On January 21, 2020, the 30-day New Mexico legislative session begins. The 30-day session is referred to as the “short session” which are held in even number years while 60-day sessions occur in odd number years. Thirty-day sessions are limited to budgetary matters and issues approved for consideration and placed on what is referred to as the “Governor’s Call” or “Governor’s Message”. Revenue bills, such as taxation, may also be considered during 30-day sessions. Democrats hold a 46-24 edge in the House and a 26-16 majority in the Senate.
On Wednesday January 15, six days before the 2020 legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced what she has placed on the agenda for the 2020 session. Any time during the session, the governor can add other bills to the legislative agenda, including substitute bills. According to news reports, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham plans to add at least two dozen proposals to this year’s legislative agenda, many which were informally announced by the governor in interviews, events or anticipated by political observers.
GOVERNOR”S ANNOUNCED LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
Following is a listing of the legislation placed on the Governors call:
On September 10, 2019, the Governor’s task force endorsed and recommended a traditional licensing system for private companies that would grow and sell marijuana. The state would not operate retail stores. The licensing system is the same system as used for the State’s medical cannabis program. The proposal is a complete shift from the legislation that advanced through the state House last session where Democratic lawmakers embraced the idea of state-run cannabis stores as a part of a compromise with Republicans. Confidential sources have said that a number of Republican lawmakers are working on their own version of a recreational marijuana law that has general licensing not pinned to population as are liquor licenses.
One major decision that the New Mexico legislature may decide on is to place the legalization of recreational cannabis on the 2020 general election ballot and let the voters decide the issue. There have been conflicting polls, one poll suggesting overwhelming support by the public of legalization and another poll showing strong opposition to legalization. The only polls that really matter are the ones where people actually vote and not just asked their opinions.
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“RED FLAG” TEMPORARY SEIZURE OF FIREARMS
On January 8, during a press conference held in the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called upon state lawmakers to pass a “red flag law” during the 2020 legislative session that begins on January 21. The “red flag” legislation is being co-sponsored by State Representatives Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque and State Senator Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
The legislation was pre -filed on January 8 ahead of the 2020 Legislative session. Under the proposed law a law enforcement officer or family member requesting an extreme-risk protection order would provide a sworn affidavit explaining in detail the facts and circumstance as to why the order is needed against a person. A judge could then issue a 15-day emergency order to seize the weapons and ammunition from that person and would schedule a hearing to determine if there was a need for a one-year order. When the court order expires, the guns and ammunition would then be returned to the individual.
CREATING AN EARLY CHILDHOOD TRUST FUND
The Governor is proposing a onetime $320 million new early childhood endowment trust fund that would help pay for early childhood education services. The endowment would increase state spending on prekindergarten, home visiting programs for new parents and other early childhood services. Lujan Grisham has previously described the endowment proposal for early childhood programs as a “prudent way” to expand spending on prekindergarten and reach “universal pre-K” that prepares every child to start school.
ESTABLISHING A NEW COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
The Governor has placed on the call a bill creating a new scholarship program called “New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship” that would benefit an estimated 55,000 college students and expand funding for child-care assistance and pre-Kindergarten programs statewide. The “Opportunity Scholarship” will cover the cost of tuition for students enrolled at New Mexico colleges and universities are expected to cost $25 million to $35 million. The scholarships offered will be aimed at covering the remaining gap for students after other awards and scholarships, including New Mexico’s lottery program scholarships or other sources. This funding will restore the initial promise of the Lottery Scholarship and re-establishing essential career pathways for New Mexicans across the state.
PERA OVERHAUL AND SOLVENCY MEASURES
The Governor’s call includes financing to shore up the finances of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) with a $76 million allocation for PERA.
For the 2020 legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has endorsed a complex proposal to overhaul New Mexico’s chronically underfunded PERA proposed by Democratic legislative leaders. The proposal builds on the work of a PERA task force established by the governor with some major changes. The most controversial recommendations by her task force involved the 2% cost of living (COLA) currently guaranteed to all retirees.
