KRWG

In Depth: New Mexico Legislative Session

Mar 18, 2017

  Commentary: On the most critical issues facing the Senate, including balancing both the FY17 and FY18 budget, the chamber acted in a bipartisan fashion to address the fiscal crisis in a responsible way that demonstrated the unity that continues to exist within the chamber.

Left with no easy solutions, legislators were called to make several difficult decisions necessary to the financial future of our state. Through bipartisan collaboration, the Senate was able to produce a sensible and balanced approach to our budget, all while continuing to pass legislation important to our communities and to the state.

This session, the legislature accomplished tremendous goals that resulted in:

  • Passing a responsible FY18 budget that prevents cuts to critical state services, like public education and public safety
  • Enacting meaningful tax reform that will lead to comprehensive changes that make the system more fair
  • Creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity for hardworking New Mexicans facing high levels of unemployed citizens
  • Protecting and supporting public safety programs and keeping our families safe from harm
  • Overhauling of our state’s campaign finance system and enacting ethics reform to protect public trust
  • Creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity for those struggling to make ends meet
  • Protecting access to healthcare for all New Mexicans
  • Respecting New Mexico women

While this memo could not possibly reflect the entirety of the work of the New Mexico Legislature during the legislative session, it looks to highlight some of the key accomplishments upon its completion.

Solving Immediate FY17 Fiscal Crisis & Minimizing Cuts to Public Education  

The legislature faced an immediate fiscal crisis upon beginning the session. On the second day of the session, the Senate moved quickly to balance our state’s checkbook in a way that earned the approval of an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate.

The Senate passed four bills that addressed our seventy-million-dollar deficit and rebuilt our reserves. Unfortunately, Governor Martinez line-item vetoed parts of the solvency package and left the state with an irresponsible level of reserves which once again jeopardized our credit rating and left the Legislature with an even bigger challenge when addressing the coming year’s budget.

Responsible FY18 Budget that Prevents Cuts to Critical State Services

The Legislature came together to pass a responsible budget and recurring revenue package that prevented further cuts to public education, the various public safety departments, and other critical state services. Once again, the Senate worked in a bipartisan fashion and a majority of Republican Senators voted with their Democratic colleagues to put forth two bills, HB2 and HB202, now on the Governor’s desk, that lay out a practical, long-term spending framework necessary for the success of our state.

Meaningful Tax Reform

A major bipartisan accomplishment of the 2017 session was the passage of the most far-reaching tax reform in 13 years. HB 191, which was amended and improved significantly by the Senate, initiates a comprehensive overhaul of our tax system, closing special interest loopholes, modernizing our complex revenue collection process, and reducing the ‘pyramiding’ of business taxes.  The result of the Senate’s work will make our state tax system more fair and stable in the future.

Creating Jobs & Expanding Economic Opportunity

After addressing the immediate budget crisis facing the state, Democrats in the Legislature made creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities for New Mexico families a priority.

The Legislature passed the most expansive package of broadband legislation in New Mexico history. Broadband expansion has been proven to create jobs and is the number two concern among New Mexico businesses according to an interim Jobs Council report.

Two of those bills have now been signed into law. HB 113, by Representative Jim Smith and Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, will create a statewide broadband network and implement a model proven to increase internet speeds and attract the private providers needed to bring new infrastructure to underserved communities.  The second bill, HB 64 by Representative Jim Trujillo and Senator Jacob Candelaria, would significantly reduce the costs of new broadband network construction through partnerships between local governments and broadband providers.

Another set of bills by Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla are now awaiting signature from the Governor.  SB 53 represents a renovation in our telecommunications framework by lifting regulatory barriers preventing investment while maintaining consumer protections. Senate Bill 308 creates a dedicated broadband fund from the existing and outdated Universal Service Fund to make broadband attainable for all New Mexico families. The now outdated fund was originally created to provide telephone service to rural parts of New Mexico where doing so would come at high costs.

SB 24, a bill that would have that would have streamlined current statutes to facilitate local government investment in broadband infrastructure, was vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez. The bill was passed with only one dissenting vote in either chamber.

The Legislature passed two bills that would have allowed New Mexico to capitalize on the $600 million industrial hemp industry. In particular, SB 6 by Senator Cisco McSorley put forward a narrowly tailored approach to beginning the research and development needed to bring jobs to our manufacturing and agricultural industries.  In the opinion of legal counsel to the legislature, this bill is now law.

Senator Joseph Cervantes passed significant capital outlay reform legislation that would improve how our state invests in capital outlay projects to ensure that projects are maximized in a way that will create jobs and boost the state economy. SB262 would help prioritize the most urgent infrastructure projects and make sure funds go to projects that are ready to begin as soon as they are funded.

With strong bipartisan agreement, the Senate passed a long-overdue pay raise for working people in New Mexico by raising the state minimum wage to $9 per hour from the current $7.50.  Raising the minimum wage is good for our economy.  More than 600 economists have affirmed that increasing the minimum wage will help stimulate the economy and spur job creation, since low-wage workers now will have more earnings to spend. Senator Clemente Sanchez’s SB 386 was supported by both business organizations like the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and labor unions like AFSCME Council 18.

