There is a very old saying in politics: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made” meaning the legislative process, though messy and sometimes unappetizing, can produce healthy, wholesome results or the sausage can make you sick to your stomach.
New Mexico’s Great Sausage factory known as the New Mexico legislature begins on Tuesday January 18, at 12 Noon, for the 2022 New Mexico Legislature as it convenes for its biennial 30-day legislative session commonly referred to as the short session. The legislation considered are limited to budgetary and revenue bills and other issues subject to the Governor call, or issues the Governor orders placed on the legislative agenda for the legislature consider.
Democrats have solid majorities in both the New Mexico House and Senate chambers. In the New Mexico House of Representatives, there are 44 Democrats, 25 Republicans and 1 Independent. In the New Mexico Senate, there are 26 Democrats, 15 Republicans and 1 Independent.
From January 3, 2022 to January 14 legislation was allowed to be prefilled. The session begins on January 18, and the deadline to file all legislation is February 2. There have been 727 bills prefilled, but only 88 of the bills have been approved for consideration.
The blog article provides a listing of the legislation as gleaned from news reports and pre-filings by individual legislators before the session begins.
COMPETTING BUDGETS RELEASED
On Thursday, January 6, 2022, Governor Michell Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee released their separate competing state budgets for the 2022-2223 fiscal year. With the projected $1.6 Billion projected windfall, both of the proposed budgets increase total budgetary spending to $8.4 billion and provides 7% salary increases for teachers and state employees. In the Governor’s proposed budget of $8.4 billion, education accounts for more than half of it at $4.8 billion.
In addition to funding the states essential services, both the Governor’s and the LFC proposed budgets call for upwards of $2.6 billion, which is 30% of state spending, to remain in cash reserves in case projected revenue levels don’t materialize. The reason for setting aside so much in cash reserves is due to a 2017 law that has bolstered New Mexico’s “rainy day” fund by taking a certain percentage of oil and gas tax revenue in cash-flush years and setting it aside for future use, which has now paid off significantly.
Both budget proposals call for significant overall spending hikes. The governor’s proposed budget increase spending levels by $998 million or by 13.4% over current spending. The Legislative Finance Committee’s plan increases spending by more than $1 billion, or by 14%.
The $8.5 Billion budget is the largest budget ever proposed in state history. Both budgets increase government spending levels by upwards of $1 billion over the fiscal year that ends June 30. Both plans represent nearly a 50% state spending growth over the last 10 years.
Both budget plans provide more money to hire additional law enforcement officers, reduce a waiting list for a state program for individuals with developmental disabilities and expand early literacy initiatives. Other increases in funding will target replacing one-time funding for Medicaid spending that will expire in April 1, 2022.
The link to the related blog article is here:
CRIME FIGHTING LEGISLATION
On January 13, Governor Michell Lujan held a press conference with both Democrat and Republican legislators, Attorney General Hector Balderas, DA Raul Torrez, Mayor Tim Keller, New Mexico State Police Chief Tim Johnson and APD Chief Harold Medina and unveiled what she termed as “tough on crime” proposals for the 2022 New Mexico Legislative session. The crime fighting proposals include increasing penalties for gun and certain violent crimes, adding new rules to what judges may consider before letting criminals out of jail ahead of trial and raising state police officers pay.
The link to a related blog article entitled “Governor MLG’s Crime Fighting Proposals Place Too Much Emphasis On Punishment Ignoring Intervention, Diversion And Behavioral Health Care And Rehabilitation” is here:
REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION OF BEING VIOLENT
A bill sponsored by Democrat State Rep. Marian Matthews of Albuquerque would make it a “rebuttable presumption” that a defendant charged with a violent crime is violent and an immediate threat to the public and should be held in jail unless the charged defendant convinces the court the defendant does not pose an immediate threat to the public. As of the opening day of the legislative session, the bill had not been pre filled and was yet to be introduced. Matthews has until February 2 to file the bill.
At the very heart of the proposed changes to the existing pretrial detention process is the current bail reform law approved in 2016. The Governor wants the courts to put in jail until trial individuals who have been charged with violent crimes.
Under the current reform state law, prosecutors are required to convince a judge in an evidentiary hearing that a charged defendant poses and immediate threat of violence to the public and to hold the defendant in jail until trial and not allow bond. The bill sponsored by Democrat State Representative Marian Matthews of Albuquerque would make it a “rebuttable presumption” that a defendant charged with a violent crime is violent and should be held in jail unless the charged defendant convinces the court the defendant does not pose an immediate threat to the public.
