Legislative roundup: Specter of political violence, leadership shake-ups marked the first week of the 2023 session - Albuquerque Journal

Legislative roundup: Specter of political violence, leadership shake-ups marked the first week of the 2023 session

Buckle up.

New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session is less than a week old, but a leadership shake-up rattled the political landscape.

The session got underway Tuesday with its customary flair, as well as the first in-person State of the State address from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham since before the pandemic began.

The Journal’s Capitol Bureau will continue to offer day-in-day-out coverage of the session; here’s a round-up of the biggest stories of the week.

OFF TO THE RACES: As political violence cast a pall over opening day, the governor challenged lawmakers to enact an aggressive agenda to combat crime, expand housing options and strengthen health care. Against the backdrop of record levels of state revenue — thanks largely to an oil boom affecting energy producers in the southeastern corner of the state — Lujan Grisham also called for the creation of a new health care agency to move the state closer to “universal health care,” and authorization of new funds for environmental protection and housing. She also urged lawmakers to ban the sale of “assault weapons,” make it easier to hold violent criminals in jail before trial, and allow crime victims to sue gun manufacturers.

 

SAME ROUNDHOUSE, DIFFERENT LEADERS: Javier Martínez, an Albuquerque Democrat seen as a rising star in the party, won the powerful Speaker of the House position Tuesday after a party-line vote — and wasted no time putting his agenda into action. Within hours, Martínez booted fellow Democratic Rep. Patricia Lundstrom from the influential position she’s held for six years as chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. In her place, Martínez installed Las Cruces Democrat Nathan Small, who previously served as Lundstrom’s vice chair on the committee. Lundstrom, who last year spearheaded legislative push for a hydrogen energy development bill that drew opposition from environmental groups and who caused a stir last year when she made donations to several of her colleagues challengers, told the Journal she is “hurt at a core level” about the surprise shakeup. 

 

MODERNIZATION PLAN: Lawmakers made moves toward modernizing the Legislature with a provision tucked into a session funding bill that would put $2.5 million toward studying the concept of funding field offices and full-time staff members for all 112 legislators. New Mexico is currently the only state that doesn’t pay its legislators a salary, although it does give them a $178-per-day per diem to cover food and lodging, as well as a legislative pension plan. And Nevada is the only other state that doesn’t offer full-time legislative staff for its lawmakers.  Currently, only lawmakers in leadership positions have year-round offices, though staffers in those offices work for all members of a given caucus. That leaves many others to rely on colleagues and lobbyists for technical information on bill. Other proposals in play would allow an outside salary commission to set salary levels for lawmakers and extend the length of legislative sessions.

ENVIRONMENT AND RENEWABLES: Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, filed a joint resolution that would add the right to a clean environment and a stable climate to the state constitution’s Bill of Rights. If passed by the Legislature, the measure would go before voters. And Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat, is sponsoring a new Geothermal Resources Development Act in this year’s legislative session to provide $25 million in state money for grants and loans to research and develop geothermal energy projects around the state. Promising technology breakthroughs could soon propel geothermal energy into the mainstream of renewable development, and the proposal aims to get the state on board. 

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