*Editor’s note: Updated to include information about the Healthy Workplaces Act, passed in 2021.
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – From the Opportunity Scholarship Act to changes to the state’s criminal code, a handful of new bills passed during the 2022 legislative session are becoming law on July 1. Here’s a look at some of the new laws.
Sick leave at private workplaces
Passed in 2021, the “Healthy Workplaces Act” will soon require all private employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. The new law states that employees must be allowed to earn at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
The law will apply to employers of all sizes. And it will impact full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers.
Opportunity Scholarship Act
Intended to help older and non-traditional students get a college education, the Opportunity Scholarship Act expands New Mexico’s reputation as a state offering “free college” to many residents.
While the Opportunity Scholarship isn’t new — in fact, New Mexico has had an “Opportunity Scholarship” for several years — this new act drastically expands offerings for students.
Similar to the existing Lottery Scholarship in New Mexico, the latest changes to the Opportunity Scholarship allow New Mexicans who meet a few basic minimum requirements to get state-funded scholarship credits. A key difference is that the Lottery Scholarship is intended for students who recently graduated high school. The Opportunity Scholarship, on the other hand, was set up for would-be college students who put off going to college in the past.
The scholarship is only for undergraduate students who have never received a degree. KRQE News 13 detailed “what you need to know about the scholarship” in a story published earlier this year.
Increased teacher salaries
During the legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and others proposed a pay increase for New Mexico’s licensed teachers. During the 2022 session, lawmakers approved a bill to raise the minimum salary for teachers to $50,000 per year.
That set the minimum for licensed educators with the least amount of experience (called “Level 1” teachers). More experienced teachers also got pay boosts. Top-level teachers are now subject to a $70,000 minimum salary.
In New Mexico, adults who are incapacitated or cannot care for themselves are sometimes placed in the care of a court-appointed guardian. This can happen for a number of reasons — for example, if there’s a dispute over who should take care of an incapacitated grandparent, the court system may decide which family member is in charge of making medical decisions for them.
But sometimes deciding who cares for the incapacitated adult takes time. So, the courts may assign a temporary guardian. These may be someone outside the family, such as professionals working with a private company.
Now, changes to the state’s laws expand the reasons why someone might be placed with a temporary guardian and that the incapacitated person be notified within 24 hours of the court’s decision to appoint someone as a temporary guardian.
Previously, some New Mexicans have argued that families have been left in the dark when it comes to appointing a guardian. The new changes to the state’s laws add more protections for incapacitated people.
For example, the new law prohibits a temporary guardian from selling any of a person’s property without court approval. And the new law limits how long someone can be a temporary guardian.
In recent years, New Mexico has had several high-profile cases of guardian abuse. KRQE News 13 previously reported on Paul Donisthorpe, who pleaded guilty to stealing millions of dollars from the trust accounts of the medically and mentally vulnerable.
Increased protection for Native American children
A new law that could help ensure that Native American children involved in child custody cases get placed in Native American homes goes into effect July 1. The new laws make changes to the state’s “Children’s Code.”
The new law requires that people make an effort to keep Native American children with their families in custody cases. The law requires the Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) to assist Native American families to come up with a plan to address child custody issues.
In the United States, Native American children are historically disadvantaged when it comes to being placed in foster care rather than staying in their homes following custody issues. In the late 1970s, the federal government passed the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. But a case in the U.S. Supreme Court could weaken the federal law, according to the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).
Other states have enacted comprehensive protections for Native American children. State law could help ensure children are protected if the federal law is weakened, according to the LFC.
Avoiding dual taxation on some vehicles
A new law going into effect will allow people who buy a vehicle on Native American land within New Mexico to avoid paying sales tax twice. If the Indian nation, pueblo, or tribe collects a sales tax (or similar tax) on the vehicle, the amount of that tax can be used as a credit to get a discount on New Mexico state taxes on the purchase.
Funds for emerging businesses
Some New Mexico-based startups and expanding businesses now have access to state venture capital funding thanks to a new law going into effect. Businesses that meet some basic requirements (such as having a majority of their full-time employees in New Mexico) can get potential funding. And in return, the state hopes to see economic growth.
New Mexico historically offers relatively little venture capital opportunity to local businesses compared to other states, according to data from the National Science Foundation and the National Venture Capital Association. This new law aims to improve that.
Also going on the books is the Opportunity Enterprise Act. This new law increases funding options for “enterprise development projects,” which are construction projects intended to expand economic development in the state.
Chop shops, threats, and ending “gay panic”
During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed a number of changes to existing laws as well as some new laws regarding statewide crime-fighting. The changes include everything from new rules on how police dispatchers are trained to an expansion of grant programs intended to reduce crime.
The new laws also create some brand new crimes in New Mexico. It’s now a criminal offense to operate a chop shop. And it’s a crime to threaten to shoot someone, even if you don’t follow through.
It’s also now a crime to threaten a judge or the family members of judges in New Mexico. Going into effect is also a new law that creates the specific crime of theft or attempted theft of a “regulated material” such as catalytic converters. Also going into effect is an enhanced penalty for using a firearm during drug trafficking or during a serious violent offense.
Another change to the law is that it’s no longer permissible to use a “gay panic” or “trans panic” dense in court. The idea behind the “gay panic” defense is to argue that you committed a crime because you thought a gay, bisexual, or transgender person was coming on to you. New Mexico now joins several other states that prohibit people from using this as a defense.