The legislative session is over, and if there’s one thing it showcased it’s that our citizen Legislature can set aside political differences and come together to do what’s best for constituents.
The work lawmakers did over those 30 days will make a real difference in the lives of everyday New Mexicans, instituting key reforms for New Mexico’s guardianship system, providing money to Albuquerque’s district attorney to bolster prosecution efforts and approving a measure that will make it easier to establish crisis-triage centers throughout the state. Analysts say those crisis centers could decrease drug overdoses, alcohol-related deaths and even suicides.
That just scratches the surface on the 111 bills that made it through the Legislature this year.
Of course, most of the legislation adopted must still be acted on by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, but she has signaled that she supports much of what has been sent to her desk for her signature.
While the last regular legislative session devolved into an ugly standoff between Democrats and Republicans, this year’s session was a study in bipartisanship from the beginning.
Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate worked quickly to add New Mexico to a multistate compact that allows nurses licensed elsewhere to continue practicing here. The bill was on the governor’s desk within days of lawmakers convening, and Martinez signed it just hours after it was sent to her.
That victory appeared to set the tone for the rest of the session, and our state is better for it.
Among the most significant measures that were approved this session, and that the governor should sign into law, are:
DA FUNDING: The budget approved by lawmakers allocates $4.6 million more in funding for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. DA Ra ú l Torrez, a Democrat, had sought an increase of about $5.4 million to bolster prosecution efforts given the spike in crime Albuquerque is experiencing. While Torrez didn’t get everything he asked for, this budget comes close.
RAISES, RESERVES: The proposed $6.3 billion budget also contains 8.5 percent pay raises for State Police and corrections officers as well as smaller raises for rank-and-file state workers and teachers. And it sets aside more than $632 million, roughly 10 percent of state spending, in cash reserves. Maintaining healthy reserves is critical in a state like New Mexico that relies heavily on oil and gas revenues, which have been and will continue to be volatile.
CRISIS TRIAGE CENTERS: A Senate bill that would make it easier to operate a crisis-triage center in New Mexico. Proponents say it will open the door for people living with mental illness or battling addiction to get prompt access to treatment during a behavioral health crisis. Among other things, the bill would provide Medicaid reimbursement for a wider range of short- and long-term crisis services. This legislation is critical to Bernalillo County’s plan to move forward with its planned crisis-triage center.
CRIME PACKAGE: Lawmakers also signed off on stiffer penalties for violent felons caught with a firearm, retention bonuses for veteran police officers, lessening penalties for minor offenses, and provisions aimed at getting inmates struggling with mental illness or addiction the medical help they need after they leave jail.
CARLSBAD BRINE WELL: Lawmakers and the governor have signed off on a proposal that would make up to $30 million available over the next few years to help prevent the collapse of the Carlsbad brine well. Lawmakers included additional general fund dollars and other funding for the project. State officials are prioritizing this project because a collapse could cause serious damage to two state highways, an irrigation canal that feeds nearby farmland, an aquifer, a mobile home park and a church.
STEP THERAPY: This bipartisan measured is aimed at improving the regulations of “step therapy” – the practice of requiring patients to try and fail on cheaper drugs before more expensive ones. This bill would create an appeals process if a patient is denied his or her ideal drug.
PET FOOD FEE: Lawmakers passed a bill that would impose a modest fee on dog and cat food companies to help fund spay-neuter programs that will reduce the number of euthanasias in the state.
LOTTERY: One Senate bill that made it through decouples tuition costs from the lottery scholarship. The scholarship currently covers about 60 percent of tuition. But this bill would set flat dollar amounts of $1,500 per semester for students attending research institutions, $1,020 at comprehensive institutions and $380 for community colleges. A separate bill – removing a requirement the lottery put at least 30 percent of its gross revenues into the Legislative Lottery Scholarship program – died in Senate Finance Committee.
SPACEPORT: Lawmakers were right to narrow the confidentiality allowed by a bill approved on the last day of the session. At one point, the measure would have allowed the spaceport to keep the identities of its aerospace tenants confidential. Spaceport officials insist the companies need some confidentiality because of the competitive nature of the brand new space industry, and this bill will provide some of that. Let’s hope the taxpayer-funded facility can now attract more business.
There was other legislation that didn’t make it through.
PERMANENT FUND : Lawmakers were right to reject a proposal to tap into the state’s largest permanent fund to pay for early childhood programs. The measure would have damaged the financial health of the fund, which already provides hundreds of millions of dollars for schools and other beneficiaries each year. We were also concerned that no detailed plan had been put forth for how the additional $150 million a year for early childhood services would be spent.
Of course, there were also worthwhile measures that didn’t make it through, including a host of crime, DWI and tax reforms. But on the whole, lawmakers worked hard to get things done for the people of this state, and we thank them for giving up their time and working together to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.