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Spending, crime bills sent to Lujan Grisham in final hours of session

Rep. Abbas Akhil, D-Albuquerque, gets help from the sergeant at arms carrying boxes to his car during the last hours of the 2020 legislative Session on Thursday. Akhil is leaving the House of Representative after serving one term. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers trudged to the finish line Thursday, adjourning their 30-day session after overnight approval of a $7.6 billion spending plan and a broad public safety package that stiffens some criminal penalties.

The final 12 hours before adjournment were dominated by procedural clashes and slow-moving debate as Republican legislators sought to limit the flow of legislation supported by the Democratic majorities in both chambers.

In the Senate, a procedural skirmish broke out after majority Democrats sought to interrupt a filibuster by Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, to resume debate on a bill updating New Mexico’s election code.

That bill, House Bill 229, had been put off after midnight Thursday morning after a GOP senator called for the chamber to be locked down. Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque had already returned home to be with her children, and Democratic leaders opted to postpone a vote on the measure instead of making her return to Santa Fe.

Democrats, nonetheless, took advantage of their superior numbers throughout the session to deliver a host of priorities to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — including passage of a red flag firearms law, a measure aimed at shoring up one of New Mexico’s large public retirement systems and the creation of a new trust fund to support early childhood education.

Some of the most ambitious proposals of the session died upon adjournment, however, remaining stuck in Senate committees after approval in the House. Proposals to overhaul the probation and parole system and to tap more heavily into New Mexico’s largest permanent fund failed to reach the Senate floor in time for a vote.

Earlier this month, a Senate panel also rejected a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. It never reached the House.

Final approval of the main budget bill — authorizing a substantial increase in state spending, fueled by an oil-driven revenue boom — triggered an intense confrontation in the House overnight. Republican lawmakers accused House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, of cutting off debate too quickly.

He subsequently re-opened debate on the bill, and it passed about 1:15 a.m.

The proposal, House Bill 2, boosts spending about 7.6% over current levels. It includes about $17 million for a new college scholarship program sought by Lujan Grisham, much less than she had initially requested.

The goal is to provide need-based tuition aid for full-time students who already qualify for a separate, lottery-funded scholarship program.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, was set to address reporters Thursday afternoon.

Lawmakers overnight also granted final approval to a $528 million spending package on public works. It includes about $4.1 million to plan for a new professional soccer complex in Albuquerque and about $4.6 million to preserve more open space near the oxbow wetlands on the city’s West Side.

Spaceport America in Sierra County would get about $10 million for a payload center and information technology building.

The public safety package, meanwhile, would allow for stiffer criminal penalties for some gun crimes and expand the funding sources for community policing efforts.

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