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Legislative session: New Mexico lawmakers work to address economic impact of COVID-19

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — The COVID-19 pandemic remained in the spotlight this week as New Mexico's state legislators worked to pass bills aimed at assisting with economic recovery.

One of these bills, which passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 11, would provide $200 million in grant funding for small New Mexico businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. 

This bill, known as GRT & Permanent Fund for LEDA, or House Bill 11, now moves on to the Senate for discussion and debate. It has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, and Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

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"House Bill 11 provides vital support to the New Mexico businesses which need it the most, and encourages those businesses to rehire workers and create new jobs for New Mexico," said Rep. Chandler in a press release following the passage of the bill. "The second piece of the bill provides an innovative tool to bring new companies to the state and foster economic development in New Mexico."

Signs of support for the various professionals working during the coronavirus pandemic are posted on a business in Gallup on May 4 during a lockdown that was implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A bill that has passed the House of Representatives would provide grant funding for businesses impacted by the pandemic.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department would process applications and payments. Businesses that applied could get up to $100,000. The funds can only be used for rent, lease or mortgage obligations and the grants must lead to job creation and increased state tax revenues, according to the fiscal impact report.

"Small businesses are the heart of New Mexico’s economy," Egolf said in the press release. "As they continue to battle the economic consequences of this ongoing pandemic, we are ready to support them with up to $100,000 in assistance to use for mortgage and rent payments, equipment, and other necessities to help them keep their doors open and protect jobs for New Mexicans."

Speaker Brian Egolf participates in a virtual listening tour, Sept. 2, 2020.

A group of three senate bills intended to provide economic relief also passed the Senate this week and head to the House. These bills include Senate Bill 1, which would provide a $600 rebate for workers making less than $15 an hour. The bill also creates a four-month tax holiday for certain restaurants as well as food trucks and breweries.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2 would waive liquor license fees for the coming year and Senate Bill 3 would expand the state's Small Business Recovery and Stimulus Act.

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Egolf said in a press release on Feb. 12 that those three bills that passed the Senate this week will move quickly through the House of Representatives.

"Providing relief for New Mexico’s struggling businesses and families is our number one reason for convening this session," he said. "These initiatives are time-sensitive and we want to move them out the door as quickly as possible. I assigned them a single committee hearing each so that we can bring them to the floor for final passage as fast as the system allows."

Signs are seen in the windows of Three Rivers Art Center and Gallery in April in Farmington. The Legislature is considering ways to assist businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Electric Facility Authority Board Members bill passes House of Representatives

One of the bills that passed the House of Representatives and move onto the Senate was the Electric Facility Authority Board Members, or House Bill 5, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, as well as Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants and Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan. This bill builds upon a bill passed in 2020 to address the closure of the Escalante Generating Station and the resulting economic impacts in McKinley and Cibola counties. The 2020 bill created the board and this year’s bill expands it to include a governor-appointed member as well as more non-voting members. It passed the House on a 60-5 vote.

Legislation introduced includes voting age and cabinet secretaries residency requirements

  • Voting age: Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Bill 336, which would allow 16-year-olds to vote in certain elections like municipal elections and school board elections.
  • Cabinet secretary residency: Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, are sponsoring Senate Bill 357, which would require cabinet secretaries to reside in New Mexico. 
  • Term limits: Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 23, which would impose term limits on state legislators. Senators would be limited to three consecutive terms while members of the House of Representatives would be limited to six consecutive terms. Senators serve four-year terms while representatives serve two-year terms.
  • Autonomous vehicles: Lundstrom and Garcia introduced a House Bill 270, which would add a definition for autonomous vehicles to the motor vehicle code and allow for platooning of vehicles. 

Upcoming committee meetings

  • The Senate Conservation Committee meets at 9 a.m. Feb. 13. The agenda topics include changes to the Energy Transition Act, a bill that would prohibit new licenses for fracking and a bill that would remove some of the gross receipts tax reductions for solar energy.
  • The House Health and Human Services Committee meets at 10 am. Feb. 13. The agenda includes discussion of two bills related to the regulation of cannabis products.
  • The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee meets at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 13. The committee is scheduled to hear the Utility Affordability and Relief Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, attempts to address the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on residential customers’ ability to pay their utility bills.
  • The House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee meets at 8:30 a.m. Feb 17. The agenda includes discussion of Tribal Sovereignty in Certain Contracts, a bill introduced by Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland. Another bill on the agenda is the Climate Solutions Act, which would establish a climate leadership council and set deadlines for meeting certain reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque, Speaker Egolf, Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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