New Mexico’s 2020 Special Session adjourns; budget and other bills passed

Legislature

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s 2020 Special Session is over. Lawmakers gathered to fix the budget that was hit hard by the pandemic and dropping oil revenues, but they also passed bills that address COVID-19 and police brutality. For the first time, lawmakers held a legislative session during a global pandemic. Their biggest task was fixing the budget, but it’s a fix they caution, is just temporary.

“It works now, but come January we’ve got to build a budget for FY 2022 and that’s the one that is really scary because then all of a sudden, we’ll have some reserves money but whether its federal monies to be determined and so if we’re significantly short,” said Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe). “I heard a billion dollars short. How do you come up with that money and how do you do that?”

Lawmakers had to shave the $7.6 billion dollar budget to about $7 billion dollars. They trimmed funding for things like roads, infrastructure projects and even money to a trust fund for early childhood programs. Lawmakers also found time to fit in a few bills outside the budget, which some were against because they felt it took time away from budget talks.

“I think this bill is too heavy of a lift for this special session,” said Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia) during floor debate over Senate Bill 8. Lawmakers passed a couple of bills that target police, like requiring all officers to wear body cameras. They also created a Civil Rights Commission that could evaluate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.

Legislators also passed pandemic-related bills, including a tax relief bill for businesses and an election bill, which would allow county clerks to send out mail-in ballot applications if people don’t want to vote in person. But one of the most fitting moments of the frustrations experienced by lawmakers, happened right before the House adjourned.

“Oh come on,” Speaker of the House Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) could be heard saying as the House lights went out. The legislature battled technical problems throughout the session, forced to conduct this session via web streaming because the public was kept out of the Roundhouse. Inside, lawmakers had to keep their faces covered and practice social distancing, sometimes voting remotely.

After four days, eleven items, including the budget, were sent to the governor’s desk for approval. The governor decided what bills the legislature would cover during this special session. During this pandemic, she said in short, the work to rebuild New Mexico has only begun.

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