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New Mexico

New Mexico legislative session delivers virus aid, but legal pot dies

SANTA FE, New Mexico — New Mexico legislators closed out a 60-day legislative session that charts an economic exit from the Covid-19 pandemic after checking off progressive priorities on policing reforms, abortion rights, medical aid in dying and attacking child poverty by tapping a state trust fund.

In the session's final hours, legislators ramped up state tax breaks for working families — a finishing touch on a broad package of economic relief measures.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has eagerly signed bills that provide grants and minimal-interest loans to small businesses, a $600 tax rebate to low-income workers and a four-month tax holiday to the food service industry.

She will decide in coming weeks whether to accept provisions of a $7.45 billion budget request that increases spending by nearly 5% in the fiscal year starting July 1, with a 1.5% pay bump for state and public school employees.

On the state House floor Saturday morning, the Democratic majority speaker broadcast music through the chamber sound system, dedicating “We are the Champions” to Republican Rep. Randall Pettigrew, of Lea County. The Capitol stayed closed to the public for the entire session as a precaution against the pandemic, with the Capitol grounds and surrounding streets closed off by fencing, police and troops.

Lawmakers embraced an overhaul of the state’s liquor laws in an effort to rejuvenate the tourism and hospitality industries that ground to a halt during the pandemic under aggressive public health orders. The new law overcame resistance from incumbent liquor license holders to make it easier for restaurants to serve mixed drinks and allow home alcohol delivery.

At the same time, a yearslong push to legalize recreational cannabis stumbled amid divergent views among advocates. The governor supports legalization to create jobs — and may call legislators back for a special session on the issue.

The Legislature responded to last year’s nationwide protests over police brutality with approval of a bill that would end police immunity from prosecution and allow civil rights lawsuits in state court on everything from racial discrimination to illegal search and seizure and freedom of speech violations.

With backing from Native American and Black activists, lawmakers approved a bill that bans hair-based discrimination in the workplace and schools.

But bills fell flat that challenged police procedures on use of force, chokeholds and misconduct reviews.

A budget bill from the Legislature directs vast new financial resources toward public education, as schools across the state prepare to return to in-person teaching in early April after a year of online studies.

Legislators are asking the governor to approve a 5.8% increase in general fund spending on public schools in the coming fiscal year, for a total of $3.35 billion.

Lawmakers also queued up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would tap an additional $250 million annually from the state’s multibillion-dollar trust fund.

A bipartisan effort to reverse the governor’s pandemic health and school restrictions fizzled as Covid-19 infections waned and schools were allowed to reopen.

The session highlighted shifting attitudes toward abortion in a heavily Roman Catholic state, as Democrats made good on campaign promises to rescind the state's dormant 1969 ban on most abortion procedures — ensuring abortion access in case the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down its Roe v. Wade decision.

In another political sea change, a bill to ban the use of traps, snare and poison on public lands won final approval from the House of Representatives by a one-vote margin.

Republican Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena said the ban highlights a widening urban-rural political divide.

“This is going to be devastating for the people in my community that make a living doing this,” Armstrong said.

Advocates for environment protection cheered the approval of a bill allowing local governments to institute stringent air quality standards -- and blasted Democratic legislative leaders for sidelining a proposed environmental bill of rights.

New Mexico Politics / News / Politics / Top Stories

Associated Press

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