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2020 Legislative Session is in the books. What happened?


The 2020 session of the New Mexico Legislature adjourned at noon on Friday, Feb. 21.

The Legislature alternates between 60-day and 30-day sessions. This year was a 30-day session, which is intended to focus primarily on the state budget. All bills not directly tied to the budget have to be approved by the governor to be heard. Bills without approval are found to be not germane and will have to wait until next year’s 60-day session.

Here’s a look at how our lawmakers voted on the major bills under consideration this year and at the bills they sponsored.

The budget, which is always House Bill 2, is always the main reason for the 30-day session. All the other bills can fail, but if they don’t pass HB2, it means nobody gets to go home at noon.

With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, you might think that’s a fairly harmonious process. It isn’t. The bill starts in the House and ends in the Senate, giving senators the belief that they have the final say. And that doesn’t always go over well in the House.

This year’s bill was finalized in the pre-dawn hours the day before the session came to a close. It provides for $7.6 billion in spending, an 8 percent increase from the current fiscal year.

Spending on public schools has been increased by 7 percent, and now totals $3.5 billion. The budget also includes a 4 percent increase for most teachers, school staff and state government workers.

House Bill 2 passed 46-24 in the House and 35-7 in the Senate.

Marujuana legalization was perhaps the most discussed issue heading into the session. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had formed a task force to gather public input from around the state and put together recommendations for a bill. She then took the lead in advocating for passage of the bill.

Sheriff Kim Stewart was a member of that task force, but she didn’t agree with its final conclusions. Stewart went public with her concerns that the state was not ready for legalization shortly before the session started.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes had many of the same concerns. And, as the newly installed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his opposition to the bill proved fatal. Cervantes and fellow Democrat Richard Martinez joined with Republicans in tabling the bill.

Cervantes had a number of specific concerns about the details of the bill. It’s not clear whether, if those details were resolved to his liking, he would then support legalization.

What is clear is that Lujan Grisham is not giving up, and another bill like this one will be back in front of the Judiciary Committee next year.

Perhaps the most controversial bill of the session was the so-called red-flag gun law, which gives judges authority to issue emergency orders to temporarily remove firearms from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

The bill drew passionate protests from gun-rights advocates and from county sheriffs who said they would refuse to enforce it if passed, just as they have refused to enforce a background-check bill passed last year,

The bill was amended to remove an initial provision that would have allowed family members to petition for an emergency order. Now, only law enforcement can petition the court. Advocates say that change will mean emergency orders will never be issued in areas of the state where sheriffs oppose the process.

Cervantes and the governor were on the same side this time. He was a cosponsor of the bill, and he helped lead the effort to get it passed.

Senate Bill 5 passed 22-20 in the Senate and 39-31 in the House. Senators Cervantes, Papen, Soules and Steinborn all voted yes. Representatives Cadena, Ferrary, Gallegos, Rubio and Small voted yes. Representatives Dow, Madrid and Martinez voted no.

The governor’s plan to offer opportunity scholarships to college students throughout the state looked like it was dead halfway through the session. The bills died, but the effort was revived in the appropriations act, but with major changes and without complete funding.

The budget includes $17 million for the scholarships, but they will only be available to community college students next year. The Legislature did boost funding for the existing lottery scholarships by $10 million.

House and Senate bills approving the opportunity scholarships both died in committee and never made it to a floor vote.

A bill to boost funding for early childhood education sailed through early in the session and has already been signed by the governor.

The bill will take $320 million from the general fund to start a new trust fund for early-childhood programs. Annual distributions from the fund would be made to the state’s new Early Childhood Education and Care Department for programs throughout the state. In addition to the money appropriated this year to start the fund, it will also take in revenue from federal mineral leases in years when money coming in is above the five-year average. It was sponsored by Rep. Gallegos.

A bill to address an estimated $6.6 billion in unfunded liabilities in the state’s retirement fund was passed, increasing the annual contributions from both workers and the state; and limiting cost-of-living increases. The bill was supported by Lujan Grisham, but opposed by retirees.

Senate Bill 72 passed 25-15 in the Senate and 40-28 in the House. Senators Cervantes, Soules and Steinborn voted yes, Sen. Papen voted no. All local representatives voted yes except for Dow and Madrid. Madrid voted no, Dow was absent.

Bills that would have eliminated state taxes on Social Security benefits were tabled in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

The fiscal impact report on the bill estimated that it would have resulted in a loss of income of $89 million the first year, increasing to $115 million by the fourth year. Both Republicans and Democrats on the House committee said there would need to be some way to replace the lost revenue before they could support the bill.

New Mexico is one of just 13 states that tax Social Security benefits.

A bill that would have reduced the responsibilities of the state’s massive Public Regulation Commission narrowly passed the House on a 36-34 vote but was tabled in the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee.

The PRC has wide-sweeping authority over not only phone and electrical utilities but also buses, pipelines. tow trucks, limo services and insurance.

The bill would have moved five divisions in the PRC to a new agency called the Office of Public Regulatory Affairs, which would be a part of the state Regulation and Licensing Department. Divisions that would have been transferred were the legal division, utility division, transportation division, administrative services and consumer relations. Rep. Nathan Small, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it would have helped address staffing issues at the PRC and improve efficiency.

