On January 19, the 2021 New Mexico legislature convened for its 60 day session. As of February 12, there are 3 major legislative initiatives that have passed at least one chamber of the New Mexico legislature that are worth noting.
SENATE APPROVES REPEAL OF ABORTION BAN
On Thursday, February 11, the New Mexico Senate passed the repeal of the state’s abortion ban. As the saying goes “elections have consequences”. Two years after voting down a bill that would have repealed the long-dormant New Mexico abortion ban, the New Mexico State Senate voted 25-17 to repeal the 1969 abortion law making abortions illegal. The state law was suspended because of US Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade making abortions legal. However, if the US Supreme Court would reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1969 abortion law would be enforceable.
The 2020 NM general election resulted in the defeat of 5 long serving, conservative Democrat Senators who for years voted with Republicans to form a “conservative coalition” that stymied more progressive legislation sent to the Senate by the New Mexico House. The repeal now goes to the he Democratic-controlled House where final approval is expected. Once approved by the House, it will be sent to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham who has already said she has said she will sign the repeal legislation.
SENATE APPROVES ECONOMIC RELIEF
On Wednesday, February 10, the New Mexico Senate passed a corona virus pandemic-related financial relief measure. The legislation includes low interest loans to small businesses that have been battered by the virus and closures by the emergency health restrictions. Bills that passed the Senate include tax breaks for restaurants and a temporary waiver on liquor license fees. One bill would authorize loans of up to $150,000 to small businesses at sub-prime rates of less than 2% annual interest. The bill passed on a 35-3 vote with several senators recusing themselves from voting because of ties to businesses that might apply for the relief.
The bill will create a state trust fund to invest up to $500 million in loans to businesses with ownership ties to New Mexico. The bill expands the more limited small business loan program enacted last year that provides a total of about $40 million in loans of as much as $75,000 each. The new program would allow the loans to be refinanced at more favorable terms. The State Senate also unanimously approved a proposal to provide a $600 tax rebate to working, low-income families and provide a tax break on business sales and services to food establishments such as restaurants, craft breweries and food trucks.
On February 10, the Senate approved on a 41-1 vote a bill that would waive fees for all liquor licenses in order to help the hospitality industry.
HOUSE LIQUOR LICENSE REFORM
On Wednesday, February 10, HB 255 passed the House Commerce and Economic Development committee on a 6-3 vote to move the bill forward, after extensive amendments, without any recommendation. HB 255 will allow home-delivery of alcohol in some circumstances and establish tax breaks intended to help the holders of certain liquor licenses HB 255 proposes a new license that will allow restaurants to expand from serving beer and wine to hard liquor. Under HB 255, local communities could choose to opt out.
Democrat Representative Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque is a co-sponsor of HB 255 said that the legislation would help the state struggling economy and said:
“We’re going to try to our darnedest to jump-start the economy once COVID is gone from our communities. … [ The bill is to] save our restaurant industry and save our tourism industry.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There are still a significant number of issues that the New Mexico legislature will be dealing with over the next few weeks remaining of the session. Those include the legalization of recreational marijuana, the “red flag” law dealing with the ability for law enforcement to temporarily seize guns by court order from those who are a threat to themselves or others and comprehensive “liquor license reform.”