The New Mexico Legislature is what is referred to as a “citizen’s legislature” meaning that it is not a full time, paid, professional legislature. The New Mexico convenes only once a year with sessions commencing in January.
In even number years, the legislature convenes for 30 days, known as a “short session”. The 30 day sessions are dedicated to budget legislation and the agenda is set by the “Governor’s Call”, meaning the Governor dictates was legislation can be considered. In odd number years, the legislature convenes for 60 day sessions and legislators can introduce legislation on any topic or matter they choose and not subject to the Governor’s call.
New Mexico legislators are the only state lawmakers in the country who don’t draw a salary, though they get daily payments during legislative sessions, reimbursements and the option to participate in a retirement system. This year’s daily rate, based on the federal per diem, is $173 to $202, depending on the time of year. The small pay means most legislators are retired or hold jobs that allow them to take breaks for annual sessions of 30 or 60 days in Santa Fe, in addition to less-formal meetings held throughout the year.
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.
2022 SESSION NUTSHELL LISTING OF LEGISLATION
From January 3, 2022 to January 14 legislation was allowed to be prefilled. The 2022 session began 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.
Following is a listing of the major legislation that will be considered overt 30 days:
The legislature must enact a balanced budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023 that will go into effect on July 1. On 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.
Two House Bills and three Senate Bills dealing with the taxation of Social Security retirement income have been filed already during the 30-day legislative session that started on January 18. The House Bills are House Bill 48 to exempt Social Security income from taxation. House Bill 49 which would phase in tax exemption of Social Security benefits by 2026. The Senate Bills are Senate Bill 49 that would Exempt Social Security income from taxation with certain income limits and increases tobacco tax rates to offset revenue impact, Senate Bill 108 and Senate Bill 121 with both simply exempting Social Security income from taxation.
The Governor is calling for tax relief for New Mexico families in the form of a 0.25% point decrease in the state’s gross receipts tax base rate from 5.125% to 4.875%. The state’s personal income tax is currently only levied on income above $24,800 annually for a married couple filing jointly. One major problem the Governor ignored is that each county, municipality, town and pueblos have to some extent taxing authority and they have added their own taxes on top of the state’s existing base rate of 5.125%. There are over 265 county, city, town and pueblo government gross receipts taxes with separate tax rates added the state’s rate ranging from the lowest of 5.5% (Bonita Lake, Alamardo, Lincoln County) to the highest of 9.065%. (Espanola, Santa Clara Grant (1)).
Other bills involving taxation to be considered include:
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.
CRIME AND PUNISHEMENT
There are two separate bills to increase the penalties for certain violent crimes. One proposal would increase sentencing for second-degree murder from 15 years to 18 years in prison and remove the statute of limitations. The second proposal would increase penalties for gun crimes, including making unlawful possession of a handgun a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The law change would also make fleeing a law enforcement officer when it results in injury a third-degree felony and a second-degree felony if it results in great bodily harm. A third-degree felony carries a basic sentence of up to 3 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $5,000. The basic sentence for a second-degree felony is up to 9 years in prison, plus a maximum fine of $10,000.
Other bills involving crime and punishment to be considered include:
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.
Dramatic changes to the states pretrial detention system are being proposed whereby those charged with violent crimes will be held without bond with a rebuttable presumption that an accused defendant is violent. It will shift the burden proof to the defendant that they are not violent. In our criminal justice system, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by state prosecutors. The rebuttable presumption 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. Some legislators and the defense bar have expressed strong misgivings about the proposal to make it easier for defendants charged with violent crimes to be held in jail until trial. They argue that the proposed law is an an “unconstitutional burden-shifting” and people who are presumed innocent until proven guilty should be not be denied the option of bail and not have to prove that they should get out of jail.
Other bills involving the courts to be considered include:
Allocating $45 million to bolster retirement system for judges.
Allow prison inmates age 55 and older with chronic medical conditions to apply for parole.