PRC acting chief of staff Jason Montoya and commissioners Valerie Espinoza and Theresa Becenti Aguilar opposed the bill. Espinoza said the way to address their staffing problem is to raise salaries, not strip divisions from the PRC.

House Bill 11 passed 36-34 in the House. All local representatives voted yes except Dow and Madrid, who both voted no.

Local legislators were sponsors of several key bills this year. Here’s a look at the bills they introduced, and how they fared. As is always the case with a 30-day session, many bills were found to be not germane to the budget, and so therefore never got a hearing.

Papen, who serves as president pro tem, was the sponsor or co-sponsor of 14 bills and five memorials. Two of those bills passed.

Senate Bill 1, the Wholesale Prescription Drug Importation Act, would call for the state to set up a new program for wholesalers to import prescription drugs from Canada or other countries allowed by federal law to export drugs into the United States, for resale to New Mexico consumers at a lower cost. The bill passed 35-0 in the Senate and 68-0 in the House.

Senate Bill 128 makes changes to the assisted outpatient treatment plans ordered by the district court. The bill would expand the definition to include comprehensive community support services and intensive outpatient program services ordered by the court. The bill passed 35-1 in the Senate and 68-0 in the House.

Cervantes, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was the sponsor or co-sponsor of five bills, one joint resolution, one joint memorial and four memorials. Three of those bills passed, including the red-flag gun law.

Senate Bill 19 authorizes funding for 36 projects through the Water Project Fund. It passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

Senate Bill 64 will improve government transparency by requiring public inspection of all settlement agreements against a government entity or public employee after the issuance of a final judgement or settlement agreement signed by all parties. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Soules, who is chairman of the Education Committee, was the sponsor or co-sponsor of 14 bills. None of them passed.

Steinborn was the sponsor or cosponsor of three bills, one joint resolution, one memorial and one resolution. None of the bills passed.

In the House, Gallegos, who is the majority whip, sponsored or cosponsored four bills and one memorial. The early-childhood funding bill was the only one that passed.

Cadena sponsored or cosponsored five bills and three memorials. Two bills passed.

House Bill 100 would increase the authority of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange to determine which plans are sold through the exchange, and how they are sold. The bill passed 44-23 in the House and 28-14 in the Senate. Rep. Dow was the only local legislator to vote no.

House Bill 292 caps the out-of-pocket cost for insulin for insured diabetic patients at $25 a month, and requires the Superintendent of Insurance to form an advisory group to study ways to make prescription drugs more available. The cap was originally $50, but was lowered to $25 in a House floor amendment. The bill passed 61-2 in the House and 40-1 in the Senate.

Dow sponsored or cosponsored 28 bills, one joint memorial and three memorials. None of the bills passed.

Ferrary sponsored or cosponsored 18 bills and four memorials. None of those bills passed, or made it out of the House.

Madrid was the sponsor or cosponsor of five bills and two memorials. Two of those bills passed.

House Bill 10 appropriates funds to eliminate copayments for students in the public schools meals program. Currently, students who are eligible for reduced-price meals have a copayment of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. This bill eliminates those copayments. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.

House Bill 62 creates a new fund for beginning teacher mentorship programs. The bill distributes up to $2,000 a year per beginning teacher for mentorship programs. According to the Public Education Department, about 10 percent of teachers in New Mexico are first-year teachers. This bill also passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Martinez sponsored or cosponsored 18 bills and four memorials. None of those bills passed.

Rubio sponsored or cosponsored four bills and three memorials. One of those bills passed.

House Bill 304 transfers funding and authority for a new state program designed to help more people enjoy the state’s many outdoor activities from the Youth Conservation Corps Commission to the Outdoor Recreation Division of the state’s Economic Development Department. It also allows for the hiring of a program manager for the Outdoor Equity Grant Fund. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Small sponsored or cosponsored 11 bills and two memorials, including the PRC bill discussed above. Four of those bills passed.

House Bill 50 amends both the Industrial Revenue Bond Act and the County Industrial Revenue Bond Act to include electric transmission facilities as eligible projects. The bill passed 48-21 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

House Bill 233 directs the Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department to develop a strategic plan for energy grid modernization and establish a competitive grant program to support modernization projects. It also allows investor-owned utilities to apply to the Public Regulation Commission for approval of grid modernization projects, with costs recovered through increases in the base rates paid by consumers. The bill passed 61-1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

House Bill 312 creates a new environmental health fund with fees collected from four programs in the state’s Environmental Health Bureau: liquid waste, public water recreation facilities, food service sanitation and hemp manufacturing. Fees collected from these programs now go into three separate funds and can only be used to administer the programs from which the fees are collected. This would consolidate the funds and remove restrictions on their use. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.

House Bill 386 moves the State Fire Marshal Division from the PRC to the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. It also makes the state fire marshal an at-will position appointed by the Homeland Security secretary. And it creates the new Fire Chiefs Association, with representatives from agencies and departments throughout the state. The bill passed 61-1 in the House and 31-9 in the Senate. Cervantes cast one of the no votes in the Senate.

Grisham has until March 11 to sign or veto all legislation passed this year. Any bills not signed by that date will have been pocket vetoed, meaning they will not become law.

In addition to writing for The Bulletin, Walter Rubel is host of Eye on Government, which airs from 8 to 9 a.m. each Friday at KTAL-LP 101.5 FM community radio. Voting records and an analysis of each bill can be found on the Legislature's website at nmlegis.gov