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Editorial: As ’20 session clock ticks down, there’s work to wrap up

It would be downright criminal if the 2020 legislative clock runs out before lawmakers approve House Bill 6, a broad anti-crime bill, and send it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her signature.

Key provisions will stiffen criminal penalties for two categories of gun-related crimes – a response desperately needed in New Mexico, particularly in Albuquerque, which has a violent crime rate 3.7 times the national average and had a record 82 homicides last year.

The House passed the measure 59-9, and there doesn’t appear to be major opposition. But like making sausage, making law isn’t always pretty. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sunday objected to the bill rolling several separate proposals into one piece of legislation. They made several changes, including removing a section making it easier for police officers to receive medical treatment for post traumatic stress disorder because they felt that provision should be separate legislation.

The measure must now go to the Senate Finance Committee, and if approved there it would need to go back to the House of Representatives for concurrence or a conference committee on the changes. All that has to happen before noon Thursday when the session adjourns.

The proposal as it now stands would still allow for stiffer sentences for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a crime and being a felon in possession of a gun. “There’s been a lot of negotiations back and forth,” said Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican and a co-sponsor. “I think we’re directing this at the actual violent felon who’s using a gun.” It has the governor’s support.

The crime package isn’t the only important item left on lawmakers’ “to do” list as of late Monday afternoon:

Repealing the tax on Social Security benefits. New Mexico is an outlier in assessing income tax on this, and that status is all the more offensive considering the billions pouring into state coffers from the oil boom in the Permian Basin. Lawmakers who appreciate the financial struggles our state’s seniors face – 55,000 New Mexico grandchildren are being raised by their grandparents – should fast-track bills that have been languishing in the Senate (SB 68, 81 and 170)/tabled in the House (HB 29, 77 and 130). • Passing Opportunity Scholarships. Senate Bill 323/House Bill 14, covering college and university fees as well as the balance of tuition not covered by lottery scholarships. While standing up a new program by definition has many unknowns that will need to be addressed once the program is rolled out, getting more N.M. students through a professional certification, two-year or four-year degree is a proven way to ensure their financial independence and strengthen the state’s economy. • Approving free medical school. House Bill 246 provides a $6 million annual appropriation in exchange for University of New Mexico graduates practicing for a set amount of time in our state. This promises to be a smart way to finally establish a reliable pipeline of local medical talent to address shortages. • Passing the New Mexico Work and Save Act. House Bill 44 gives thousands more private-sector workers access to an IRA-type plan for retirement savings. In a state where the majority of these folks have zero saved for retirement and many will have to scrape by on Social Security, this is a no-brainer. • Expanding spay/neuter programs via a fee from pet food companies. New Mexico spends tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year to catch, treat and eventually kill 20,000 stray dogs and cats. Three states have implemented similar fees and slashed their euthanasia rates without seeing prices increase for pet owners.

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.

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