April 28, 2017

New Mexico Legislature Special Session?

The New Mexico Legislature adjourned at noon March 18, 2017 with no appointed date for resumption, but it probably isn’t over. Due to a deadlock on many issues, look for a special session to be called.

This legislative session had some great bills (and some not so great) emerge but not many of them made it past both the House and the Senate. The few bills that did pass and made it to the Governor’s desk now await signature or veto. The budget, comprehensive tax reform, crime fighting measures, preemption, capital outlay reform, P-3 legislation, right-sizing government, all hang in suspension.

We now look forward to a special session to see if there is another path to fiscal solvency. Will it be less dependent on tax increases and more dependent on right sizing government and reforming the tax code to produce long term revenue stability? With all the tax increase bills for the people of New Mexico, that were introduced in the House this session added up, they amount to 1 billion, and that’s just the House side.

Short On Cash? So Is The State Government

The Governor said Saturday prior to Sine Die, that soon the Department of Finance (DFA) won’t be able to cut checks as cash is nearing empty. The Governor added that she has directed DFA to begin exploring the process of a government shutdown. We’re told this could mean museums open for just a few days a week, hours at our parks could be cut back and state employee furloughs could begin. We know that DFA is watching- on a daily basis- the cash flow in the State General Fund Investment Pool . When do we hit the wall and have to put the breaks on? DFA is analyzing that question, and we imagine we’ll hear more on this next week. This is all happening in FY 17, which ends June 30, 2017.

Currently, we have projected a 1.7% reserve, which is about $102 million. But the margin of error is about the same. Oil is coming up a bit but natural gas…not so much. Finally, the Governor, as of Saturday, did not even have HB2 or any of the other budget bills on her desk yet. All the bills need to be enrolled and engrossed and that can often take up to 10 days. The 20 day period the Governor has to act on all bills started Saturday at noon. So, hang on to your hats, folks. This wild ride is gonna continue.

Governor’s Veto Upheld

In an article in Saturday’s Santa Fe New Mexican it’s reported that the Secretary of State’s office will uphold the Governor’s veto of five bills unless a court tells them otherwise. Democrats claim the vetoes are invalid because the Governor did not provide an explanation of why she vetoed the bill within the three day rule. They argue that the state constitution requires explanations and that a Colorado court case overturned a Governor’s vetoes for that reason. This one could go to court. Another issue from this legislative session to follow. But first let’s try to get a acceptable and balanced budget.

Public Safety

Very sadly, this is one category in which we can think of not a single significant piece of legislation that was sent to the Governor. To the House of Representatives’ credit, many positive bills were passed to the Senate, which utilized the Senate Judiciary Committee as the place to die. Here’s a tragic list of bills that were blocked by Senate Judiciary:

  • HB 16 (Rehm) – apprehending a child absconding from CYFD custody
  • HB 43 (Youngblood) – increased penalties for child rape
  • HB 44 (Youngblood) – criminal penalties for assaulting CYFD employees
  • HB 17 (Rehm) – sentencing enhancement for violent felons in possession of firearms
  • HB 45 (Maestas-Barnes) – Life imprisonment for child abuse leading to death
  • HB 71 (Fajardo) – increased penalty for showing illicit images to children
  • HB 133 (Maestas-Barnes) – allow police officers to use video conferencing for administrative hearings (saves law enforcement time and money)
  • SB 159 (Gould) – distinguishes penalties for Negligent versus Intentional child abuse

And, this is just the list that died in Senate Judiciary.

Also killed in various committees were making violence against police officers a hate crime, expanding the currently never used three strikes law and various measures to deal with drunken and drugged driving.

We need more legislators with a pro economic development mentality and a crime fighting/prevention mentality. The state’s poor reputation as a safe place to live and do business is dragging down business growth and expansion, pure and simple.

Also left sitting on House and Senate calendars as the sine die adjournment was announced were:

  • SB 139 (Morales) that would have helped break up auto theft rings;
  • SB 262 (Cervantes) that would have set up an interim committee to revamp the capital outlay process;
  • SB 258 (Cervantes) that would decrease penalties for marijuana possession,
  • SB 425 (Sanchez) that would have allowed local governments to establish enterprise zones *HB 129 (Maestas-Barnes) that would have facilitated police officers obtaining a warrant for blood test to combat drunk and drugged driving.

And we will continue to turn our clocks forward or backward, whatever the season demands.

Our greatest challenge as a state is to achieve a common mindset about what it takes to broaden our economic base, create jobs and ensure our young people have the skills to compete for those jobs. As New Mexicans, we can and must find a better way together.

(Teri Cole/President and CEO Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce)

For a complete list of bills that passed both the House & the Senate (and those that did not) click here: https://www.nmlegis.gov/Legislation/BillFinder/Passed_Both.

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