Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature will have record revenues to spend during this year’s session. Here are some of the big-ticket items to which you can expect to see money flowing—and some of the hot topics sure to drive debate during the next two months.
The Legislature has been known to leave advocates for public transparency frustrated and scratching their heads. A bipartisan move in 2013 to exempt state lawmakers from the Inspection of Public Records Act is just one example. But, the general practice these days is to actually comply with a state law the body created.
An allegation last year that state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy once again brought legislative transparency to watchdogs’ attention. As things stand, it’s flat-out illegal for an accuser to talk about their allegations against a sitting lawmaker. In fact, the complainant is the only person who has to keep their mouth shut. House Democratic Whip Reena Szczepanski of Santa Fe plans to fix that.
Lawmakers last year approved changes to their own rules to make the complaint process more transparent. The next step, Szczepanski says, is to change the law that governs ethics complaints by striking “complainant” from a line in the statute that prohibits disclosure, thus killing what amounts to a gag order for accusers.
Szczepanski is “very optimistic” about getting the change through. And if her hopes turn out, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the tweak into law, it would carry an additional benefit—one with a price tag attached. Changing the law would allow the Legislature to avoid a lengthy, costly legal battle with Ivey-Soto’s accuser, lobbyist Marianna Anaya, who filed a lawsuit against lawmakers alleging that the law violates her free speech rights. The case is on hold as lawmakers decide whether to choose transparency over secrecy.
Szczepanski also is looking toward future legislative sessions to create a legislative standards commission that would mimic the state’s Judicial Standards Commission, which could also use a dose of added transparency, as that body’s investigation process is shrouded in secrecy. (Andy Lyman)
The governor and some other Democrats last year began touting the use of natural gas for hydrogen production, often referred to as “blue hydrogen.” The big idea: Turn New Mexico into a “hydrogen hub.”
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup who chairs the Legislative Finance Committee, made clear during a Jan. 11 committee meeting that hydrogen would be back this session after a divided Democratic caucus killed it last year. She told New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney to “saddle up” in preparation for another push for hydrogen.
Potential federal funding could soften some Democratic holdouts, but not all. Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, who chairs the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, tells SFR he’s not a fan of blue hydrogen because it “perpetuates our reliance on fossil fuels and leads to increased carbon emissions.”
Democratic House Floor Leader Gail Chasey of Albuquerque says she’s aware of opposition from environmental groups, but that hydrogen “certainly has attractive outcomes.” Still, she isn’t willing to commit yet to a position on the issue.
But hydrogen could be one bit of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, tells SFR his caucus is ready to support anything that will “deliver affordable and reliable electricity” to the state.
“Whatever rock we need to turn over to accomplish that is what we’re interested in,” he says. “If that means hydrogen, if that means natural gas, if that means nuclear, whatever that is, the end goal should be affordable and reliable energy for our citizens.” (AL)
Within days of the US Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022 decision reversing Roe v. Wade, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order protecting health care workers who provide abortions to people from out of state, as well as those who come to New Mexico seeking them.
The proposed Reproductive Health Care Protection Act would codify that executive order and is one of two governor-backed pieces of legislation expected this session. A fact sheet describing the bill says it will provide “crucial guidance to New Mexico state entities on how to protect patients and providers from abusive investigation and harassment from out of state entities.”
American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico staff attorney Nadia Cabrera-Mazzeo tells SFR the bill also creates a mechanism “for residents to sue public entities, corporations or nonprofits if their rights are violated under the law” and enacts “more privacy protections” that would cover, for instance, so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are currently unregulated.
A second bill, the Reproductive Health Care Freedom Act, would bar public bodies from discriminating against individuals’ health care on the basis of gender. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, several New Mexico cities have passed ordinances banning abortion.
“A concrete example of why this is necessary is because it makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the likes of the ordinances that we are seeing in these rural communities cannot stand,” Cabrera-Mazzeo says.
While the bills were not pre-filed, state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, and several representatives from numerous advocacy groups previewed the legislation last week. In addition to supporting the two bills, the governor’s executive budget recommendation includes related items, including $10 million for a “full-spectrum reproductive health clinic in southern New Mexico,” which she announced last summer.
Much of the legislation reflects the priorities national reproductive health care policy organization Guttmacher Institute recently cited as the top ways for states to protect abortion rights and access in 2023. Notably missing in New Mexico is a constitutional amendment, which the institute lists as “one of the strongest actions that can be taken to establish long-term protections for abortion rights and access.”
Lopez tells SFR while a constitutional amendment isn’t in the queue for this session, the approach hasn’t been ruled out: “We are going to be taking…a much more concerted [look] and…review of what is happening around the country with other legislation,” she said, noting that nothing “would…preclude us from possibly doing such legislation next year.”
As for the two bills this session, she said she anticipates “some lively debate on both measures,” but says “we are prepared and ready to move the legislation from one chamber to the other and up to the governor’s office for her signature.” (Julia Goldberg)
New Mexico lawmakers voted decades ago to prohibit local governments from enacting rent control. But with rents rising to absurd levels around the state, some lawmakers are considering repealing that old law to let cities decide for themselves.
