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Winners and losers of the 2021 legislative session
The Santa Fe New Mexican - 3/21/2021
Mar. 21—What prevailed
State budget: Near the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, state economists projected a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall in the fiscal year that starts July 1. Thanks to an infusion of federal pandemic relief money and much more optimistic revenue projections from oil and gas, the state government will increase spending by 4.8 percent, or $373 million. The proposed $7.4 billion budget passed both chambers in the final days of the session and is now headed to the governor.
Pandemic relief: Those hit hardest by the pandemic will benefit from Senate Bill 3, which the governor signed into law. It offers long-term, low-interest loans up to $150,000 to eligible New Mexico businesses and nonprofits.
Abortion rights: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made history when she signed Senate Bill 10, striking a 1969 law from the books that made it a crime to perform an abortion. The move came after weeks of emotional testimony from people on both sides of the argument as abortion-rights advocates feared a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court might weaken or overturn the historic Roe v. Wade ruling.
Aid in dying: House Bill 47, which allows terminally ill patients of sound mind to ask a physician to prescribe drugs to help them die, led to impassioned arguments. Proponents said people should have the right to a peaceful death, while opponents said life should be respected and raised concerns about misuse. Previous attempts to pass such legislation failed, but this year's effort made it across the finish line. The governor has said she will sign it.
Early childhood education funding: Call it the battle of the decade. Democratic lawmakers intent on using money from a multibillion-dollar state endowment to boost services for young children finally prevailed in passing House Joint Resolution 1. It allows voters to decide on the issue. Under a compromise, some of the new money would go into the state's K-12 public school system. Voters will face the question in the 2022 general election.
Civil rights: House Bill 4, giving New Mexicans the right to sue government agencies over civil rights violations, came after a year of nationwide calls for law enforcement accountability. The legislation sparked concerns about skyrocketing costs for local governments. Still, the bill made it through the House and Senate. A spokesman said Lujan Grisham probably would sign it into law.
Liquor licenses: An initial push to legalize home delivery of alcohol became an effort to overhaul the state's decades-old liquor license laws to end what some call a monopoly system. House Bill 255 had wide support from both sides. At the last minute, a 2 percent booze tax was eliminated. The governor has signed the bill.
Paid sick leave: A highly charged Senate debate over a bill requiring the state's private employers to provide their workers paid sick leave left some lawmakers feeling nauseous. But House Bill 20, also known as the Healthy Workplaces Act, passed and is likely to be signed by the governor. Workers would get at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Broadband: Senate Bill 93 would create a central state agency to develop and upgrade New Mexico's broadband system. Despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained spotty for many New Mexicans. SB 93 awaits the governor's signature.
Capital outlay: Dozens of infrastructure and other projects around the state will receive a combined $517 million in capital outlay funding under House Bill 285. Not including statewide capital outlay, Santa Fe County is poised to receive $59 million, including $1.8 million for a new teen center in south Santa Fe and $1 million for infrastructure improvements on the midtown campus.
Capital outlay transparency: Under House Bill 55, The Legislature would be required to publish a searchable database showing how each lawmaker spends capital outlay dollars. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said it would make the capital outlay process more transparent. The measure is awaiting the governor's signature.
Impact Aid: Legislation that would redirect federal Impact Aid money to schools it was intended for is awaiting the governor's signature. Around three-quarters of that federal aid currently goes into a pool of funds for all of the state's public schools. House Bill 6 would ensure the money goes to schools that need it the most, including many that primarily serve Native American students.
Family income index: Senate Bill 17 would require the state Public Education Department to calculate, on an annual basis, a family income index to determine which students are most in need of extra help. Public schools with the highest rate of low-income kids would be eligible for extra money. It was one of the last measures to pass the House.
Extended learning: Both the House and Senate approved Senate Bill 40 to extend the academic year and require all public elementary schools to provide K-5 Plus or extended-learning programs to make up for lost instructional time due to the pandemic.
Opportunity Scholarship: Lawmakers agreed to continue funding the Opportunity Scholarship at $18 million, which provides tuition assistance for thousands of New Mexico students pursuing degrees at two-year colleges, and they gave $10.5 million to the Legislative Lottery Scholarship, which covers 90 percent of college tuition costs.
No hair discrimination: Supporters of an effort to prohibit discipline or discrimination based on a student's race or culture because of a hairstyle or headdress scored a victory when Senate Bill 80 passed both chambers.
Redistricting: In a late-night vote in the House, lawmakers approved an independent commission to redraw election district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats, a task mandated by national law and utilizing U.S. Census Bureau data. Senate Bill 304 is on its way to the Governor's Office.
Trapping ban: Animal rights advocates celebrated the passage of Roxy's Law, named after a dog killed by a poacher's snare at Santa Cruz Lake in 2018. Senate Bill 32 outlaws the use of traps, snares and wildlife poison on public land, with some exceptions. It narrowly cleared the House on a vote of 35-34.
Legal cannabis: The push to legalize adult use of recreational cannabis and create a path for production and sales, one of the highest-priority issues for the governor and many lawmakers, came to a halt Friday in the Senate, where it was expected to face a pile of proposed amendments. Rumor has it, House Bill 12 also was undergoing a major last-minute rewrite by its sponsors. But the effort isn't dead yet — the governor said she will call a special session in the coming weeks to get a measure passed.
Payday loans: A bill that would have reined in what many call predatory lending died after the House and Senate failed to agree on how much interest storefront lenders could charge on small loans. The Senate approved Senate Bill 66, which would have capped the interest rate on storefront loans at 36 percent. But the House amended the bill to allow a 99 percent interest rate on loans of less than $1,100.
