SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s 2022 regular legislative session is underway. After a year of virtual meetings in 2021, this year’s session brought a welcomed return to in-person attendance at the roundhouse. Although, COVID-19 is requiring legislators to keep a hybrid model with some virtual discussions.
Among those chiming in virtually was the Governor. Yesterday, January 18, she gave her “State of the State” speech via video feed. She mentioned the “unimaginable financial resources” at the state’s disposal — more than $1.5 billion in additional funds compared to last year.
“At a moment in time when we have the money to do it all, let’s not limit ourselves,” the Governor said. “Can’t we be the state where everything is possible?”
Given that there is a lot of money up for grabs, we are likely to see some heated debates in the coming days — especially as the Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce responded to the Governor’s speech by noting that “New Mexico’s economy has been driven into the ground.”
Generally, the first few days of the session are relatively slow, as legislators focus on getting organized and introducing legislation. Still, it’s worth paying attention to some key happenings. Here are some of the things to keep on an eye on during the 2nd day of the session, January 19, 2021:
Funding major projects
- Today, Wednesday January 18, the Senate Finance Committee will meet to discuss Capital Outlay — funding for buying new facilities, construction, and supplying machinery or furniture for long-term projects. This often includes thing like roadwork, park renovations, and equipping places like senior centers, fire houses, etc. The money cannot be used for operating expenses or salaries.
- There are more than 3,500 such projects across the state that have already been authorized in previous years but have yet to be funded in full, according to a recent LFC report.
- A few big-ticket requests in 2022 include: $450 million requested by the Department of Transportation for investments, local roads, and rest stops; $60 million requested for new facilities for New Mexico State Veterans Home; $26.2 million to support statewide public safety communications; $21 million for public safety in Albuquerque.
- In October 2021, the Legislative Council Service estimated that the state has more than $500 million to fund capital outlay in 2022.
- The public can participate digitally via Zoom. The meeting is scheduled to start at 1:30 in the afternoon.
HB 1: paying legislators with the feed bill
- Today, the Senate Finance Committee will also discuss the Legislative Feed Bill, known as HB 1.
- This bill will use money from the state’s general fund to pay for the 2022 legislative session. The bill can also be used to fund study committees, council services, and clerk’s offices that supervise House and Senate employees.
- Debates over the feed bill can get heated, especially if legislators add in appropriations for non-legislative projects. For example, in the 2nd special session of 2021, the feed bill included half a million dollars for pretrial services at the Administrative Office of the Courts. But that was debated out of the bill before it passed.
- The feed bill was introduced yesterday, January 17. In addition to the usual funding of legislative salaries, it includes a quarter million dollars to upgrade software and hardware to support virtual meetings in the legislature. It also includes $400,000 dollars to keep developing a database of New Mexico’s laws. The freely-accessible online law database system went live in April 2019, but the funds are intended to improve the system.
- The feed bill contained an emergency clause, meaning that once it’s passed, it will go into effect immediately. This is the norm for feed bills.
Looking ahead: environmental debates to come
- Yesterday, the Senate introduced SJR 2, which would amend the state’s constitutional bill of rights to include the right to clean water, air, climate, etc. This would replace the current protection clause of: “The legislature shall provide for control of pollution and control of despoilment of the air, water and other natural resources of this state, consistent with the use and development of these resources for the maximum benefit of the people.”
- Senators debated the importance — and costs — of the so-called “green amendment.” Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Abq.), who sponsored the resolution, said: “We absolutely need a balance [between cost and protection], but health and public safety and our environment need to be part of that balance.”
- If the resolution makes it through the legislative session, it would become a ballot question at a general election or special election. Then, it would be up to the people to decide if New Mexico should amend its constitution.