The rebuttable presumption bill essentially shifts the burden of proof from state prosecutors, who must prove a case “beyond a reasonable doubt to convict”, to the defendant who would have to show they are not a danger to the public in order to be allowed to be released pending trial. A defendant may feel that they must waive their constitutional right to remain silent and take the stand to show that they are not violent allowing the prosecution to cross examine and solicit testimony that could be used during a trial to get a conviction. The prosecution would still have to file pretrial motions in order for people to be held.
According to the Governor:
“This puts a wedge in this revolving door. … It doesn’t minimize our constitutional responsibilities to every single New Mexican irrespective of their income but it also makes really clear that the constitutional right to be safe in your home and communities is also an area that we must maintain and do something significant about.”
A link to the quoted material is here:
DEFENSE BAR RESPONDS TO REBUTABLE PRESUMPTION LAW
“The Law Offices of the Public Defender found that 22% of defendants who were held pending trial did not end up being convicted of the crime for which they were locked up. Of the 2,129 cases – where detention motions were granted – that were resolved by the end of 2020, 476 ended without a conviction. That number does not include cases that were turned over to federal prosecutors, were dismissed because of pleas in other cases or where the defendant was found incompetent, or where the defendant died.”
In otherworld’s, people who were charge with a crime sat in jail for weeks, perhaps months, without ever being found guilty only to be released because prosecutors did not go to trial with charges dismissed
The link to the quoted source material is here:
Jennifer Burrill, president-elect of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association responded to the proposed “rebuttable presumption” law by saying the proposal is absurd and she said:
“I think it’s an unconstitutional burden-shifting. … If the state’s going to make the allegations, then they need to be the ones to prove it. … We know that a very few number of cases where people were released, even though a preventative detention motion was filed, a very few number of people have gone out to commit new violent crimes… .”
Burrell said that case law in New Mexico requires the state to prove that a defendant is dangerous to the community. But once many of these cases get into the trial process, prosecutors just don’t work the cases, and so the defendant needlessly sits in jail.
Jonathan Ibarra is the vice president of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. He has been a public defender for eight years, but before that, he was a prosecutor for about 12 years and a district court judge in Bernalillo County. Ibarra had this to say:
“I don’t think that people who are presumed innocent should have to prove that they should get out of jail. … Shifting the burden onto primarily poor people, primarily people of color, to somehow prove a negative, to prove that they’re not going to do something bad. I don’t know how you prove a negative. … This whole [criminal justice] system is predicated on innocent until proven guilty… We don’t get to punish people because of something we think they did. You have to prove it and proving it means actually proving it – it doesn’t mean keeping somebody sitting in jail as some sort of other fix.”
The links to quoted source material is here:
The link to a related blog article is here:
OTHER CRIME LEGISLATION LISTED
There are 8 other crime bills that have been prefilled that are worth noting. They are as follows:
HOUSE BILL 16 is sponsored by Albuquerque Democrat Miguel P. Garcia. It will appropriate $5 million to the Crime Victims Reparations Commission to fund advocates for victims of gun violence and violent crime.
HOUSE BILL 26 is sponsored by Albuquerque Republican State Representative Bill Rehm who is retired law enforcement. The bill will make carrying a firearm while trafficking a drug a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony carries a basic sentence of up to 3 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $5,000.
HOUSE BILL 28 would increase the penalty for a felon possessing a firearm.
HOUSE BILL 29 would define “organized retail crime” in the criminal code.
HOUSE BILL 31 would expand the types of felony convictions that qualify for life imprisonment under the state’s three strikes law, so narrow it has never been used.
HOUSE BILL 53 is sponsored by Albuquerque Republican Bill Rehm. The bill would strengthen courts authority to issue a warrants to conduct chemical tests for those suspected of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
HOUSE BILL 64 is sponsored by Albuquerque Democrat Miguel P. Garcia. It would stiffen sentencing enhancements for brandishing a firearm.
SENATE BILL 1836 is sponsored by Republican Rio Rancho Senator and Minority Whip Craig Brandt and it makes it a fourth-degree felony to make a shooting threat. A fourth degree felony carry’s a basic sentence of 18 months in jail and a fine up to $5,000.
HYDROGEN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT LEGISLATION
Lujan Grisham has said she will push lawmakers to enact new clean fuel standards and pass a requirement New Mexico reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, approved by the U.S. Congress and signed into law last year by President Joe Biden, includes $8 billion to build four initial “hydrogen hubs” around the country. It also includes $1 billion in federal assistance for hydrogen-technology research and development.
