On March 15, 2019, 12:00 noon, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham finished her very first 60-day Legislative session as Governor.
By all accounts, it was one of the most productive sessions in a long time where the legislature and the Governor came together and got things done.
Following is a summary listing of major enacted legislation.
Legislative failures are also noted followed by Commentary and Analysis and a POSTSCRIPT with media source links for review.
Financial stress over the budget process was greatly reduced from years past by a nearly $2 Billion in additional revenue generated by the Southern New Mexico oil boom and increased royalties filling the state coffers. The 2019 Legislature enacted over a $7 billion state budget, the largest budget ever enacted in state history. The legislature appropriated $933 million for infrastructure projects such as road and bridge repairs. State agencies had submitted a total of $543.4 million in requests, requests for senior citizen facilities totaled $28.7 million, and higher education institutions, special and tribal schools totaled $125.6 million, for a grand total of $697.7 million to address statewide needs. $380 million this year has been allocated to lawmakers to spend in their individual districts at their discretion. After years of very meager pay raises state employees will be given a 4% pay increase.
PUBLIC EDUCATION INFUSION OF CASH
The total education budget is a whopping $3.2 Billion, 16% over last years budget, out of the total budget of $7 Billion. Included in the budget is a $500 million in additional funding for K-12 education and increases in teacher pay. The massive infusion of funding to public education is the result of a District Court ruling that ruled the state of New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education. The District Court found that many New Mexico students are not receiving the basic education in reading, writing and math they should be receiving in our public-school system. Early childhood programs will be given a major increase in funding. Under the enacted 2019-2020 budget, every public-school district will be allocated significantly more funding. Teachers and school administrators will be given 6% pay raises or more with more money to hire more teachers.
DEPARTMENT OF EARLY CHILDHOOD
A new “Early Childhood Department” was created starting in January 2020. This was a major priority of the Governor Lujan Grisham. The new department will focus state resources on children from birth to 5 years of age. A major goal of the new department, coupled with other investments, will be more New Mexico children growing up to secure gainful employment as adults who don’t require government services.
TAXATION AND FEES
The Legislature enacted and sent to Governor Lujan Grisham the first package of tax hikes in over a decade. The tax increases will raise a combined $70 million for the state’s general fund through a personal income tax rate hike for the state’s higher earners, internet consumer sales and vehicle sales. The legislature increased the personal income tax for single filers making over $210,000 and for married couples filing jointly making over $315,000. The personal income tax increases take effect only if state revenues in the fiscal year that begins July 1 do not grow more than 5% over the current budget and will only take effect in 2022 if state revenues stay flat which is not anticipate because of oil and gas production. The oil and gas industry and many economist are predicting the oil and gas boom in Permian Basin will continue for some years as a result of reserves discovered in New Mexico and Texas. The working families tax credit is expanded. Internet sales will now also be subject to taxation as a result of a United States Supreme Court ruling and will result in a new tax revenue source. For the first time since 2009, the state will have the power to fine and assess fees under the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act something the oil and gas industry lobbied heavily against during the session.
MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE
The 2019 legislature raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour in increments and will rise to $12 an hour in 2022. Tip levels will remain the same when it comes reporting and taxation.
STATE PENSION PLANS
Over the last year, it has been reported that the state’s two major pension funds Educational Retirement Board (ERB) and the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) are in serious financial trouble because of long term liabilities of benefits to paid retirees that will exceed by the billions that are available. Despite changes enacted in 2013, PERA’s estimated unfunded liability which is the gap between future retirement benefits owed and expected future assets on hand, has increased over the past four years to $4.8 billion from $4.6 billion. Decreases in the ERB’s expected investment returns and inflation calculations have caused the system’s unfunded liability to rise to $7.4 billion, an increase of more than $1 billion since 2014 and its funded ratio to drop to 61.5 percent. The budget seeks to shore up New Mexico’s two major pension funds by increasing how much the state pays into workers’ retirement accounts with an approximate amount of $13.7 million. The solvency of the pension plans is a looming financial crisis that will have to be address in future years, sooner rather than later
GUN REGISTRATION LEGISLATION
The 2019 Legislative session enacted nearly universal background checks for all gun sales. During her years in the United States Congress, the Governor advocated responsible gun control measures to curtail gun violence. The background check legislation was strongly opposed by elected Sherriff’s and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state as being unenforceable and ineffective. In response to the universal background checks on all gun sales, a petition drive has been initiated by Second Amendment Advocates to repeal the legislation with a public vote.
