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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Another legislature comes to the front burner

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By this time next week, copies of our 16th annual Southwest New Mexico Legislative Guide should be making their way across the state.

Creating this publication, which has won several state and national awards through the years, is a huge undertaking, stretching our small staff to its limits. The result, though, has always been worth it.

The publication is used as a vital resource by people all over New Mexico, including the staff at the Roundhouse, our state’s capitol building in Santa Fe. In recent years, some readers have taken to tearing pages from our magazine, and putting them in plastic sleeves in loose-leaf notebooks so they don’t wear out from use.

Our staff spends a lot of time talking to legislators and public officials from around the region, and we learn a lot about what’s going on in our state. Our goal is to pass that information along to you in a useful format that can help during the session and beyond. The regional information, contacts and data create a compendium for all things legislative and beyond in New Mexico.

I personally enjoy visiting with and getting to know our citizen legislators, as well as all the public officials who do the day-to-day work of running our cities and counties.

Governments from the tiniest villages to the massive United States government get criticized constantly. And that’s fair game. These people are working with our money, and we’ve earned the right to have a say. And, yes, from the smallest to the biggest, corruption frequently finds its way into the process.

When you have a conversation with these folks, though, you can tell, by and large, they really do want to do right by the taxpayers. They are working hard trying to get things done and get them done efficiently.

This year’s session

The even-year, 30-day sessions focus primarily on the budget but, invariably, other topics pop up.

This session, the subject of legalizing recreational marijuana likely will go before the legislators.

Most of the people we’ve talked to are hopeful but cautious. Most legislators believe legalization is inevitable, and most believe it could generate revenue beneficial to the state and help us be competitive with surrounding states that have already legalized it.

However, some consistent concerns keep coming up. They include the following.

  • What measures will be in place so employers can prohibit its use in the workplace and on the job?
  • While we have some reliable ways to determine if individuals are impaired by alcohol, there’s no such test in regards to cannabis.
  • Since the substance is still illegal federally, how do we reconcile issues that cross jurisdictions?
  • When determining how licenses are created, monitored and distributed, we need to figure out a way to avoid the mess we’ve made of our liquor licensing process.

Marijuana’s lookalike cousin, hemp, is finally making progress in New Mexico, after being delayed by vetoes by the previous governor, despite bipartisan support in both houses.

For those who don’t know, hemp looks like marijuana, but has none only trace amounts of THC. In other words, it can’t get you high.

Growing and producing hemp makes a lot of sense for New Mexico, given our climate and our rich tradition in agriculture. The industry has already attracted companies in Doña Ana and Sierra counties and elsewhere in the state.

In talking with legislators in the past few weeks, it’s clear many have a lot of great ideas. Whether they’ll make any progress this year, during the budget session is unclear, but here is a sampling.

Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces has put in a lot of work in addressing ways that communities can address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that affect children throughout their lifetimes, including abuse, neglect, and witnessing experiences like parental conflict and substance abuse. NMSU will become the fiscal agent for the Anna Age 8 Institute (designed to work on ACEs issues) Soules helped create with 2019 funding. The institute has been located at Northern New Mexico Community College in Española since it opened last year. Soules said he hopes for additional legislative funding for the program in 2020, the first of its kind in the country.

Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena has a bill that will eliminate New Mexico’s taxing of Social Security Income. Armstrong says the tax is likely a deterrent for retirees moving to the southwest to pick New Mexico, and an undue burden of some of our most vulnerable citizens. Only 13 states still impose the tax, and West Virginia will be the next to repeal it. Of our five neighboring states, the only other one still imposing it is Colorado.

Sen. Bill Burt of Alamogordo has a bill to eliminate taxing military retirees. He believes our state, which has a significant military presence, is losing out on some major talent, as these soldiers and airmen typically finish their careers in their early 40s, and often begin new careers. The tax relief could incentivize New Mexican military retirees to stay, and perhaps attract retirees from other states to take advantage of our weather and relatively low cost of living. Their buying homes and other big-ticket items would likely offset the reduced tax revenues, plus we could add a lot of value to our workforce statewide.

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