The 2020 New Mexico 30-day Legislative Session adjoined Thursday, February 20 at 12:00 Noon, with adjournment referred to or announced as “sine die”.
Political blogger Joe Monahan on his blog “New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan” published an article on the “Hits And Misses” highlights of the 30 day short session. Below is Joe Monahan’ February 19, 2020 blog followed by his website address.
This blog article also elaborates on highlights of legislation worth mentioning.
“Thursday, February 20, 2020
The Hits And Misses of Legislative Session 2020
BY Joe Monahan
“As these things go the legislative session set to adjourn at noon today wasn’t bad and like all of them this one had its share of hits and misses.
–They finished their main task, crafting a state budget of $7.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and represents a 7.6 percent increase over the current one. Teachers and state employees get another round of pay raises and more state vacancies will be filled.
Thanks to the SE oil boom the budget has grown from $6 billion in the past two sessions but as several lawmakers noted there were no or tiny increases under eight years of Gov. Martinez and that the budget basically catches up with inflation and a bit more.
—The long running early childhood crisis in the state received more attention than uusal. An Early Childhood Trust Fund of $320 million was approved that supporters hope will put $30 million annually toward the cause but there is no guarantee. The fund plan is flawed and modest and anything but “transformational” as supporters argued, but it was a welcome turn.
—The proposed constitutional amendment for early childhood would provide a guaranteed source for early childhood from the nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. It scored a big win when two Dem senators switched their position in favor of it and it passed Senate Rules. However, in the end opposition again killed it. So a hit and a miss on that one.
—The conservative coalition of Republicans and a handful of conservate/moderate Democrats finally showed cracks in the wall after a decade in power. The biggest coming when Sen. Clemente Sanchez voted in Rules for a scaled down version of the early childhood amendment. He faces a June primary opponent but also noted the state’s dismal ranking in child well-being and he wants change. Senator Munoz, another coalition member, unexpectedly voted for the Red Flag law, signaling that the Senate is loosening up a bit–just a bit.
–The Legislature killed a misguided plan to reform the Public Regulation Commission (PRC). Voters will decide a reform plan in November.
–The Red Flag law getting approved in the wake of the El Paso mass shooting was a job well done. It was amended to be not as stringent, but still sent a clear signal that the state values human life. (It was also a major win for MLG even though it will give her heartburn in the south) EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE BELOW FOR MORE DETAIL ON RED FLAG LEGISLATION ENACTED
–The move to legalize marijuana failed. That’s “a hit” because the state is simply not ready for it, especially under the complex legislation that was readily dismissed. Its time may come, but not yet.
–Infrastructure was another hit as the annual capital outlay bill was over $520 million. That is a lot of buildings, road repairs, water system updates and the like. And we’re told there’s even $5,000 tucked away in the bill for a capitol statue for the late Sen. Carlos Cisneros. New Mexicans can thank the oil boom for this second year of an immense capital outlay bill.
–The “reform bill” for the government employee retirement fund known as PERA was perhaps the most unnecessary piece of legislation approved this year. That pleased Wall Street which will get more state pension funds to invest as a result.
It was strange seeing the ardor for this bill that fixated on retiree checks 25 years from now, even as we face a social conditions crisis in education, crime and drugs this very day. By the way, there is no PERA “crisis” according to the Brookings Institution.
–Another miss was lawmakers not getting more specific in targeting the increase in education funding to address the “at risk” student population. They were at the center of a district court ruling that found the state was in violation of the Constitution for not providing them with adequate education. It’s a theme that House Education Committee Chairman Andres Romero will be hitting on in the off season.
–The “opportunity scholarship” offering free higher education was a miss. The Guv unveiled it as a top priority but did not have her ducks in a row. The problems with the legislation became an unneeded distraction and was greatly watered down.
All 112 lawmakers are up for election this year so they tried to keep things relatively quiet, to the chagrin of the political junkies. But there were signs that the senate’s long running budget dominance over the House has peaked. Speaker Egolf’s public complaints were notable and that may be what’s most remembered about the session.
Now attention turns to the election. The June primary will be one of the most important in recent memory as progressive challengers take on at least four coalition Dems who help control the senate. Then it’s on to November to see if the R’s can take back some of the House seats they lost in ’18 and whether the Dems can make inroads against GOP senators.