A 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. 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.
Other bills involving energy issues to be consider include:
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 CARE AND 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.
ETHICS AND TRANSPARENCY
The New Mexico 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.
Other bills involving ethics and transparency include:
Create public works commission to vet proposed capital outlay projects.
Mandate that recipients of state economic development initiatives provide more job creation data.
VOTING AND ELECTIONS
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.
The link to news source material quoted in part is here:
LEGISLATURES THROUGH OUT THE COUNTRY
While a handful of legislatures are similar to Congress in the way the function, most are very different. In most states, legislatures meet part-time and have smaller staffs than Congress. In these states, the legislature may meet anywhere from two to six months out of the year, and in four states the legislature only meets once every other year. These bodies are considered citizen legislatures, and members receive part-time pay. Most members have another job outside of the legislature. Because of the short sessions, legislation in these states tends to move very quickly.
Ten states are considered to have full-time legislatures. These states tend to function similarly to Congress, as legislative sessions last longer, and members and their staff are usually well paid. The states with a full-time legislature are Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Session length tends to vary in these states, and legislation in states with longer sessions tends to move more slowly as the legislative bodies have more time to deliberate.
Fifteen states impose term limits on members of their legislature.
There are two distinct types of term limits imposed by these states:
1. Consecutive term limits restrict the consecutive number of years a member can be in one chamber of the legislature. In these states, it is not unusual to see a member of the legislature bounce between chambers after reaching the consecutive term limit.
2. Lifetime term limits prohibit a member from running for an office they’ve held after they have served a specified number of years.
Some studies have found that lifetime limits tend to increase turnover and can limit institutional knowledge of members. Without institutional knowledge built from years serving in a legislature, the influence of long-term staff and advocates tends to increase as legislators often turn to staff and advocates for information.
A link to source material is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
New Mexico became a state in 1912. At that time, a part time all volunteer legislature made sense and was about all that could be expected. A full 119 years later, it no longer makes sense.
There is very little doubt that many of the listed bills and resolutions are very complicated and will no doubt generate fierce debate, but with only 30 days, there simply is not enough time. All too often, controversial bills never make it through to assigned committees and onto both chambers’ floors for final debate and enactment. With only 30 or 60 days sessions, it is very foolish to believe that part time legislators have a thorough understanding of legislation they are voting on and they are force to place too much reliance on paid full time legislature analysists.
ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL GUEST COLUMNS
On January 19, 2022 and before on November 29, 2021, the Albuquerque Journal published guest editorial columns on the topic of the need for a full time legislature. The later was written by Albuquerque resident Jason Barker and the former was written by Hannah Burling, President of the New Mexico League of Women Voters. When read together, both columns make a compelling case as to why there is a need for New Mexico to abandon its part time legislature and create a full time, paid legislature.
JANUARY 19, 2022 GUEST COLUMN
HEADLINE: “Is a part-time NM Legislature the problem?”
BY JASON BARKER, ALBUQUERQUE RESIDENT
“How equitable and effective is New Mexico’s part-time Legislature?
It is essential that residents, officials and lawmakers focus on legislation that will make a positive difference in the lives of all New Mexicans and outcomes in New Mexico. An independent legislative improvement task force can be that positive difference.
A part-time legislature is no longer benefiting New Mexico; it’s time for reform. New Mexico is the last state in the U.S. without a (salaried) legislature (and) we are also the state – among those with many – with the most last-place rankings.
In the 2021 legislative session … lawmakers made four different attempts to pass bills to pay themselves. Before this happens, a responsible legislative body would create an independent legislative improvement task force similar to the one in 2020, House Memorial 32.
A responsible legislative body would have UNM and NMSU political science departments and other state universities conduct political science research into our citizen Legislature to determine if the current structure has been the root cause of all the problems for New Mexico in recent years. No member of the Legislature or Governor’s Office should have any say in the selection of the task force membership.