According to media reports, the legislation will establish a “profit-sharing” model for the annual cost-of-living adjustments that most retirees now receive. Rather than an automatic 2% increase in their pensions each year, the actual amount would fluctuate, anywhere from 0.5% to 3%, depending on investment returns.
Under the proposed legislation, government employers and employees will pay more into the system with a schedule that phases in higher contributions. Other changes will help retirees who are older than 75, disabled or receiving pensions of less than $25,000 a year, despite 25 years of service.
With respect to annual cost-of-living adjustments, they would be increased by half a percentage point to 2.5% for retirees who are 75 or older. This was a change made after requested by Governor Lujan Grisham.
Under the proposed legislation, many retirees would receive a temporary reduction in their cost-of-living increases. For 3 years, retirees would get an extra check equal to 2% of their pension. Such a “one lump” sum payment in one check would eliminate the compounding effect of having each 2% build on the previous 2% increase.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND TOURISM
The Governors call includes her 2020 proposed Executive Budget containing funding to continue the successful investments made using the LEDA program of $40 million. $10 million will be used for rural infrastructure projects. The LEDA program has successfully encouraged businesses to come to New Mexico to stimulate economic growth in the state and leveraged $2.3 billion in private investments over the last six years. The FY20 goal is to create 2,500 jobs, and the addition of the rural fund will allow greater flexibility and opportunity for projects located in non-metro communities.
The Governors call includes legislation increasing penalties for use of a firearm in some felonies and racketeering, toughening criminal penalties for human trafficking and creating criminal offenses and penalties for threats that disrupt schools. The Governors Executive Budget includes funding for the Department of Public Safety budget at $163.9 million, which will provide for a total of 60 new State Police officers, including equipment and training. Additional funding is included for ten new staff for forensic labs, including six new forensic scientists and a new data-sharing system that will address gaps in inter-agency communication, as well as $6.3 million for state police recruitment and retention initiatives.
MANDATING IN STATE RESIDENCY FOR PEOPLE ENROLLED IN STATE MEDICAL CANNABIS PROGRAM
This bill is intended to address a State District Court ruling that New Mexico must allow non-residents to participate in its medical cannabis program.
There are over 76,000 people enrolled statewide in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program which became law in 2007. The 2019 New Mexico Legislature made amendments to the medical cannabis law and Governor Lujan Grisham signed them into law. The legislature changed the definition of “qualified patient” by removing a requirement that an enrolled member of the medical cannabis program must be a New Mexico resident. The changes took effect on July 1, 2019.
Ultra Health LLC, an Arizona licensed medical marijuana producer whose President and CEO Duke Rodriguez, a former NM Department of Health Secretary, file suite to challenge the New Mexico residency requirement. The Plaintiff’s Ultra Health LLC and Duke Rodriguez were represented by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf who opposed the State but who voted for the amendments enacted in the 2019 legislative session.
On August 29, 2019, Santa Fe District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled that New Mexico must allow non-residents to participate in its medical cannabis program.
According to the court’s ruling the language of the amended medical cannabis statute is clear:
“This statute, plainly and unambiguously, does away with the requirement of residence of the state of New Mexico … Continuing to insist on a showing of residence for eligibility in the program, when that has been taken out by the Legislature, is not appropriate. … it does not allow the Department of Health to withhold identification cards to qualifying patients who live outside of New Mexico. …”
Governor Michelle Lujan strongly objected to the Court ruling and said at the time:
“We remain of the opinion that New Mexico’s medical cannabis program should not be bulldozed by an out-of-state litigant operating with his own financial interests at heart rather than those of the state’s medical program or of the many New Mexicans who depend upon it … [The ruling] contradicts both the intent of the legislative sponsor and the interpretation of the New Mexico Department of Health … .”
Initially the Governor said her administration would appeal the decision, but such an appeal was never reported upon and the legislation appears to be the route that is now been taken.
A major issue that no doubt be raised is to what extent Speaker Egolf will be involved with the legislation, if he will allow it to advance through the House and if he intends to vote for or against or abstain from the proposed law that an enrolled member of the New Mexico medical cannabis program must be a New Mexico resident.
OTHER LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES ANNOUNCED
According to a news report, other legislation placed on the Governor’s call include:
Putting parts of the Affordable Care Act into state law.
