Lujan Grisham hails ‘really productive’ session

New Mexico’s 54th Legislature wrapped up Thursday amid congratulatory hugs and news conferences — a veneer of good cheer that masked a dose of sleep deprivation, early-morning procedural bickering, and finally, sighs of relief as key bills were passed just hours before the final gavel. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic legislators touted the passage of a number of their priority proposals, including the creation of an early childhood trust fund, passing a high-profile firearms bill and shepherding through the state’s $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year. “I think this was a really productive 30-day session,” Lujan Grisham said, surrounded by legislators and cabinet secretaries at a post-session news conference in  the Roundhouse. “We are building something new together. We’re investing for tomorrow and we’re delivering today.”

The governor won passage for the majority of bills she asked legislators to undertake — 80 percent of them, by her own count.

Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

“I apologize.

Red flag bill passes Senate

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.

Two contraception bills advance

A bill that would go beyond both the governor’s and Legislative Finance Committee’s appropriation recommendations for long-acting reversible contraceptive training to medical professionals passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee 4-2 Thursday. The vote fell along party lines for SB 40, which would provide $1.2 million from the general fund to the state Department of Health to mentor health care providers on long-acting reversible contraception. Democratic Senators Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez of Albuquerque, Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics of Cerrillos, Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces voted in favor. Republican Senators Candace Gould of Albuquerque and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho opposed the bill, while Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was absent. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, is sponsoring this bill as well as another, SB 41, which provides $500,000 to the Department of Health to raise public awareness on long-acting reversible contraception.

‘Red flag’ gun bill steeped in controversy clears Senate panel

In an emotional hearing before hundreds of supporters and detractors, a state Senate panel narrowly passed a high-profile gun bill on Tuesday that would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to confiscate guns from people considered dangerous. The Senate Public Affairs committee voted 4-3 along party lines in favor of Senate Bill 5, known as the “Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act.” The bill will now be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation is a marquee item on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and likely to be one of the most contentious bills heard during the session. If it becomes law, New Mexico would join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that have similar measures, also known as “red-flag” laws. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is co-sponsoring the legislation and is an attorney, invoked last year’s mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart as a reason why the bill should be passed.

State looks to address Texas v. New Mexico water case

State leaders looking for a way to address a litigated claim that New Mexico is not providing enough water to Texas under a decades-old compact want funding for a water conservation pilot program south of Elephant Butte. Though the plan remains vague, both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee are proposing to support it by allocating funding to the project in the 2021 fiscal year. 

The plan would let water users in the southern part of the state figure out how and when to leave certain areas of their farms unplanted — or fallow — to conserve ground and surface water. 

“It’s the start of a solution to the lack of water resources south of Elephant Butte,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who first announced the plan at a Journey Santa Fe event this month. “It’s critical that the solution comes from the farmers down there.” The Governor’s Office is proposing a $10 million allocation in next year’s budget for a year’s implementation of the pilot program. The LFC’s $30 million proposal takes a three-year approach to the plan, Wirth said.

Republicans caution against overspending as reserves hit all-time high

Rarely has the phrase “financially prudent” been so hard to define at the Roundhouse. 

Amid the backdrop of a flush revenue stream and looming legislative races in November, Republicans are hammering away at Democrats and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the early days of the 2020 session — contending they are overspending in a state inextricably reliant on the unpredictable oil and gas industry. Yet Democrats say their spending plan is fiscally responsible, and key components of their argument are backed by the influential Legislative Finance Committee. 

An estimated 45 percent of general fund revenues are now dependent on oil and gas, and GOP members argue that when that contribution declines, the state will be hard-pressed to find funding for new budget increases in early childhood and higher education the governor has proposed this session. Lujan Grisham is proposing a $7.68 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, including a $74 million increase to the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, $200.3 million more on K-12 education, a 4 percent pay raise for teachers and $35 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program. For Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, and other Republicans in the Legislature, the governor’s proposed 8.5 percent spending increase from last year is “irresponsible.”

“When we say it’s irresponsible, those words are not hyperbole. It is a fact — it’s irresponsible.

Senate votes to create outdoor recreation division

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.

Senate approves pay raises for elected state officials

New Mexico’s governor and other statewide elected officials would get 15 percent raises starting in 2023, under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate. The proposal, Senate Bill 547, next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. The state’s five public regulation commissioners, who are elected from districts, also would receive 15 percent increases. Salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials were last increased in 2002. Sens.

With the fate of legal cannabis unclear, decriminalization back on the table

One of the biggest unanswered questions during this year’s legislative session is whether New Mexico will become the next state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis is dependent on a handful of hold-outs in the state Senate, but one bill that would ease the state’s laws on cannabis, years in the making and sponsored by one of those hold-outs, cleared its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 323 on a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored similar legislation to replace criminal charges with fines for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis since 2015. With each attempt, the proposal has gained more support in the Legislature.