How effective is our part-time “citizen” Legislature?
For example, the 30-day/60-day style in a two-year period means it takes New Mexico almost 2.5 years to equal one year of legislative work that is done in Colorado.
It clearly appears not having a professional legislature is holding our state back. And the current structure of the legislature has evolved into a legislature of elite retirees, excluding the people the citizen legislature was intended to serve.
According to the Legislative Council Service, the most recent formal study of the legislative process was in August 2006.
The following must be considered by any task force created for this:
• Length of legislative session compared with states of similar size;
• Compensation of legislative members compared with states of similar size;
• Strategies to reduce conflicts in the legislative process;
• Staff for legislators during the session and in the interim;
• Developing a primer for citizen participation in the legislative process;
• Limiting introduction of guests and performances on the floor;
• Improving alignment of policy initiatives proposed by interim committees with the development of the general appropriation act;
• Transparent planning and prioritizing capital outlay funding; and
• Structure and efficacy of statutory and interim committees.
A report of recommendations (should be) made available to legislators and the general public by Sept. 1.
New Mexico chooses to be a very poor state, despite how cash rich the state government really is, but there’s no reason for that.
It’s the sixth-richest state in the union when it comes to natural resources, with massive potential in solar energy. So, why are we failing as a state?
It’s such a huge, beautiful state with a rich history and culture. New Mexico can proudly claim one of the most diverse landscapes in the world – just like the people that make up our great state.
Currently, our “citizen” Legislature … does not allow all citizens an equal or equitable chance to serve.”
The link to the JASON BARKER guest column is here:
NOVEMBER 29, 2021 GUEST COLUMN
HEADLINE: “NM needs a full-time, paid legislature”
BY: HANNAH BURLING, PRESIDENT OF THE NEW MEXICO LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS.
“Now is the time to make substantial and desperately needed changes in the operation and procedures of the New Mexico Legislature.
A coalition of good government and other civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, is proposing some major improvements, namely lengthening the legislative sessions, creating a salaried legislature and providing year-round staff for all legislators.
Efforts to improve New Mexico’s operations and effectiveness have been afoot for decades, in recognition that today’s Legislature faces demands not contemplated when the 1912 constitution was created. In 2007, the Legislative Structure and Process Task Force produced a report with many practical recommendations. Many of them concerned such operational reforms as increased transparency, scheduling and workload. A 2017 report by the League of Women Voters of New Mexico and Common Cause New Mexico made many similar recommendations concerning transparency and public participation, and efficiency and effectiveness.
The New Mexico Legislature will, in just a couple of months, begin its 30-day session. The Legislature meets for 60 days in odd years and 30 days in even years. During both of these sessions, the body must deal with a huge workload. In the 2019 regular 60-day session, there were 1,663 bills, memorials, joint memorials, resolutions and joint resolutions. In the 2020 regular 30-day session, they had 919 legislative items.
New Mexico has the only unsalaried legislature in the United States. Legislators receive a per diem when meeting. The legislators do receive a pension if they choose to participate. Although legislators do not receive a salary, they are expected to perform constituent services, study all legislative items, participate on interim committees and more. Legislators, other than the leadership, do not have (year-round) staff assistance to help them with the above duties.
Our legislative sessions are among the shortest in the nation, preventing many good bills from being passed. The sessions are too short to permit thoughtful study and debate on the large amount of legislation introduced. They enable delaying tactics to run out the clock, leaving many bills to die at the end of each session.
The fact that most legislators do not have staff, especially when the Legislature is not in session, limits legislators’ ability to respond to constituents. In addition, legislators lack the time, and often the expertise, to study and decide on a wide variety of topics. This increases their reliance on paid lobbyists for information on the bills.
The League and the other coalition members believe the public would benefit greatly from these reforms. Legislators will be able to perform more constituent and community services, and receive more independent research and advice on legislation. In addition, temptations for ethics violations would be reduced. Importantly, there would be potential to increase diversity in the Legislature. Currently, many prospective candidates are deterred from running for office because they have to work and don’t have jobs that allow flexible schedules.