The Governor is supporting a proposed bill that would create a legal framework for hydrogen energy development in the state. Lujan Grisham Administration government officials and the oil and gas industry contend that the development of the state’s hydrogen can provide a tool for the transition to a clean energy economy. They argue that hydrogen has many potential applications as a relatively clean-burning fuel that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide. Republican Aztec State Senator Steve Neville, R-Aztec said hydrogen development would be a boon for northwest New Mexico. The northwest of the state produces large amounts of natural gas but there has been a dramatic decline in residents in recent years and the area is facing the closure of the coal-powered San Juan Generating Station.
Advocates argue hydrogen can help decarbonize transportation when electric batteries are not viable options, such as long-haul trucking, trains and planes for freight. Proponents also argue that hydrogen development could be used to produce electricity, replacing fossil fuels like coal or natural gas to run turbine generators in power plants.
The hydrogen development plan does have major critics, especially New Mexico environmental groups who have become highly critical of the Governor over the issue. At issue is hydrogen’s actual ability to lower carbon emissions in the hydrogen-production process and the potential danger of applying hydrogen solutions to decarbonize energy use in areas better served by renewable resources.
Western Environmental Law Center Executive Director Erik Schlenker-Goodrich but it this way:
“Methane-based hydrogen production is a very risky investment bet with state resources or private-sector capital … hydrogen may be cost competitive in the short-term, but that could be reversed by 2030 compared with green hydrogen. We could invest billions in New Mexico in a scheme that could be outdated by other technologies in a decade.”
ENVIRONMENTALISTS PREFER BLUE VERSUS GREEN HYDROGEN
“Blue” hydrogen refers to a process that captures and sequesters carbon emissions released during production. That’s considered to be a step above “gray” hydrogen production, which uses the same process but simply vents those emissions into the atmosphere with no effort to capture and sequester them.
Environmentalists prefer “green hydrogen,” which uses renewable generation from solar or wind to power a process known as electrolysis. That process pulls hydrogen molecules from water, with no carbon emissions. But green production is still too expensive for widespread deployment, and the technology cost isn’t expected to drop enough for large-scale commercialization until the 2030s.
Environmentalists also fear the emerging focus on hydrogen could derail the accelerated adoption of renewable generation now underway nationwide as policymakers and investors pursue massive hydrogen development rather than pushing full speed ahead on solar, wind and battery-storage technology.”
The link to quoted news source material are here:
“New Mexico Legislative Guide”, page 14 and 15:
“Ready or not its legislative time”
ELECTION LAW CHANGES
On January 6, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced their support for enactment of major changes in the state’s election laws by the 2022 New Mexico legislature.
The Governor’s and Secretary of State’s joint proposals include the following:
• Increasing voter access by extending the early voting period through the Sunday before Election Day, designating Election Day as a state holiday, and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to participate in local elections;
• Creating a permanent absentee voter list that allows individuals to voluntarily receive mail ballots for each election without needing to make individual requests;
• Expanding online voter registration opportunities by allowing individuals without MVD-issued ID to register online using their full social security number;
• Extending the timeline for mailing ballots to voters to 35 days before an election and extending the deadline for accepting voted ballots to 7 p.m. the Friday after an election to accommodate for mail delivery time;
• Supporting Native voting access by expanding the timeline for indigenous nations, tribes, and pueblos to request alternate voting sites;
• Improving automatic voter registration by adopting a system that provides a mechanism for eligible individuals to become automatically registered to vote upon completing a transaction at the Motor Vehicle Department;
• Enabling nominating petition signatures to be securely submitted electronically;
• Automatically restoring the voting rights of those convicted of a felony who are not currently incarcerated; and
• Creating an option to vote a straight party ballot.
The link to a relate blog article is here:
NEW MEXICO ETHICS COMMISION DISCLOSURE ACT
In its 2021 annual report released in December, the State Ethics Commission, called the state’s existing disclosure law for income received by public officials “vague and undemanding.” As it stands now, state lawmakers face broad requirements for disclosing income sources over $5,000. Many draw income from a law firm, farming and ranching, or similarly general categories. The commission now wants to repeal the old law and replace it with the commission’s proposed Disclosure Act.
NEW DISCLOSURE ACT REQUIREMENTS OF LEGISLATORS
Specifically, the Ethics Commission is asking for changes to state law that would require New Mexico’s citizen legislators to release more information about their sources of personal income and business relationships. It is also asking for increased transparency requirements for lobbyists. The Ethics Commission wants disclosure of what bills lobbyist are working on and if they are advocating for or against the legislation.
Under the requested changes, any lawmaker to whom it would apply, would have to disclose before voting if any family member lobbied on any bill. Currently, a number of legislators are married to lobbyists thus creating appearance problem to what extent they are influencing any pending vote.
