On Saturday, March 20 at 12:00 noon, the 2021 New Mexico Legislative session comes to an end. Upwards of 110 pieces of legislation have been passed by both the House and Senate. Thus far, Governor Michell Lujan Grisham has signed 10 of those bills This blog article highlights a few of those bills including the recreational use of cannabis which is still pending and the enactment of New Mexico Civil Rights Act, the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act.
RECREATIONAL USE OF CANNABIS
On March 18, in the early morning hours, House Bill 12 that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 5-4 vote. It now advances to the full Senate for a final vote. House Bill 12 emphasizes government oversight of pricing and supplies along with social services for communities. Under the bill, the Regulation and Licensing Department will get discretion to select a plant limit, require independent testing of potency and prohibit producers from stacking licenses to prevent monopolies.
As the bill currently stands:
• Recreational cannabis will be legal in 2022
• There will be a maximum 20% tax on all sales
• The state will regulate sellers
• There will be no limits on the amount of license issued
• People who have been convicted of possessing it for personal use will have their criminal record expunged
• There will be a cap on the number of plants sellers can grow as determined by the Department of Regulation and Licensing.
Representative Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, who was one of three sponsors had this to say:
“(We will be) regulating something that we know is safe, that we know what the product is, that we no longer have to have an illicit market provide for that for something that is and has been proven time and time again that is not only medically safe for patients who need this medication, but for those who are interested using it recreationally.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee further voted to table, and thereby kill, a Republican-sponsored proposal that stressed low taxes and cheap consumer prices to eliminate to illicit marijuana.
If the full Senate adopts HB 12, New Mexico would be the 16th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Projections show that recreational cannabis sales in the state could total as much as $318 million in the first year alone. Governor Lujan Grisham has indicated supports the legislation.
Links to media coverage are here:
CIVIL RIGHTS ACT ENACTED
On Wednesday, March 16, the House adopted the New Mexico Civil Rights bill HB 4 agreeing with Senate changes on a 41-26 vote and sent it to the governor’s desk. HB 4 enacts a new civil rights act and ends qualified immunity as a defense in state civil courts and allows individuals whose civil rights have been violated to bring a case for remedy in state court. The New Mexico Civil Rights bill sets a cap of $2 million for remedy. There is no cap on damages in civil rights actions brought in federal courts and “qualified immunity” is available.
The original bill was amended to make attorney’s fees subject to judicial review and added that a claimant suing law enforcement must notify the police of the lawsuit within one year after an alleged event occurs. The notice provision was assed so law enforcement could begin recovering records and conducting interviews. The enacted bill allows a potential claim up to three years to be brought to the court. Only an event that occurs after July 1, 2021 is actionable.
LIQUOR REFORM BECOMES LAW
On Wednesday, March 16, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed House Bill 255, which will allow home delivery of alcohol by restaurants. Identification checks will be mandatory for all deliveries. Alcohol delivery permits can be issued to retailers, dispensers, craft distillers, winegrowers, small brewers and restaurant licensees.
Under the new law liquor licenses will be more affordable and accessible for those business owners seeking to obtain one. The bill will also provide a significant tax deduction among other protections for existing license holders in recognition of their investment.
As part of the legislation, the Department of Health is directed to conduct a study of the effects of alcohol delivery in the state in several years. Following revisions in both chambers, the bill also makes licenses more affordable and accessible while providing for a significant tax deduction among other protections for existing license holders to recognize their investment.
The bill lifts the restrictions on alcohol sales that had been imposed on Sundays and prohibits the sale of miniature bottles of liquor for off-site consumption. Additionally, the legislation prohibits wine and spirit sales at gas stations in McKinley County.
The bill was sponsored by members of both parties, led by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, and including Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, Rep. Javier Martinez, Rep. Rod Montoya and Rep. Joshua Hernandez.
Governor Lujan Grisham released the following statement:
“As lawmakers from both parties said over the course of debate, this was an example of productive and creating problem-solving, with well-considered and compassionate and careful arguments made on both sides of a complicated and charged issue. … Like any bipartisan compromise, at the end of the day, most if not all will feel both that they got some of what they wanted and had to give some of what they didn’t. Ultimately, I side with those who argued that reform, after so many decades, is more than warranted, and that these reforms, in particular, will move us forward as a state – not only by providing an important new revenue stream for the restaurant and hospitality industry but by making this industry more accessible to more New Mexicans while including important safeguards.”
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD PERMANENT FUND
On Thursday, March 18, House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR 1) calling for a constitutional amendment to create a permanent fund for early childhood education programs passed the State Senate.
The bill is considered landmark legislation because it creates a permanent fund for early childhood education. The enactment of the Constitutional Amendment has the potential to transform and expand childhood education programs and provide additional support for K-12 across the state. the funding distribution is from New Mexico’s land grant permanent fund. For years, attempts have been made to dip into the state’s permanent fund which is currently valued at upwards $22 billion for early childhood programs. The Constitutional Amendment will be placed on the ballot as a Constitutional for the voters to decide its enactment.
As enacted HJR 1 would take an additional 1.25% from the Land Grant Permanent Fund and put it towards child education. The proposal would send an additional $127 million a year for early childhood education programs and an extra $85 million a year for Kindergarten to 12-grade schools. Roughly $33 million would also go to other beneficiaries of the Land Grant Permanent Fund, like the New Mexico Military Institute and the School for the Deaf, just to name a couple. The House has to first agree with some of the changes made before it heads to the voters.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had this to say:
“I know I am not alone in feeling humbled and awe-struck by the transformational potential of today’s action at the Capitol. We are talking about comprehensively uplifting generations – generations – of New Mexican children and families. We are talking about fundamentally changing the historical trajectory of our state. This is a big deal, the big deal.”
State Senator Pete Campos had this to say:
“This bill is about what every child deserves, and that is the best that we can give them so that as they move forward they have a vision and they have purpose, ensuring that their families have a bright future.”
END OF LIFE BILL ENACTED
On Tuesday, March 16, New Mexico legislators granted final approval to a bill that would establish an End-of-Life Options Act, sending it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The measure allows patients with a terminal illness to seek a doctor’s help to end their life. The patient would have to be able to self-administer the life-ending medicine.
Although a full day remains in the 2021 session, there is still time to act on major bills that could very easily make the 2021 session one of the most meaningful in state history.