We hope all New Mexicans will join us in advocating for these legislative improvements. Ask your legislators to enact legislation to amend the New Mexico Constitution to lengthen sessions, pay legislators and provide staff for all in order to modernize the Legislature and allow the members to perform their work more effectively.”
The link to the HANNAH BURLING guest column is here:
NEFARIOUS HISTORY OF CORRUPT NEW MEXICO LEGISLATORS
New Mexico has had more than its fair share of public corruption scandals over the years involving State Legislators. There is no guarantee the a full time paid legislature will stop corruption 100%, but it will go along way to prevent or at least reduce it.
The rogue’s gallery of unethical conduct, fraud, theft and abuse of power and influence by New Mexico legislators includes both State Representatives and State Senators. Following are the most notable:
Anthony Lucero was an Albuquerque area state senator. In 1974, Lucero, D-Albuquerque, was convicted by a Santa Fe County jury of taking bribes to help people obtain contractor licenses from the state Construction Industries Division.
Eddie Barboa was an Albuquerque area state senator. In 1975, Barboa, D-Albuquerque, was charged in federal court with possession of heroin with intent to distribute it. The government said that Barboa tried to set up a large sale of heroin with a man he thought was a New York underworld figure, but who was actually an undercover agent. Barboa said that he was trying to stop drug traffic in Albuquerque’s South Valley when he met the agent. But in two trials, Barboa got hung juries. After the second trial, federal prosecutors decided not to retry Barboa.
Ron Olguin was an Albuquerque area state representative. In 1992, Olguin, D-Albuquerque, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he was convicted in state District Court of soliciting a $15,000 bribe in exchange for obtaining $100,000 from the Legislature for an Albuquerque crime counseling program. Refusing to resign, he faced censure by the State House of Representatives.
State Senator Manny Aragon was president pro temp of the New Mexico Senate and for decades was considered one of the most powerful and influential state senators in the state history. Aragon pleaded guilty in federal court in 2008 to three felony counts of conspiracy and mail fraud and was sentenced to five and half years. All counts were related to a scheme to defraud the state of nearly $4.4 million in the construction of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse in Albuquerque. The crimes took place while Aragon was serving as state Senate president pro-tem. In addition to his prison sentence, Aragon was fined $750,000, most of which he’d already forfeited to the government before he was sentenced, and ordered to pay at least $649,000 in restitution. He was released from federal prison in 2013.
Phil A. Griego was a New Mexico State from 1996 to 2015. The 69 year old was accused of using his elected position and acumen as a real estate broker to guide the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe through various approvals without properly disclosing his financial interest. Griego maintained he did nothing wrong in earning a $50,000 commission from buyers of the property. He resigned from the Legislature in 2015. He was convicted of fraud, bribery and felony ethical violations stemming from allegations that he used his position for personal gain has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Griego was sentenced to a 12-year-prison sentence, but all was waived except 18 months, and he was ordered to pay $47,225 in fines and was sentenced to serve five years of supervised probation upon his release from prison.
SHERYL WILLIAMS STAPLETON
On September 21, 2021, former state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton was indicted on 28 criminal charges including racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges in connection with what prosecutors have called an elaborate scheme to financially gain from a deal she helped broker with a Washington, D.C.-based company through her position as the head of the Career and Technical Education department at Albuquerque Public Schools, her employer. According to an affidavit filed in the case, the money amounted embezzled is $954,386.04. The Former House Majority Leader could face 79 years in prison if convicted on all 28 criminal counts. She was fired from the school district. All but two of the charges are felonies, and four charges carry a sentence of nine years of imprisonment and fines up to $10,000. Many of the others carry a basic sentence of 18 months and fines not to exceed $5,000.
Links to quoted source material is here: