Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to add at least two dozen proposals to this year’s legislative agenda – including approval of stiffer criminal penalties and new tax incentives for renewable energy.
It will make for a busy legislative session, with lawmakers also preparing to craft a state budget fueled by the oil boom in southeastern New Mexico.
The 30-day session is generally dedicated to budget and financial matters, but the state Constitution empowers the governor to add other topics or bills.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat entering her second year in office, said Wednesday that she is asking lawmakers in 2020 to consider a host of familiar priorities – including the legalization of recreational marijuana, establishing a new college scholarship program and creating an early childhood trust fund.
But her initial list for the “call,” as it’s known, also includes toughening criminal penalties for human trafficking, use of a firearm in some felonies and racketeering.
Lujan Grisham said the bills are part of a broader strategy to target cartels, gangs and violent criminals.
At least one of the bills – centering on the use of a gun in a non-capital felony – is sponsored by Republican Rep. William “Bill” Rehm of Albuquerque.
Republican lawmakers are also co-sponsoring legislation for an electric vehicle tax credit, financial incentives for transmission lines and an overhaul of the pension system for government employees, all of which are on the governor’s agenda.
Most of the bills, however, are Democratic priorities, such as enacting a red flag law allowing the temporary seizure of firearms and putting parts of the Affordable Care Act into state law.
“My call for this legislative session,” Lujan Grisham said in a written statement, “underscores the work we are undertaking on two fronts: addressing urgent needs and strategically investing in sustainable improvements over the long term.”
The governor isn’t limited to the topics announced Wednesday. She can add other bills to the legislative agenda at any time.
Among the priorities announced Wednesday are:
• Raising the cap on how much the state can invest in New Mexico-based businesses through the Severance Tax Permanent Fund.
• Broadening the state’s sex-offender registration rules, including for offenders who visit New Mexico from out of state.
• Imposing in-state residency requirements on people enrolled in the medical cannabis program.
• Establishing a $25 million trust fund to address the needs of seniors, veterans and adults with disabilities.
• Approving tax credits for electric vehicles and solar energy projects.
• Creating an office to work on importing medicine from Canada to help reduce drug costs.
In odd-numbered years, New Mexico holds 60-day legislative sessions that are open to any topic introduced by lawmakers. Shorter sessions are held in election years and dedicated largely to spending and revenue measures, although bills authorized by the governor are among those also permitted.
Democrats hold a 46-24 edge in the House and a 26-16 majority in the Senate, although the two chambers sometimes disagree on priorities.
A Republican legislative leader, meanwhile, announced one of his own priorities Wednesday – a proposed constitutional amendment to create a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. A similar constitutional amendment was approved by Colorado voters in 1992.
House Minority Leader Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said he would introduce the proposal, which would require voter approval to become law, even if it passes both chambers of the Legislature. Approval from the governor isn’t required to add it to the legislative agenda or to send it to voters.
The proposal would limit annual spending by the state, send a portion of budget surpluses back to the public as a tax rebate and make it harder to approve tax increases.
“New Mexico’s taxpayers deserve fiscal responsibility and protection from excessive government spending,” Montoya said.
Some of the bills Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday have already been pre-filed for the session, which begins Tuesday. Others are still under development.
“These proposals are investments in the present well-being and future success of students, workers, kids and parents all across New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said. “These are quality-of-life initiatives I am proud to introduce and support.”
ECONOMY: Legalize recreational marijuana. Shore up finances of the Public Employees Retirement Association. Increase state investments in local businesses through the Severance Tax Permanent Fund.
SAFETY: Toughen penalties for certain crimes. Enact an Extreme Risk Protection Order Act allowing the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed an immediate threat. Broaden sex-offender registration requirements. Create penalties for threats that disrupt schools.
HEALTH: Work to reduce medicine costs by importing drugs from Canada. Establish a new Senior Dignity Fund. Impose new regulatory system for tobacco products.
ENVIRONMENT: Authorize tax credits for solar energy projects and electric vehicles. Make structural changes to the Public Regulation Commission. Offer energy-efficiency grants to low-income households.