SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Legislators have spent quite a bit of time debating bills to improve New Mexico’s environment. Now, a bipartisan effort is just one step away from becoming law.

Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Steven P. Neville (R-San Juan) and Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), would set up two new funds in the state’s treasury. The purpose of those would be to help ensure the state continues to have cash set aside to use on conservation projects. Basically, the bill looks to create a permanent, recurring source of money for conservation, similar to the way the state funds education via the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund.

Supporters point out that the money will allow the state to better leverage federal funds to use towards conservation. “We can build more parks. We can restore more land. We’ll be able to conserve more land with these matching dollars,” Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos) explained on the House floor Sunday, March 12.

Money within the funds will be given to agencies such as the state’s Department of Agriculture, the Department of Game and Fish, the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs, and the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The cash will help those agencies continue existing projects such as forest conservation, outdoor recreation infrastructure construction, and watershed restoration.

Support for Senate Bill 9 comes from a broad alliance of environmentalist, agricultural, and tribal groups. But a key concern for some legislators was whether or not the funds set up under the bill could be used to acquire land: “I do not want the state to buy any more land,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell).

Ezzell expressed concern that letting the government buy land could harm private landowners by taking that land off of tax rolls and putting land under government management. “I’ve had it with government intervention in the livelihoods of the people of the State of New Mexico,” Ezzell said.

Despite such concerns, the majority of the House voted in favor of the bill. Now, it heads to Governor Michelle Lujan’s desk. She has until April 7 to decide if the bill becomes law.