Legislative report: Homelessness on the rise in New Mexico

Preliminary estimates for 2023 show a “significant uptick” of about 48 percent in homelessness in New Mexico, suggesting an increased need for affordable housing around the state, according to a report. The interim Legislative Finance Committee met on Tuesday and heard housing experts Kathleen Gygi, program evaluator for the Legislative Finance Committee, Amy Whitfield, housing and homeless advisor for the Office of the Governor and Isidoro “Izzy” Hernandez, executive director and chief executive officer of New Mexico Mortgage Finance Committee, on a presentation about homelessness and affordable housing issues. The presenters provided a report for the committee that showed an overview of affordable housing and homelessness in the state. One problem Gygi highlighted is that incomes have not kept up with the cost of rent. Since 2017, rents and home values have grown by 70 percent while income in the state has grown by just 15 percent, Gygi said. Another problem is a lack of bed space for homeless individuals.

Senate committee signals House cannabis legalization effort as the likely preferred option

Even after a nearly four hour Senate committee meeting on Saturday, none of the four cannabis legalization bills the panel discussed advanced. But with encouragement from the Senate majority leader and the committee’s chair, the sponsors said they work to come up with a unified approach before another meeting next week. 

It seems likely, based on comments from some committee members, that none of the Senate proposals will advance out of committee, but that portions of them will be incorporated into a House bill that has already advanced to the Senate. 

Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chair Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo announced at the beginning of the meeting that the committee would not take action on any of the bills. Instead, the committee heard public testimony and examined the differences between the bills. And in a somewhat unorthodox procedure, the committee discussed HB 12, which has not yet been assigned to any Senate committees. HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps.

One cannabis legalization effort moves forward, another fails in committee

A New Mexico House of Representatives committee on Monday approved one proposal to legalize recreational-use cannabis and tabled another. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted mostly along party lines to pass HB 12 on to its next committee. Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell voted, along with Republican committee members, against HB 12. He recently changed his political affiliation from Republican to independent. 

Both HB 12, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque and Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, and HB 17, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Tara Lujan of Santa Fe and Roger Montoya of Velarde, had largely similar aims. But Martínez and Romero’s bill would allow for home cultivation, unlimited plant counts for producers and no limits on how much cannabis a person can possess in their home. 

The committee also voted 7-4 to table HB 17, essentially stalling the bill indefinitely. 

Committee Chair Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, who is also a sponsor of HB 12, praised the efforts of all of the sponsors, but said that she wanted to streamline the effort to legalize cannabis. 

“I do think it was a responsibility of this committee to try and narrow this down and not do the same thing all over again in the next committee,” Armstrong said. 

Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, who voted against HB 12 and also voted against tabling HB 17, said she disagreed with the notion of paring down cannabis legalization proposals and that lawmakers should be able to consider all legislation. 

“I will say there is no reason to streamline because this is what we’re supposed to do,” Gail Armstrong said.

No decision by House committee, yet, on cannabis legalization

The push for cannabis legalization by some New Mexico lawmakers continues to be a steady, yet slow, effort. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee on Saturday heard comments from members of the public as well as questions and concerns from three Republican representatives regarding cannabis legalization bills HB 12 and HB 17. But the committee did not vote on either bill and will return on Monday to consider additional amendments and decide whether one, both or neither bill will go on to the next committee. 

Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe is the lead sponsor of HB 17. 

Lujan said that, while this is her first year as a legislator, she has watched the push for legalization closely. 

“One of the things that we keep getting told is, ‘Wait and see, wait and see. Let’s look at the states that have the programs in place and learn from their mistakes before we move forward with our own legislation for New Mexico,” Lujan told the committee. “I’ve watched and as this push to legalize has repeatedly stalled out, it’s been very frustrating. It’s been frustrating for many of us as we see, especially our neighboring states around us move forward with it.”

Lujan framed her legalization bill as a distilled version of previous attempts at legalization, mainly focused on protecting the state’s current medical cannabis program.

Lawmakers to consider gun legislation

Gun legislation is a surefire way to rile people on both sides of the aisle. Get ready for a spirited debate, New Mexico, because the first two measures pertaining to firearms in this year’s 60-day legislative session will be considered Tuesday by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. 

“Look, in all of these gun bills, there’s always going to be objections that they go too far,” Rep. Daymon Ely, a Corrales Democrat who is sponsoring one of the measures, said Monday. “When you step back from it, gun owners should be in favor of what I’m doing,” he added. “Nobody should want a gun in the hands of someone who is an imminent threat to themselves or others.” But Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said Democrats tend to craft gun bills that “literally miss the mark.”

NM lawmakers faced with a number of proposals to legalize cannabis

New Mexicans who are following the push by many lawmakers to legalize recreational-use cannabis now have plenty of reading material. 

Legislators have filed four legalization bills, two of which have identical language. All of the bills have the same general goal, but with different paths to get there and varying standards of what would and wouldn’t be allowed in a post-legalization New Mexico. Passage of any of the bills is still not a guarantee and given the history of previous cannabis legalization proposals and the legislative process in general, it is likely some pieces of the differing bills will be absorbed into one final bill. What was once an issue with more of a binary argument, is now an issue with nuances and proponents with a variety of priorities as it gets closer to becoming reality. Just six years ago, a cannabis legalization bill sponsored by a Democrat was assigned to five committees and was never considered by its first panel.

Lawmakers adjust to a largely virtual session

Two weeks into the 2021 legislative session, it looks like no one is home at the state Capitol. The hallways and hearing rooms — which normally would be bustling with activity by this time in a 60-day session — were empty Tuesday, aside from the rare sighting of a staff member or New Mexico State Police officer. Perhaps more surprisingly, Tuesday’s House floor session ran quickly and quietly, with no sign of the partisan rancor of the previous week, when party leaders bickered. House Republicans have questioned and criticized rules for running the session in a hybrid format, which allows members to participate in person or to log in online from home or their Capitol offices. And late last week, some members of the House GOP petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to halt those rules, arguing they are unconstitutional.