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Governor finishing legislative agenda

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Bills dealing with recreational cannabis, parole reform and temporary gun seizures are set to be included on the agenda for a 30-day legislative session that starts next month, but overhauling New Mexico’s tax system might have to wait.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that her “ambitious” agenda for the session that begins Jan. 21 is not finished but that she does not plan to include on her priority list proposals to exempt Social Security income from taxation and retool the state’s gross receipts tax code.

Rather, she said, she would like to tackle such tax issues during the 2021 legislative session, which would give a recently formed state tax advisory committee more time to study potential changes.

“We do need to do more tax reform,” Lujan Grisham said during a meeting with Journal editors and reporters.

Under New Mexico’s Constitution, the 30-day sessions held in even-numbered years are limited to budgetary matters and issues approved for consideration by the governor. Revenue bills are also fair game, meaning the tax proposals could still get hearty debate even if not prioritized by the governor.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is nearing completion of her first year in office, said several crime-related issues probably will be included on the 2020 session’s agenda.

That includes controversial gun-related legislation – a proposed “red-flag” law that would allow courts to order the temporary taking of firearms from individuals deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

New Mexico sheriffs turned out in force during this year’s 60-day session to oppose the proposal and other gun control legislation, although a small number of sheriffs supported the measures. A red-flag bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

The governor said Wednesday that she expects most sheriffs to oppose the bill again, despite efforts in recent months to work out a compromise.

“I’m going to keep working on the sheriffs,” Lujan Grisham said. “My job is to win them over, and I haven’t done that yet.”

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, chairman of the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, said in a recent interview that most sheriffs fundamentally oppose the proposal on the grounds that it would be ineffective and could infringe on constitutional rights.

“You’re not going to find any sheriff that wants to put their deputies in a dangerous situation,” Mace said.

However, Lujan Grisham has said the proposal could make communities safer, and the Governor’s Office indicated Wednesday that about 50 school threats have been reported in New Mexico this year. Lujan Grisham also said she believes there is already more support for the measure in the Democratic-controlled Senate than there was during the 60-day session that ended in March.

Meanwhile, the governor also said she supports proposed legislation to enhance the penalty for using a firearm in the commission of a crime.

“That’s how New York got after their crime problem,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’ve got to use things that work.”

Rep. William “Bill” Rehm, R-Albuquerque, this week pre-filed House Bill 35, a measure that would increase an existing sentencing enhancement in such cases from one to three years.

With the start of the legislative session just a month away, Lujan Grisham said she plans to meet with legislative caucuses this weekend and also said she’s been meeting with legislative leaders regularly during the year.

“We’re spending a whole lot more time with legislators, and I think that gives us a better chance (to pass our priorities),” the governor said.

Other top Lujan Grisham initiatives for the session include creating an early childhood endowment fund, expanding the college scholarship program and legalizing recreational cannabis use and taxing its sales.

Although the governor expressed optimism about most of her legislative package, she acknowledged that winning approval of the marijuana legalization plan will be difficult, even though a working group she appointed held a series of public meetings this fall and released its final recommendation last month.

“I think cannabis is going to be really hard – it should be,” Lujan Grisham said. “That is not something to run into without being really clear.”

Lujan Grisham also said she believes the Senate will be the hurdle in determining whether a cannabis bill reaches her desk, saying, “We’ll see if we get it over the finish line – I don’t know that I will.”

But the governor said that won’t stop her from pushing for the bill’s approval.

“If I have it on the call, I’m serious about getting it passed,” she said.

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