Packed Agenda

Legislature sets sail on 30-day session aimed at state budget, crime, constitutional amendments and more

If it feels like the New Mexico Legislature has been in session more often than usual lately, that’s because it has. The 30-day, 2022 regular session that began Tuesday is the first of this calendar year; it comes after three meetings of the Legislature last year. While this session is limited to budget matters and the governor’s call for other topics, it’s already looking to be packed full. Here’s a look at four issues sure to garner lots of attention.


Education reform to address long-standing inequities, exaggerated by the pandemic, could see significant economic investments, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposes to inject a recurring $600 million into initiatives ranging from early childhood education programs to tuition-free college for New Mexican students.

The Legislative Finance Committee echoed Lujan Grisham’s recommendation to raise wages for all school staff, including teachers’ minimum salaries, which would increase by at least 30%.

While the governor’s budget focuses largely on the state’s teacher shortage—New Mexico needs around 1,000 more educators—the Legislative Finance Committee suggested $180 million in non-recurring funds to help address insufficiencies in public education identified in the 2018 Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit.

“When we think about New Mexico’s children, 70% of them legitimately come from low income households,” says Cindy Nava, the executive director of Transform Education New Mexico, adding that the state has yet to create a comprehensive plan to provide low-income and other vulnerable students with an adequate education ahead of the session.

“The bottom line is many students still don’t have what they need,” Nava tells SFR. (William Melhado)


Legislation focused on the state’s criminal justice system for the upcoming session has the distinct feel of Republican priorities for the past several years—with a bent toward increasing penalties for certain crimes, rolling back changes to pretrial detention and pouring cash into the hiring of more police officers.

In short, “tough on crime” is the message of the day as New Mexico—and in particular, Albuquerque, its largest city—struggles with high violent crime rates, while what Democrats have traditionally pushed as “criminal justice reform” is taking a back seat.

Lujan Grisham rolled out her priorities at a news conference last week with Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez and others, including fellow Democrats who will sponsor proposals the governor says will make the state safer.

State Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, is set to sponsor one of the biggest changes.

In 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that barred the state from holding people before trial solely because they couldn’t afford bail and allowed judges to order people who prosecutors could prove were dangerous incarcerated before their day in court. Matthews’ bill would flip the burden, forcing defendants to prove why they should be allowed to await trial at home.

Lujan Grisham has said she also supports a raft of bills that would do away with the statute of limitations for second degree murder and ratchet up sentences for people convicted of several different gun crimes and fleeing from a law enforcement officer.

Finally, the governor wants to give New Mexico State Police officers a 19% raise and create a $100 million fund that would be used to recruit, hire, train and retain cops at agencies statewide. (Jeff Proctor)


Cannabis-related legislation is sparse as the session begins, with only two bills introduced by the prefile deadline of Jan. 14.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, a retired Bernalillo County sheriff’s captain, is sponsoring HB 54, which deals broadly with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including cannabis. If passed, the impairment standard would be removed from state statute, making driving a vehicle while under the influence of any drug illegal. Under current state law, it’s illegal to drive while impaired due to the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, backs a bill dedicating a portion of cannabis excise tax revenue to a substance use disorder treatment fund, which would be administered by the Human Services Department.

Other state Democrats say they’re waiting until after recreational sales begin in April to pursue similar legislation.

“It’s hard for us to plan what to do with money that has yet to come into the state’s coffers,” Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, tells SFR. “We’re planning to have different funds available focused on business-building with equity, looking at some of the behavioral health needs that we have in the state.”

Asked whether Lujan Grisham plans to add either Rehm’s or Steinborn’s bills to the session, spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett writes in an email to SFR: “Certainly both public safety and health and wellbeing are two of the governor’s priorities.”

Included in Lujan Grisham’s executive budget recommendation is $6.5 million in additional funding to support the Cannabis Control Division, which, combined with $3.2 million in other revenue, would fund 35 new division employees.

There’s also a recommendation for $2.3 million in general fund spending to the environment department for 19 new staff positions within the Hemp and Cannabis Bureau, which oversees and regulates cannabis food products. (Bella Davis)

Taxes and the Constitution

While the governor has said she will seek a reduction in the statewide gross receipts tax rate, that bill had not been introduced by a legislative sponsor as of presstime.

The LFC budget for the coming year noted that Arizona, Colorado and Texas have average combined state and local tax rates of 8.4%, 7.72%, and 8.19%, respectively. By lowering the state GRT rate by at least a quarter percent, New Mexico could have the lowest average combined state and local tax rate of 7.58%.

Other bills about taxation are already on the table, including an effort in the House to remove the state income tax on social security benefits and one to remove taxes on sales of feminine hygiene products.

Those watching Santa Fe’s polarized second-home market versus affordable housing crunch might take note of a bipartisan effort from Galisteo Democrat Rep. Matthew McQueen and Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper that would allow greater property tax hikes for homes that aren’t a primary residence. Right now, assessors can’t increase the recorded value of a home by more than 3% per year, but the bill would allow second homes to increase by 10% per year. (Julie Ann Grimm)

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