The New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Bill 328 which prohibits gun possession by someone who’s subject to an order of protection under the Family Violence Protection Act. The legislation makes it a misdemeanor for people who have restraining orders in domestic violence cases who surrender their guns to law enforcement. Under the enacted legislation domestic abusers must surrender their firearms to law enforcement. The gun possession prohibition also applies to people convicted of other crimes such as battery on a household member.
ETHICS COMMISSION CREATED
On November 5, 2018, New Mexico voters overwhelmingly voted with a three-quarters majority for a constitutional amendment to establish an independent statewide ethics commission with subpoena power and other authority. It was left up to the New Mexico Legislature to determine the details of how the seven-member commission would operate.
On March 15, 2019, with only hours left to go in the 60-day session 2019 New Mexico Legislative session, state lawmakers reached a compromise on creating a new, independent ethics commission setting powers and procedures of the commission. The enacted legislation creates an ethics commission that will oversee state public officials, including state lawmakers, state employees and constitutionally elected officials, including the governor, lt. governor, secretary of state and the attorney general. The seven-member commission is empowered to fine public officials if they are found by the commission to have violated civil provisions of state laws.
EXPUNGING OF CRIMINAL RECORDS
Under enacted legislation, defendants will be allowed to seek court approved orders to expunge or “wipe out” an arrest or a conviction from their records. Employers will be prohibited from asking job seekers about criminal history on an initial job application. The legislature also expanded pre prosecution diversion programs making such programs available to more.
FILM TAX CREDIT CAP DOUBLED
During her opening remarks to the 2019 legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called for removing the annual $50 million cap on tax rebate payouts to eligible production companies that film in the state. The legislature, instead of abolishing the cap, increased the film tax credit cap from $50 million to $110 million. An appropriation of $225 million was made to pay off a backlog of film tax credits owed to production entities. The legislation also offers another 5% in tax rebates for productions that shoot in New Mexico rural areas.
CAMPAIGN AND LOBBYING DISCLOSURE REFORM
State lawmakers passed legislation that overhauls campaign finance regulations and require more disclosure from those who make “independent expenditures” in political campaigns. A measure was also passed that closed a loophole that exempted lobbyist spending from public disclosure. Lobbyists will be required to report their cumulative spending on individuals’ meals or entertainment items that cost less than $100.
The ambitious “Energy Transition Act”, a renewable energy bill, was enacted by the 2019 New Mexico Legislature. The legislation requires that 80% of the state’s power from large utilities must come from “renewable energy” sources by the year 2040 and be 100% carbon free by 2045. The renewable energy bill makes New Mexico competitive with the most ambitious states transitioning to green power. Critics argue the 20 to 25-year deadlines are unrealistic and simply not enough time to transition to renewable energy.
The legislature at the last-minute enacted Senate Bill 323 sponsored by State Senator Joseph Cervantes OF Las Cruces that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill falls very short from the complete legalization of recreational marijuana that was attempted by the House and 3 Republican Senators. Legislation was enacted allowing “medical marijuana” at school and making other changes to the medical cannabis program.
VOTER REGISTRATION AND DRIVERS LICENSE REFORM
The state “two-tiered driver’s license system” created by the previous Republican Governor’s Administration was amended to make it easier for undocumented workers to get drivers’ licenses. New Mexicans will also be able to register the same day they want to vote and people will automatically be registered when getting their drivers’ licenses.
ANIMAL RIGHTS AND WILDLIFE PROTECTION
The legislature placed a ban on all coyote killing contests in the state. The Albuquerque City Council enacted such a ban last year. An Office of Outdoor Recreation was created along with legislation identifying wildlife corridors for state protection.
