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Governor vetoes water fee hike, OKs breaks for young offenders

In this file photo from last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs into law a bill authorizing $200 million in grants for small businesses statewide. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued her first veto of the year Tuesday, rejecting legislation that would have increased a fee on public water systems to generate $1.4 million a year in revenue.

The governor also signed a bill that eliminates certain fines and fees for juvenile offenders in children’s court.

The veto centers on House Bill 92, which proposed a 67% increase – from 3 cents to 5 cents per 1,000 gallons – for a fee charged to public water systems. The revenue was to be deposited into a fund to cover the cost of testing drinking water for contaminants.

In a short veto message, Lujan Grisham said the money to conduct testing can be found elsewhere.

“This bill creates a tax on water that is too onerous on New Mexicans as we strive to recover from the pandemic,” the governor said. “It is important to allow New Mexicans to regain an economic foothold during atypical circumstances.”

The proposal had broad support in the Legislature, passing the House 49-17 and the Senate 37-1.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has signed 15 bills and vetoed one. She has until April 9 to act on bills passed in the final days of the regular 60-day session, which ended March 20.

Any bill she doesn’t sign or veto by April 9 is automatically rejected, a procedure known as a pocket veto.

The measure she signed Tuesday – House Bill 183 – eliminates a fine for possession of marijuana by a minor, although 48 hours of community service could still be required. The legislation also eliminates a $10 application fee for representation by a public defender and certain other court fees for children.

“These fees are disproportionately painful for lower-income families,” Lujan Grisham said. “Nickel-and-diming New Mexico families doesn’t solve anything.”

Removing the fees is expected to cost the state only $4,200 a year in revenue.

House Bill 183 was jointly sponsored by Democratic Reps. Roger Montoya of Velarde and Gail Chasey of Albuquerque.

It passed each chamber without a dissenting vote.

The governor’s actions came the same day she called the Legislature into special session to take up the legalization of marijuana for adults and an economic development proposal.

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