The new Disclosure Act proposed outlines in great detail requirements for the disclosure of personal assets, personal debts, sources of family income over $600, including any spousal and dependent children. The new act would also require disclosure of real property or land holding ownership and values.
The new disclosure requirements will cover membership in corporations and nonprofit groups, gifts of $50 or more from lobbyists and work done by the official or their spouse involving public agencies. Elected state officials, heads of state agencies, candidates and others would have to file annual disclosure statements.
NEW DISCLOSURE ACT REQUIREMENTS OF LOBBYISTS
The new Disclosure Act requirements are designed to shed light on potential conflicts of interest given the fact lobbyists play a crucial role in shaping legislation.
A report by New Mexico Ethics Watch released in 2020 found that 34 former legislators who either retired or who were defeated worked as lobbyists and that another six lobbyists were spouses or relatives of legislators.
Under the new law, lobbyists would have to file 2 separate reports during legislative sessions outlining what bills they are working on, their position on the bills and specific provisions they supported or opposed within the legislation.
The Ethics Commission is proposing a two-year ban on ex-legislators and other state officials from becoming paid lobbyists after they leave public service. “Revolving door” bans have failed to get legislative approval for many years.
The link to a related blog article is here:
NUTSHELL LISTING OF ISSUES
On January 15, the Albuquerque Journal published a 20 page insert entitled “New Mexico Legislative Guide” with lengthy articles on the various issues to be considered during the session. The link to the Albuquerque Journal “New Mexico Legislative Guide” is here:
Pages 10 and 11 of the Journal “New Mexico Legislative Guide” contains a “nutshell” listing of “ISSUES AT STAKE” and is an excellent summary as follows:
■ Eliminate the tax on Social Security benefits for all but the wealthiest New Mexicans and offset the lost revenue with a tobacco tax increase.
■ Reduce the state’s gross receipts tax base rate by 0.125 percentage points.
■ Create tax deduction for purchase of tampons and other feminine hygiene products. Establish new income tax credit for electric vehicles.
■ Boost starting teacher pay to $50,000 annually.
■ Increase stipends for those participating in teacher residency programs.
■ Provide funding to increase number of school nurses.
■ Limit increases in spending on administrative expenses so that more money goes into classrooms.
■ Make taking a financial literacy class a high-school graduation requirement.
■ Propose $50 million in general obligation bonds for forest thinning, watershed restoration and other conservation projects.
■ Approve “Green Amendment” making a clean and healthy environment a constitutional right.
■ Set up state reforestation center to address impact of climate change on forests.
■ Boost funding by $12 million for state engineer to carry out water planning, administration and management.
■ Add $60 million to the water trust fund.
■ Abolish life in prison without parole for juveniles sentenced as adults.
■ Prohibit “chop shops” that strip and dismantle stolen vehicles.
■ Remove statute of limitations on prosecution of second-degree murder charges.
■ Add more crimes to list of crimes that trigger life sentence upon third violent felony conviction.
■ Change state’s pretrial detention laws to make it easier for individuals charged with violent crimes to be kept in jail until trial.
■ Spend $45 million to bolster retirement system for judges.
■ Allow prison inmates age 55 and older with chronic medical conditions to apply for parole.
■ Establish legal framework for making New Mexico a hydrogen energy hub.
■ Offer income tax credits for energy storage systems.
■ Require extra registration fees for electric and plug-in vehicles, with revenue directed to roads improvements.
■ Enact new clean fuel standards.
HEALTH/ COVID-19 PANDEMIC
■ Earmark $60 million in federal relief funds to purchase high-quality face masks and at-home COVID-19 test kits for state residents.
■ Expand nursing programs at New Mexico higher education institutions.
■ Limit an emergency declaration by the governor to 90 days unless the Legislature is called into special session to address the emergency.
■ Convene a task force to make recommendations for paid family and medical leave.
■ Require legislators and lobbyists to disclose more information, including lawmakers’ sources of personal income.
■ Create public works commission to vet proposed capital outlay projects.
■ Mandate that recipients of state economic development initiatives provide more job creation data.
■ Allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections.
■ Expand early and absentee voting.
■ Automatically restore voting rights of felons who aren’t incarcerated.
■ Make it easier to register to vote online.
■ Create option for straight-party voting.
■ Expand timeline for Indigenous nations to request alternate voting sites.
■ Make Election Day a state holiday.
■ Allow independent voters to participate in primary elections.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is clear that the 2022 legislative session has its work cut out for it. What is also clear is that with only 30 days allowed for the session many of the bills will die in committee and never be enacted for the Governor’s signature. After the session ends, then and only then will the public know if it has produced healthy, wholesome sausage or sausage that will make us all sick to our stomachs.