THE BOTTOM LINES
If you’re free this Sunday at 11 a.m., join me at Collected Bookworks in Santa Fe as we dissect the 2020 session with Santa Fe Journey.”
The link to Joe Monahan’s blog is http://joemonahansnewmexico.blogspot.com/ and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
ACRIMONIOUS FINAL HOURS
The final hours before adjournment were dominated by clashes between lawmakers over procedures and slow-moving debate as Republican legislators sought to limit the flow of legislation supported by the Democratic majorities in both chambers. Final approval of the main budget bill which authorizes a substantial increase in state spending, fueled by an oil-driven revenue boom, resulted in an intense confrontation in the House overnight. Between House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Republican lawmakers of cutting off debate too quickly.
The New Mexico legislature adjourned their 30-day session after overnight approval of the $7.6 billion spending plan. The enacted budget increases spending by 7.6% over current levels. The new budget includes $17 million for the new college scholarship program sought by Lujan Grisham. The $17 million is much less than the Governor had initially requested. The goal is to provide need-based tuition aid for full-time students who already qualify for a separate, lottery-funded scholarship program.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREES ASSOCIATION (PERA) SOLVENCY
The 2020 New Mexico Legislature enacted what they believed to be a PERA Solvency legislation that is aimed at erasing the state pension system’s $6.6 billion unfunded liability. The goal is to turn around New Mexico’s chronically underfunded retirement system for police, firefighters and other public employees. The legislation is largely based on recommendations from a task force Governor Lujan Grisham appointed last year to come up with pension reform recommendations. The Governor’s PERA Pension reform task force was essentially packed with public safety union representation with their own political agenda to protect their own funds and none who had any financial background in government pensions. Pension reform proposals were made by the task force to the detriment of other pension programs arguing “spread the pain” among all.
The most controversial provision of the legislation is that it will freeze many retirees cost of living adjustments (COLA) for two years and then move to a “profit-sharing” model with annual raises fluctuating from 0.5% to 3%, depending on investment returns and the financial health of the pension fund. The legislation will require government agencies and their employees to pay more into the pension system. It also substantially revises how retirees’ annual cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. Most retirees now get a 2% raise each year. SB 72 includes an injection of $76 million to help improve the financial health of the pension funds.
During her campaign, candidate for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would oppose cuts to benefits, including any reduction in the annual inflation-related pension adjustments that retired state workers and teachers receive. The PERA solvency plan the Governor supported alienated some of her strongest supporters but she could not care less.
It has become the mantra of some pension fund administrators, financial consultants that benefit from such schemes and ideological zealots that government pension funds must be 100% funded. These individuals are wrong as was the Governor. The Governor bought into the bogus argument the there is a PERA financial crisis, when there is not. The Governor fast tracked pension reform in a 30-day session to favor public safety pension programs at the expense of existing retirees and other pension programs that are not underfunded as the public safety programs.
Rather than reducing Cost of Living Adjustments the legislature could have made adjustments like increasing age of retirement, change the formula to calculate retirement, make increases in contributions and infuse state funding into the pension funds, but only those that are underfunded which currently the municipal fire fighters fund and the general worker fund. Better management of the pension funds and increasing returns on investment with benchmarks should have been enacted to pay for future benefits. Instead, the “task force” recommendations were followed which were nothing more than a political agenda and not in the best interest of all retirees, something that no doubt will be remembered when the Governor seeks a second term.
PUBLIC WORKS PACKAGE
Lawmakers overnight also granted final approval to a $528 million spending package on public works. It includes about $4.1 million to plan for a new professional soccer complex in Albuquerque and about $4.6 million to preserve more open space near the oxbow wetlands on the city’s West Side. Spaceport America in Sierra County would get about $10 million for a payload center and information technology building.
The $528 Million capital spending package approved includes funding of $6 million to upgrade the computer-aided dispatch and records system for the Albuquerque Police Department, $1.8 million is being allocated to improve the APD laboratory and evidence warehouse which is still dealing with the back log of rape kits and $2.5 million is being allocated for a crime scene vehicle. The total “public safety” outlay for Albuquerque is $10.3 million. The Keller Administration asked for $10 million for a statewide Violence Intervention Program (VIP) which would have gone to create programs aimed at reducing teen crime, but lawmakers chose not to fund the VIP project.