Curbing gubernatorial powers: Following a year of contentious government-ordered shutdowns amid the pandemic, House Bill 139 and Senate Bill 74, which would ensure the Legislature played a role in any future emergency order by the governor, went nowhere.
Open primaries: House Bill 79, which would have opened the state's primary elections to New Mexico voters who aren't affiliated with a major political party, failed to make it to the House floor for a vote, dying early in the committee process.
Clean fuel standards: A bill that would reduce New Mexico's carbon footprint by implementing a statewide clean fuel standard cleared the Senate but did not get taken up by the full House. Opponents argued Senate Bill 11 would lead to higher gas prices, but supporters disputed that notion, saying similar laws enacted by other states have not caused fuel prices to spike.
Prison reform: House Bill 352 and House Bill 40 would have prohibited the state or counties from entering into any new contract with a private company to run a jail, prison or juvenile facility. Both got stuck awaiting a hearing in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
Dam repairs: The safety of New Mexico's dams has raised concerns among lawmakers and safety experts for two years, following the release of state and federal reports about poor conditions. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, introduced legislation committing $100 million to repairs. But Senate Bill 138 never got past the Senate Finance Committee.
Changing the Legislature: Senate Joint Resolution 273 would have let voters decide whether to set term limits for state lawmakers. House Joint Resolution 12 would have let voters decide whether to give the State Ethics Commission the power to set government officials' salaries — including for state lawmakers, who are currently volunteers. And House Joint Resolution 13 would have asked voters if the Legislature should extend its 30-day session in even-numbered years to 45. None of the measures made it through both chambers.
Cigarette tax: A bill that would have added $2 to the price of a pack of cigarettes stalled in a Senate committee. Senate Bill 197 also would have increased the excise tax for other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, e-liquids and closed system cartridges for electronic cigarettes.
Social Security tax break: What senior relying on Social Security income wouldn't embrace a plan to exclude those checks from taxes? Two efforts — House Bill 49 and Senate Bill 78 — got stuck in tax and revenue committees. Some Senate Republicans tried, without success, to renew them Friday during a lengthy debate on tax reform.
Cage-free eggs: It wasn't sunny side up for legislation to require that eggs produced or sold in New Mexico be cage-free. Senate Bill 347 became another casualty of the backlog of bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the measure languished for three weeks.
PERA reform: A bill that would have significantly altered the New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association Board of Trustees, House Bill 162, never got out of committee. The board, beset by infighting, oversees a nearly $17 billion retirement fund for about 92,000 New Mexico state workers and retirees.
Mandatory minimum sentences: Lawmakers backing House Bill 293, to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes, asked a committee to essentially kill it early in the session after Republican Party leaders blasted them for trying to cut a break to sex offenders who harm children. The intent was to give judges more leeway in sentencing defendants.
Financial literacy: Two efforts to require public school students to take a half-credit class in money management stalled — House Bill 302 in a House committee and House Bill 63 on the Senate floor. Lawmakers in both parties and both legislative chambers were generally supportive of the measures.
Graduation credits: Legislation changing the type of credits high schoolers would need to graduate stalled in the Senate Education Committee — though lawmakers vowed to study the issue in the interim. House Bill 83 would have dropped the number of required credits, allowed students more leeway in choosing electives and let them bypass Algebra 2.
Veteran discrimination: House Bill 113 started off strong, soaring through the House. But the bill meant to ensure someone could not be discriminated against for being a military veteran — particularly one wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder — got stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Time change: A bill that might have ended twice-yearly clock changes in the state died in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee days before the session ended. Senate Bill 102 would have made Mountain Daylight Time the permanent year-round time if enabling federal legislation on the issue were passed.
Reducing hunger: A measure that would have created a plan to reduce hunger in New Mexico failed to make it out of the House. House Bill 207 would have required state agencies to work with community and agricultural leaders on a commission tasked with creating an annual plan to decrease food needs.
Chop shops: Illegal chop shops that dismantle stolen vehicles to sell for parts would have faced stiffer penalties under a bill approved by the House. House Bill 145 idled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure aimed to make the dismantling of stolen vehicles a third-degree felony.
Red-flag law changes: Much to the disappointment of gun violence prevention advocates, a bill to expand New Mexico's so-called red-flag gun law became a victim of more pressing priorities. House Bill 193 sought to amend the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act by adding law enforcement officers to the list of people who could seek a court order to temporarily take firearms from a person considered a threat.
Environmental standards: Senate Bill 8 would allow New Mexico to adopt air quality and hazardous waste rules more stringent than federal regulations. Opponents called it a "radical anti-energy bill" and warned it would allow the state to implement excessive regulations. The measure is awaiting the governor's signature.
Teacher pension reforms: A measure that would require employers to pay more into the retirement fund for New Mexico educators got final passage Saturday and is awaiting the governor's signature. Under Senate Bill 42, the employer contribution rate to the Educational Retirement Board would go up by 1 percent a year for the next four years.
Health insurance break: A bill to create a fund to help offset the costs of health insurance premiums for lower-income, self-employed people awaits a signature from the governor. Opponents of House Bill 122 expressed concern that a premium tax on providers to pay for it would hurt businesses and other workers.
Military kids: Senate Bill 272 would allow military parents to enroll their children in public schools 45 days in advance. They currently have 10 days to make those arrangements. It is awaiting the governor's signature.
Athletic endorsements: Senate Bill 94 would allow college athletes to be paid for commercial endorsements. Similar measures have been adopted in California and Colorado. It's unclear whether the governor will sign the bill.
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