NOTABLE 2019 LEGISLATIVE DEFEATS
Probably the biggest failure or disappointment for progressive Democrats was the legalization, regulation, taxation and sale of recreational marijuana by state run facilities. The measure was defeated and tabled by the Senate Finance committee after it had passed the New Mexico House. What also failed was legislation making possession of “all types of drugs” a misdemeanor and not a felony.
Another disappointment was the failure to repeal the 1969 law that criminalizes abortion, except in cases in rape. The law criminalizing abortion is not enforceable as a result of the United State Supreme Court ruling in Rowe vs Wade that legalized abortions. “Right to choose” advocates are concerned that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the Roe vs. Wade decision now that conservatives control the court.
The legislature voted against revising the “three strikes and you’re out” law mandating the imposition of a life sentence be imposed when a person is convicted a third felony. Also failing was legislation amending the criminal code eliminating the statute of limitations for second degree murder.
The legislature failed to enact legislation allowing “terminally” ill patients to secure a physician’s help for “end of life” measures.
The proposal to tapping into the “Land Grant Permanent Fund” for early childhood care failed after a full year of intense discussion during the 2018 election cycle
Increasing the gasoline tax rate by 10 cents per gallon for road repairs and maintenance failed.
Allowing cities, such as Hobbs, in the oil patch to impose a 5% “tenancy tax” on long term renters failed.
The legislature refused to cap interest rates for “payday loans” at 36%. New Mexico in essence has no “usury laws” prohibiting exorbitant interest charged on loans. Payday loans are considered by many as predatory loans on the poor.
Allowing courts to order the temporary taking guns from people found by the court to be an immediate threat to life and safety failed. Also failing was creating a criminal offense and penalties for failing to properly secure firearms around children. Parents or guardians who did not properly secure firearms resulting in a child being shot would have been subject to criminal charges.
Imposing a four-year moratorium on “fracking” for oil and gas production failed. This should not come as any surprise given the oil and gas boom going on in Southern New Mexico in large part because of fracking that has resulted in a $2 Billion surplus to New Mexico.
A proposal requiring lobbyists to disclose the bills they substantially work on during a legislative session was rejected and killed.
An “Open primary” system allowing registered independents to vote in party nominating primaries failed.
A measure that would require lawmakers make public how they allocate the funding they are given for infrastructure money for their districts died on the Senate floor after lawmakers expressed fears that such information would become politicized when they run for reelection. About $380 million this year has been allocated to lawmakers to spend in their individual districts at their discretion.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The accomplishments and legislation enacted during the 2019 New Mexico legislative session is a striking departure from the previous 8 years of downsizing government to avoid any and all tax increases at all cost even if they were necessary by a Republican Governor.
Downsizing and budget cuts and suppressing government employee wage increases resulted in a major impact on essential services and resulted in a failed public education system.
Gone is Republican Governor “SHE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED” that for the full 8 years she was in office was vindictive, mean spirited and condescending to legislators.
Republican Governor “SHE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED” lacked all ability and had no background to work with the New Mexico legislature to get things done and soon lost credibility with her zealous use of the veto pen, even on legislation that would pass overwhelmingly with bi partisan support.
Gone was the “all crime, all the time” legislative session where the former Republican Governor demanded changes in New Mexico’s criminal laws, including reinstatement of the death penalty and repeatedly seeking to toughen criminal sentences for a host of offenses without even attempting to address the root causes of crime: poverty, drug abuse intervention, poor education, unemployment and social intervention.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the 2019 Democratic control legislature can take great pride and credit for a very consequential session.
The accomplishments of the 2019 Legislative session was a reflection of government elected officials who understand how government is supposed to work with compromise and communication and not confrontation.
More importantly, the accomplishments are a reflection of elected officials who understand the needs of the people of New Mexico and who are fully committed to getting things done.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham accomplished more in 60 days than Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” did in her two terms and 8 years as Governor.
Governor Lujan Grisham is already thinking about future legislative sessions saying she will probably champion some of the failed measures in 2020 legislative session.
This is what you call governing which we have not been seen in New Mexico state government for the past 8 years.
Following are links to media coverage: