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Governor: Special session a step toward economic recovery

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sounded an upbeat tone after her first special session as governor, saying bills passed by lawmakers would help New Mexico weather a daunting economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

During the four-day special session, lawmakers passed budget solvency, economic aid, election and law enforcement body camera bills the first-term governor had added to the agenda.

In a statement, Lujan Grisham praised lawmakers for their work, saying, “Amid unprecedented and difficult circumstances, both chambers and both parties were receptive to my call and came together to deliver for New Mexicans.”

But it wasn’t a total victory for the governor, as a bill to expand her emergency powers fizzled and legislators rejected higher pay raises for teachers and state employees that she had proposed.

And Republican legislators kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism, saying business closures ordered by the Lujan Grisham administration in response to the COVID-19 outbreak had hurt local governments and exacerbated a decline in state revenue levels.

“I believe our current budget situation may actually be a crisis,” Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, said during a House floor debate on a budget solvency bill.

Majority Democrats also acknowledged lawmakers will likely face more difficult budgetary belt-tightening decisions in January, when the Legislature begins its 60-day regular session.

Before that happens, there will also a high-stakes general election, as all 112 legislative seats are up for election this year.

At least 15 lawmakers will not be back next year, either because they are not seeking reelection or were defeated in this month’s primary election.

Going into the special session, Lujan Grisham said lawmakers’ work would be focused on revising a $7.6 billion state budget that she signed into law in March.

But the governor also authorized legislators to consider the “financial and human rights emergencies of this moment,” saying broader changes could then be considered in January.

Shortly after the special session ended, Lujan Grisham said the state still faces a long road to economic recovery.

“Let me be clear: The work of rebuilding our state economy has only begun,” the governor said. “But we will, I have no doubt, construct a more robust and inclusive economy than ever before as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with everything we’ve got.”

“And the work we’ve begun on civil rights and public safety reform and election accessibility and small business relief will remain a chief priority of my administration,” Lujan Grisham added.

Lujan Grisham has until July 12 to act on the bills approved by the Legislature, though she’s expected to sign at least some of them into law before that date.

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