Passing laws is an arduous business by design — adjusting and/or creating ground rules that affect how we live, work, play, spend, etc., is not an undertaking to be done on a whim.
So when we note Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham didn’t get everything she wanted during this year’s legislative session, nor did state lawmakers or most taxpayers, it is with the understanding that’s often as it should be.
That said, the 2023 session left a lot undone for average New Mexicans concerned about violent crime, access to affordable health care, burdens on businesses and oversight of the troubled New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. As we all reside in and are committed to a better New Mexico, those concerns top our recommended to-do list for interim legislative and 2024 session work. While it will be a short 30-day session with a budget focus, lawmakers should present the governor with key priorities already hammered out to go on her call.
Essential to getting problems addressed efficiently and thoroughly for the public are proposals to modernize our Legislature, making it closer to, if not full-time, with pay. These proposals were not quite ready and did not pass this session. But they can remain on track to get to voters in fall 2024 if they lay out what taxpayers will get in terms of quality, productivity, transparency, accountability and mitigation of conflicts of interest.
Among Lujan Grisham’s biggest accomplishments was brokering an 11th-hour deal between doctors and plaintiffs’ attorneys to reduce pending medical malpractice liability caps for independent outpatient clinics. Her intervention was critical, and she deserves credit for stepping in on behalf of New Mexico’s patients and doctors. Of course, cavernous issues of access remain. Too many residents wait weeks, even months, to see a provider because New Mexico, especially rural New Mexico, does not have enough. Several bills aimed at retaining doctors passed, but we still need lawmakers to come up with additional creative, concerted efforts to attract and retain these professionals. Sunshine and green chile don’t repay student loans or put the cost of doing business here on par with surrounding states.
While important bills made it to Lujan Grisham this session, the governor was the first to acknowledge unfinished business when it comes to public safety.
In the “win” column are bills making it a crime to fail to store firearms out of the reach of children, aggregating shoplifting thefts to target organized retail crime, tracking second-hand metal sales to combat the rampant theft of catalytic converters, targeting the purchase of a gun for someone legally prohibited from having a firearm and criminalizing bestiality.
The defeat of “rebuttable presumption,” which would make it easier to keep defendants charged with specific, violent crimes in jail pending trial, was one of the 60-day session’s biggest disappointments. A powerhouse team of the governor, state attorney general and Bernalillo County district attorney — all Democrats — and countless other New Mexicans support changing to a system more like the federal one, especially given high-profile cases of defendants committing additional violent crimes while out on an ankle monitor.
This and proposals to target fentanyl dealers and drug dealers who carry a firearm as well as banning assault weapons, raising the age to buy certain firearms and instituting a 14-day waiting period for gun sales all need to be honed for floor votes and the governor.
The approved $1 billion tax package does some good things: phasing in a gross receipts tax rate reduction, cutting taxes for personal income below $66,500 per year for single individuals, expanding film and child tax credits, providing $500 rebates to individuals, extending the sunset date on the military retirement pay tax exemption, indexing Social Security to inflation and adopting a “single sales” factor apportionment for corporate taxes that could incentivize multi-state companies to expand and hire more people in New Mexico.
But the massive bill failed to eliminate tax pyramiding — when GRTs are levied several times on the same goods or services, a punisher for small businesses that have to outsource. And it beat up on savers and investors by penalizing capital gains, sending a message to not come here if you want to be successful. Lawmakers can improve on this in 2024.
It is beyond unfortunate lawmakers failed to enact overdue reforms for the agency tasked with protecting our most vulnerable children. More than 30 child welfare bills were filed, including the creation of a new child advocacy office within the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate complaints and evaluate CYFD policies and procedures, requiring a family assessment when a newborn suffers from drug withdrawals and expanding the information CYFD can release about a case involving a child who has died or nearly died as a result of abuse or neglect. These reforms and others are needed for the public to ensure CYFD is doing its job.
In addition to this list of proposed legislation we’d like to see return is one that was not ready for prime time but deserves real debate and collaboration in the interim. The Paid Family Medical Leave Act, while well-intentioned at protecting the state’s private-sector workers, would have crushed many of our 155,000 small businesses. It is essential all stakeholders are welcome at the table to hammer out a reasonable compromise.
We know our citizen legislators deserve time to catch their breath from the busy 60-day session, but we hope after they do they are able to translate that momentum into even better legislation next year.
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.