Keeping Our Families Safe  

After a request for emergency funding was rejected by the Governor’s Board of Finance, the courts were left without enough money to fund jury trials and keep their doors open through the end of the fiscal year. This created a constitutional crisis that threatened the public safety of our communities. Had the legislature not acted, juries would have remained unfunded, criminal cases would have been dismissed, and some criminals would have walked free. Despite two vetoes of appropriations that would have kept the courts running, the Legislature ultimately passed a $1.6 million appropriation that adequately funds the courts through the end of the fiscal year.

Senator Joseph Cervantes passed Senate Bill 259 to give courts the ability to order domestic abusers to relinquish all firearms in their possession for the duration of any protective order. If enacted into law, this bill would assure protection for victims of domestic violence and remove the risk of firearms in dangerous family situations.

Expansion of Civil Rights Protections

The Legislature passed SB 121 by Senator Jacob Candelaria and Representative Andres Romero which, if signed, would protect children by prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy by licensed mental health providers with minors under the age of 18.

Senator Candelaria also passed Senate Bill 120 which would allow transgendered New Mexicans to amend their birth certificates to reflect the gender they identify with, without the requirement that they undergo costly gender reassignment surgery, a procedure out of reach for most people.

Overhaul of Campaign Finance System & Ethics Reform

In a historic moment for the Legislature, the bipartisan House Joint Resolution 8, by Representative Jim Dines, Senator Jeff Steinborn, Representative Nathan Small, and Representative Bill McCamley, would create the framework for an Independent Ethics Commission to oversee the ethical conduct of public officials and serve as a forum where questions and dilemmas regarding ethics can be addressed to prevent inadvertent unethical conduct.

The Legislature passed SB 96, a major overhaul of election law sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Representative Jim Smith. It would require greater transparency from large independent donors by requiring public disclosure of as much information about the campaign spending of PACs and other non-candidate campaign participants as can be compelled without crossing the constitutional boundaries established by the courts.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth also passed SB 97, which would create a voluntary public financing system for the Supreme Court, Appeals Court judges, and PRC commissioners. The shift would allow candidates to focus on the issues instead of collecting money from well-connected special interests.

Protecting Access to Healthcare

Senator Papen’s SB 217, if signed into law, will guarantee that behavioral health and other health care providers who stand accused of fraud will receive their due process rights, the opportunity to review the allegations made against them, and the chance to respond in an administrative hearing and in district court.

Senator Steinborn’s SB 354 would require the State to more vigorously negotiate with pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for lower prices, saving taxpayers potentially up to $100 million per year, and freeing up needed resources for public education and other essential services.

If HB 157, sponsored by Representative Debbie Armstrong and Senator Michael Padilla, if signed into law, a key health care goal of firefighters and paramedics across the state will be met by adding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the existing list of diseases, such as cancers, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, already presumed to be proximately caused by employment as a firefighter.

Respecting New Mexico Women

The Legislature has passed the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act which would ensure that pregnant women in the workplace can continue to do their jobs and support their families by providing access to reasonable accommodations for needs arising out of pregnancy. The legislation, which was sponsored by Representative Gail Chasey and was sponsored on the Senate Floor by Senator Linda Lopez, will allow workers to maintain a healthy pregnancy while still remaining active, productive employees.

New Mexico currently has the nation’s worst rape kit backlog, leaving thousands of New Mexicans waiting for justice. To address this, the Legislature has passed Senator Mimi Stewart’s SB 475 which would put policies in place for rape kits to be sent for processing in a timely manner.

Ensuring Our Students Receive the Highest Caliber of Education

In addition to producing a budget that fulfills the state’s obligation to provide the best education for our students, and the recurring revenue necessary to prevent what would have otherwise been devastating 5-7% cuts, the Legislature also passed several pieces of legislation that would have helped support our students and their families.

Legislators this session have passed SB 462, a capital outlay bill by Senator Carlos Cisneros, that dedicates $46 million to replenish critical funds taken from school districts and charter schools, putting public schools on sounder financial footing.

Already, Governor Martinez has chosen to veto several pieces of legislation that would have improved the quality of education our students receive. For example, SB 64 by Senator Mimi Stewart would have lifted the sunset clause on our Public School Capital Outlay Council’s ability to invest in broadband infrastructure statewide allowing New Mexico to maximize E-rate matching from the federal government so New Mexico schools can provide our students with necessary broadband infrastructure.

Other important education legislation is still awaiting Governor Martinez’s signature. Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton’s HB 125, which was sponsored on the Senate Floor by Senator Howie Morales, passed with bipartisan support would finally develop a system for evaluating our teachers and principals that relies less heavily on students’ scores on controversial standardized tests.  If it is signed into law, HB 125 would convene a council of top educators broadly from across New Mexico to create a new teacher evaluation method that is both fair and effective.

SB 420, Lottery Scholarship Gap Year legislation, was passed with bipartisan support by the Legislature.  Sponsored by Senator Bill Soules, it would allow students to take up to 16 months off before beginning college, and still qualify for the state Lottery Scholarship assistance.  It also extends the scholarship to students who enlist in the military and begin service within 4 months of graduation.