The $528 Million capital spending package approved by the House includes $4.1 million that will go toward the design, planning and construction of a sports and cultural center, including art exhibits, playing fields and dining and retail space. The $4.1 in funding is intended to be applied to the effort to build a soccer stadium for New Mexico United, a professional team in Albuquerque. The team now plays at Isotopes Park and within a year must have a permanent dedicated stadium.
It is estimated that it will cost $75 million to build a 15,000-seat stadium. United owner Peter Trevisani said the team is prepared to put $1 million or more funding into the planning and design phase for the stadium, which would include a site and project funding analysis. Other potential funding sources include naming rights and borrowing money backed by future stadium revenues commonly referred to as revenue bonds.
CRIME BILL PACKAGE
A public safety package was enacted in the final hours of the session that stiffened criminal penalties. The “public safety” package was a consolidation of separate Bills into on “crime package”. The crime bill increases the sentencing enhancement for using a gun to commit a crime from 1 year to 3 years for a first offense, and from 3 years to 5 years for the second offense, but is not mandatory sentencing and leaves it to the discretion of the court. The bill changes the crime of being a “felon in possession of a firearm” from a 4th degree felony to a 3rd degree felony. The bill changes the definition of a “felon” and would include anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony no matter the time passed. Under the current law, the definition of a felon includes only those who have completed a prison sentence in the previous 10 years from the date of the most current conviction. The bill makes it a 3rd degree felony to carry a firearm while trafficking a controlled substance. A 3rd degree felony carries a sentence of three years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
RED FLAG BILL PASSAGE
Senate Bill 5 establishes the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act. It will allow for the court-ordered seizure of guns from individuals deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others. Under the legislation, it allows law enforcement officers, acting on information provided by a relative, school administrator or employer, to seek a court order prohibiting someone from having firearms. Exclusive authority is given to law enforcement to make the decision to file a petition, but the petition must be based on whether there’s probable cause to believe the individual “poses a significant danger of causing imminent personal injury to self or others.” A court could order the temporary seizure of the person’s firearms for up to 10 days and until a hearing could be held. After a hearing, the ban could be extended one year. The original version of the bill would have allowed family and others to file the petitions, but that was taken out as a compromise to those that claimed that it would result in abuse.
Senate Bill 5 is a natural extension of the 2019 New Mexico Legislature passage of Senate Bill 328 which prohibits gun possession by someone who’s subject to an order of protection under the Family Violence Protection Act. 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.
ENDING SECRET SETTLEMENTS
The New Mexico legislature enacted SB 64 which ended the practice of “secrete settlements. The legislation removes all waiting periods required before settlement agreements involving state employees, officials and agencies where the State pays amounts to settled cases can be made public. The legislation also removes the existing penalty for those who break confidentiality provisions.
GATEWAY HOMELESS SHELTER FUNDING SETBACK
The $528 Million capital spending package contains no large infusion of funding set aside to help Albuquerque build the “Gateway Center” homeless shelter that would be open around the clock seven days a week. The capital outlay bill includes a mere $50,000 for the Gateway Center construction, fall short of what is needed to complete the project. The bill does contain $4 million for supportive housing for homeless, but that money cannot be used for construction costs of the shelter.
With only $14 million in place, the city only has enough to complete the first phase of the project. The city will now have to find funding elsewhere within the city budget or wait another year to ask for funding in the 2021 legislative session. During last year’s 2019 legislative session, the city sought $28 million for the project. The legislature funded only $985,000 last year for construction costs.
LEGISLATION THAT DIED UPON ADJOURNMENT
Some of the most ambitious proposals of the session died upon adjournment with the legislation never making it out of Senate committees after approval in the House. Proposals to overhaul the probation and parole system and to tap more heavily into New Mexico’s largest permanent fund failed to reach the Senate floor in time for a vote. A Senate committee rejected a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults and it never reached the House for any vote.
The accomplishments and legislation enacted during the 2020 New Mexico 30-day legislative session is a mixed bag. Notwithstanding, it was a continuation of the very successful 2019 legislative session. Consequential legislation was enacted that made it a success. It is more likely than not that during the 2021 legislative session the Governor and the legislature will again tackle legalization “recreational marijuana” as well as full funding of the homeless shelter and a soccer stadium for a United New Mexico.