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Governor signs 97 bills; budget awaits action

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez signed at least 97 bills into law Thursday – taking aim at New Mexico’s terrible backlog of untested evidence in rape cases and the “epidemic” of drug overdoses across the state.

But a decision on New Mexico’s budget crisis won’t come until about noon today.

Today is the governor’s deadline to act on legislation approved in this year’s legislative session, or it’s automatically vetoed. Dozens of bills are awaiting action.

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In a late-night burst Thursday, Martinez vetoed legislation that would have raised New Mexico’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9.25 an hour, imposed a licensing system on boarding homes that care for ex-psychiatric patients, and required police to get a warrant before searching someone’s email or cellphone.

Martinez has already made it clear that she will reject at least part of the $6.1 billion budget plan approved by lawmakers and call them back into special session to try again.

She said Thursday that she will, for example, veto tax increases that would raise costs for New Mexico families and businesses. But it remains unclear how much of the remaining budget package, if any, she will leave intact.

Martinez, in any case, said Thursday that she hopes to make the special session a short one. She has not set a date.

“I don’t call a special session lightly,” she told reporters Thursday.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers are already talking, Martinez said, and it would be ideal if the budget could be handled in one day.

A legislative session costs roughly $50,000 a day. Martinez’s comments Thursday suggest she hopes to reach a budget deal before lawmakers are formally called back to Santa Fe.

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House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the governor already has a sensible budget that would ensure New Mexico has the funding necessary to operate schools, courts and other basic services for the coming year.

The budget passed with broad bipartisan support in the Senate, he pointed out.

“That says a lot about how reasonable it is,” Egolf said.

Martinez, in turn, said lawmakers are trying to balance the budget by raising taxes on families and businesses – an idea she told them repeatedly she wouldn’t support.

If the governor rejects all or part of the budget package, Egolf said, she should propose an alternative plan – to provide a starting point for negotiations and to make it clear precisely what she’s willing to accept.

“We need a proposal from the governor,” Egolf said. “I don’t know how to put it more clearly.”

He said he has talked a little with the House Republican leader, Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, but the next step depends on what the governor does by today’s signing deadline.

Before this year’s session, Martinez proposed a budget that wouldn’t raise taxes, but her ideas failed to win support in the Legislature, where Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.

Her initial proposal called for taking money from school district reserves, having most employees contribute 3.5 percentage points more to their pension plans (reducing what the state pays from 16.99 percent to 13.49 percent) and cutting state payments to cities and counties that have raised taxes already as a way to cover revenue lost when the state stopped charging gross receipts taxes on food several years ago.

As for other legislation, Martinez visited Serenity Mesa Recovery Center in Albuquerque early Thursday to sign legislation aimed at making a medicine that reverses the effects of drug overdoses more widely available.

The bill calls for the medicine, naloxone, to be carried by law enforcement officers and given to recovering addicts leaving jail or seeking treatment at rehabilitation centers, if there’s enough funding and medicine to do so.

Supporters called the measure, House Bill 370 – co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences and Democrat Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo – the first law of its kind in the nation.

New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest rates of overdose deaths.

Martinez also signed a bill requiring police to test evidence collected after a rape examination within 30 days. Senate Bill 475 was sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

State Auditor Tim Keller has estimated that New Mexico’s backlog of untested evidence kits is the worst in the country on a per capita basis. In each case, the victim participated in a forensic examination by a nurse to collect DNA or other evidence that could help prosecute the offender.

Martinez acted on at least 143 bills Thursday, signing 97 and vetoing 46.

Among the bills awaiting a decision by the governor today are an overhaul of campaign finance rules, a bill to require domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms and a move to consolidate nonpartisan elections into one election every other year.

The campaign finance bill, in particular, has triggered lobbying by supporters and opponents across the political spectrum, including out-of-state groups. It would require some disclosure of “dark-money” campaign spending by nonprofit groups, among other changes that supporters say would modernize the state’s campaign finance rules.


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