With a new set of members in the state Senate, a bill to repeal the New Mexico 1969 abortion ban is expected to be filed in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature. Six Democrats who support abortion rights beat Republicans in November, in some cases after defeating anti-abortion Democrats in June’s primary, for state Senate seats, tipping the balance of power further to the left in the upper chamber. The state Senate defeated the 2019 effort to repeal the antiquated state law that bans abortion with few exceptions. Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins

Of the eight Democrats who sided with Republicans on the repeal vote two years ago, only two remain: state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and state Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. Incoming state Senators Carrie Hamblen, Siah Correa Hemphill and Leo Jaramillo, all progressive Democrats who ran on reproductive health, defeated their incumbent Democrat opponents in the primary and then won again in November against their Republican challengers.

Right-wing mob of Trump supporters takes over U.S. Capitol; NM and other lawmakers evacuated

Domestic terrorism. Insurrection. Insanity. That’s what elected officials from New Mexico called what happened when a mob of right-wing Trump supporters stormed and briefly took over the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, as the House and Senate were debating challenges to election results based on unfounded conspiracy theories about voter fraud. The Senate voted against any objections that would undermine the majority of voters in any states.

2020 Top Stories #5: COVID-19 in prisons

See our entire countdown of top stories, to date, here. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the lives of almost every New Mexican, including those locked up in jail or prison. 

In April, just a month after New Mexico saw its initial cases of COVID-19, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office faced a legal challenge over how the state was handling COVID-19 in detention centers across the state. A petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association asked the state Supreme Court to intervene and compel the state to broaden its scope of how to lower inmate populations. The stance of the governor’s office was, and still is, that an executive order allowing a specific class of inmates to be released 30 days early was enough. 

The coalition that filed the petition argued that the governor’s office and the New Mexico Corrections Department were subjecting inmates to cruel and unusual punishment by sticking with the 30-day early release order instead of pushing for expanded and expedited parole or house arrest for inmates. During oral arguments in the Supreme Court case, both the governor’s lawyer and some justices expressed concern over where inmates would go after being released.