Health legislation to reduce medicine costs by importing drugs from Canada and creating a new regulatory system for tobacco products.
Proposing a new tax incentive for renewable energy.
Increasing the financial amount on how much the state can invest in New Mexico based businesses through the severance tax permanent fund.
Expanding the state’s sex-offender registration rules to include sex offenders who visit New Mexico from out of state.
Establishing a $25 million trust fund to address the needs of seniors, veterans and adults with disabilities.
Approving tax credits for electric vehicles and solar energy projects.
Creating an office to work on importing medicine from Canada to help reduce drug costs.
Make structural changes to the Public Regulation Commission.
REPUBLICAN SPONSORED BILLS ON THE GOVERNORS CALL
A few of the bills on the Governors Call include legislation sponsored by Republican law makers, indicating the Governors willingness to work with Republicans.
A bill sponsored by Republican Rep. William “Bill” Rehm of Albuquerque centers on increasing penalties on the use of a gun in a non-capital felony offenses.
Bills on the governor’s agenda include bills being co-sponsored by Republicans include legislation for an electric vehicle tax credit, financial incentives for transmission lines and an overhaul of the pension system for government employees.
In a statement announcing the 2020 Legislative agenda, the Governor had this to say:
“My call for this legislative session underscores the work we are undertaking on two fronts: addressing urgent needs and strategically investing in sustainable improvements over the long term. These proposals are investments in the present well-being and future success of students, workers, kids and parents all across New Mexico. … These are quality-of-life initiatives I am proud to introduce and support.”
ACCELERATED COMMITTEE SCHEDULE
Because the legislative session is the 30 day short session, as usual the New Mexico legislature is on an accelerated schedule and legislative committees, especially those that deal with the $7.7 billion dollar budget being proposed, are already holding hearings before the session. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee is conducting hearings for more than 50 state agencies.
Adoption of the final budget by reaching a consensus between the Governors proposed budget and the Legislatures proposed budget is the number one priority for the session. The two budget recommendations overlap and contain similar spending priorities. The governor is recommending $7.7 billion budget with an increase of about 8.4% while the Legislative Finance Committee is recommending $7.5 billion budget. The work to reconcile the budget differences has already begun in the House where the budget is the first item of business.
Four Cabinet secretaries and State Police Chief Tim Johnson are up for confirmation votes this session. They are Ryan Stewart of Public Education, Elizabeth Groginsky of Early Childhood Education and Care, Katrina Hotrum-Lopez of Aging and Long-Term Services, and Alisha Tafoya Lucero of Corrections. They are running their departments on an interim bases, and if they are not confirmed, they must step down and a new person nominated by the Governor.
The Senate Rules Committee, Chaired by State Senator Linda, has already held confirmation hearings for more a dozen new appointees to state boards and commissions. The Senate Rules Committee makes recommendations to the full Senate who has a final vote to approve or reject the appointment.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
The fact that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has placed on her call legislation either sponsored or co-sponsored by Republicans indicates a willingness to work with Republicans, which is a dramatic departure from the way her Republican predecessor operated and interacted with Democrats and even members of her own party. 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, both Democrats and Republicans. 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.
One thing is for certain, the Governor Michelle Lujan’s job of promoting her programs during the 2020 legislative session will be made much easier because of the oil boom that has propelled New Mexico’s government revenue to record highs with debate now over how to spend the windfall. The surplus should allow the Governor to virtually fund all the education programs she wants, invest in capital projects and infrastructure as well as shore up the PERA pension funds, but only if the legislature allows her.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham needs to exercise great caution with the 3 issues of PERA Solvency, recreational marijuana and a red flag Law. The Governor should not expend precious political capital on legislation that is doomed for failure in either the New Mexico House or Senate. It’s a simple issue of math, securing a majority consensus and counting votes. Too much is at stake on all three issues that has the potential of alienating many of her base supporters and resulting in nothing getting accomplished and causing more damage than good.
There is always the 2021 sixty-day session and for that matter, special sessions to deal with major issues such as recreational marijuana, red flag laws and PERA solvency issues.
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