Legislature passes budget, other bills move forward
SANTA FE, N.M. — Many measures moved forward in the New Mexico Legislature Wednesday, including those impacting free college, health care and retail crime.
The House approved the budget, so the bill now heads to the governor for approval.
The Senate changes call for an increase of $130 million in recurring spending on programs like free college, food initiatives and raises for public school staff.
The Democrat-endorsed budget now stands at $9.57 billion, moving from a 12.3% increase over the previous year, to a 13.7% increase after the changes.
Some state lawmakers again voiced concerns New Mexico is spending too much money. House Republicans said the state should be more worried about a possible downturn in revenue from the oil and gas industry.
“Where are we going to get $10 billion a year?” State Rep. James Townsend, (R), Otero County, said. “I’m just saying we need to be grown-ups and figure out where our revenue streams are going to come from.”
Even some House Democrats said they are worried that the Senate’s actions lacked transparency.
“I was hoping you would not concur, that you would say ‘Wait a minute. We better take a second look at this’ because of the way things were handled over there,” State Rep. Patty Lundstrom, (D), McKinley County, said.
The Democratic lawmakers who worked on the details emphasized the state will be maintaining its reserves.
“We are on track to do all three things: invest in what New Mexicans want, and need and know will move our state forward, to save for the short term with 30% reserves and to save for the long-term,” State Rep. Nathan Small, (D), Doña Ana County, said.
Some of the larger spending items cover education, including for extended learning time and teacher raises, health care, including in rural areas and for Medicaid funding, public safety, including for law enforcement recruitment and pay raises, road projects and land conservation.
The state is expecting to be swimming in cash next year. It’s set to pay for a billion dollars of the budget without the typical route of borrowing money.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, and she would be able to veto specific funding if she wants to.
The Senate passed a capital outlay spending proposal. A lot of it is for specific construction projects. It includes funding for an abortion clinic near the Texas border after Democrats shot down a call from Republicans to remove it.
A bill trying to curb retail crime is moving forward. It would let prosecutors add up the value of stolen items from different locations, elevating repeat shoplifting charges into a more serious crime. One of the goals is to take the heat off store employees.
“They’re having guns pulled on them. They’re having hammers pulled on them. They’re getting sprayed with mace, hit with stun guns. So what this bill is trying to recognize is that that sort of danger and that sort of violence should not be an occupational hazard,” said Sean Sullivan with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.
As of the writing of this article the bill has not passed the full Senate. If it does, it would still have to pass the House.
A proposed fix for a medical malpractice issue is flying forward. The measure calls for an evaluation of malpractice cases and puts funding toward paying out lawsuit settlements. It comes after many doctors in New Mexico have said they will be forced to move out of state in order to practice. The bill still would have to pass the House.
New Mexico is set to make bestiality a specific crime. The House voted unanimously to send a measure to the governor that creates not just the crime, but harsher penalties for it. New Mexico is one of just two states without a specific law on the books.
There are many proposals attracting attention that state lawmakers could still pass, including a 14-day waiting period on buying guns.
Both chambers have until midday Saturday to pass bills.