State Sen. Linda Lopez and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, both Albuquerque Democrats, have proposed a bill to open the door for local rent control ordinances. And some local governments seem eager for a means of taming an out-of-control market. Members of Santa Fe’s Charter Review Commission, for example, are mulling rent control as they discuss changes to city governance to put in front of voters later this year.
But while this might be the splashiest housing bill of the session, it is sure to get plenty of pushback from deep-pocketed opponents—including landlords, developers and real estate agents—with big bucks to spend on lobbyists. And don’t look for any help from Republicans.
Still, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham featured affordable housing in her inaugural address, signaling she wants to work on solutions—if not necessarily the rent control measure Lopez is pushing.
Moreover, the governor seems willing to spend money to accomplish her goals. Her proposed budget calls for putting $107 million into housing initiatives, including $25 million for rental assistance and eviction prevention as well as $10 million for home ownership down payment assistance.
Meanwhile, Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, is working on a “stop-gap” measure to address affordable housing. “We’re looking at modernizing our Uniform Resident Relations Act, which is our landlord tenant law,” she says.
And Romero is eying changes to the fines and fees under New Mexico’s Mobile Home Parks Act. “Right now, we’re seeing…out-of-state investors snatching up a lot of these properties and evicting folks that live on those properties, namely, folks on fixed incomes, and a lot of our elderly populations live in these communities. So there’s not a lot of recourse for action, not only within the law, but within just being able to put things in place for these predatory behaviors.” (Andrew Oxford)
Public Safety/Criminal Justice
Call it criminal justice reform, call it public safety, call it tough on crime, just don’t call it something that unifies lawmakers, or even something that brings the majority party together.
For years, Republicans have played the same record with phrases like “catch and release,” “revolving door” and “career criminals” as leverage to ratchet up penalties, crack down on minor offenses and other 1980s-flavored measures—all in an effort to make New Mexicans feel like the GOP cares about keeping them safe.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hasn’t gone quite that far, but last year she began selling the idea of shifting the burden from the state to defendants to prove whether it’s OK for them to remain free before trial. (Multiple studies have shown the shift Lujan Grisham is pushing for would not significantly reduce crime, even in Albuquerque, which has driven the state’s rates higher and higher in recent years.)
She’ll have high-placed allies for the idea, including Attorney General Raúl Torrez, who used to prosecute cases in federal court, where the proposed scheme already exists and makes it nearly impossible for defendants to go free while their cases are pending.
Passing such a law would run contrary to recent reforms to New Mexico’s bail system that Democrats—including Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe—worked hard to get in front of voters, who approved them by a wide margin.
The governor also wants to spend $100 million to help agencies around the state recruit more cops. And you can expect a slate of bills from Republicans—namely Rep. Bill Rheem, a retired Bernalillo County Sheriff’s captain—to lock up shoplifters, get rid of the statute of limitations for certain crimes and create a “three strikes” law.
Meanwhile, progressive legislators on the Democratic side have pre-filed or plan to introduce bills that would align elements of New Mexico’s legal system with modern approaches and behavioral science. They include ditching ticky-tack violations that send parolees back to prison; cutting the number of years for a first parole hearing for people convicted of certain crimes they committed as juveniles; and, more than likely, transparency and accountability laws for police misconduct.
In short, there’s likely to be tension among Democrats when it comes to crime, punishment and modernization in policing and incarceration. (AL, Jeff Proctor)
We’re approaching a year since legal cannabis sales started in New Mexico and nearly two since the governor signed the Cannabis Regulation Act into law. Anyone who was hoping to never hear the words, “cannabis legislation” again is in for some disappointment, because it’s an issue lawmakers will continue to revisit.
Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, and House Speaker-elect Javier Martínez of Albuquerque were among the primary sponsors of cannabis legalization, but with Martínez moving up in rank, weed law changes are mostly on Romero’s shoulders now. This year she plans to change the statute to put micro-producers on an even playing field with their larger counterparts. Current law specifically limits the number of plants for smaller producers to 250. Romero’s change would make that amount 10% of what larger producers are allowed.
Romero is also set to direct where tens of millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue goes, although she says it’s too soon to offer specifics about how much of that cash gets appropriated. Instead, she says, the plan is to set up the funds this year and lay out non-binding memorials aimed at finding the best spot for that green green.
“When we talk about rectifying the wrongs of the War on Drugs, when we talk about creating equity programs that are robust in supporting industry, what that looks like, where the rubber meets the road, right now, to me is just a little too vague,” Romero says.
Is she concerned that opening the Cannabis Regulation Act might lead to unwanted changes from other lawmakers? Yes. Specifically, sections that require proof of water rights for growers.
“My concern is when it does open up, who’s going to chip away at water protections in order to take away the gains we’ve made elsewhere in cannabis?” Romero says. (AL)
Read More > > Dollars and Strengths - Legislative preview: With the governor’s mansion and majorities in both chambers, Democrats eye policy shifts and spending priorities for record surplus
Read More > > What Locals Want - Santa Fe-based lawmakers will likely be in the spotlight this session as they attempt to clamp down on firearms, refine cannabis rules and other priorities