Legislative session roundup: Governor sees mixed success getting priority bills passed

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has had mixed results getting her priority legislation passed this year.

FARMINGTON — This week brought both triumphs and defeats on bills Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prioritized this session.

Governor-backed legislation intended to reduce violence and improve early childhood care passed the Legislature this week while a bill to legalize recreational cannabis and a bill addressing community solar arrays both died.

On Feb. 14, she praised the bipartisan passage of the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund just a day after the narrow passage of the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order.

Funding for early childhood programs passes House, Senate

The Early Childhood Education and Care Fund will provide a long-term investment strategy for early childhood health, education and well-being.

“I am immensely grateful to the Legislature for their commitment to and support for the children of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release issued shortly after the fund legislation passed the Senate on a 37-1 vote. “The trust fund is not the final step but it is a monumental step forward in our effort to permanently transform educational and economic outcomes for kids and families all across New Mexico.”

Student artwork hangs in a window at Smiling Faces Child Care Center in Farmington.

The Senate’s vote came just days after the same bill passed the House of Representatives on a 51-14 vote.

“Our approach is simple: We are going to develop the whole child, we are going to help kids build social and emotional skills, we are going to set New Mexico kids — and by extension our entire state — on the path to success, now and into the distant future,” the governor said. “I am grateful there has been broad consensus on the need for a robust initial funding amount in both chambers. I am confident we will ultimately reach the $320 million number in the final accounting. And I am likewise confident we will, as a state, step up and deliver for New Mexico’s children.”

Suite of governor-backed public safety bills sees several successes

While the Early Childhood Trust Fund received support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order, also known as a red flag law, narrowly passed on a largely partisan vote.

It was among a series of public safety reforms the governor has pushed for this legislative session.

The suite of bills also included a bill that will help police officers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and also adds penalties for brandishing a firearm during a crime, and allows retention payments to law enforcement officers in agencies with staffing vacancies. The bill also enhances the penalty for a felon in possession of a firearm. This bill passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 10 on a 59-9 vote.

“I have been consistent and clear that violent crime is an urgent issue in our state," Lujan Grisham said in a press release. "I have been clear that inaction is unacceptable, and I have activated my administration, at different junctures over the last year, to take aggressive and proactive steps to mitigate and address the crime in our communities and to bolster local law enforcement efforts. So I am glad the Legislature is listening to New Mexicans and is moving to not only hold criminals accountable but to provide law enforcement with the tools and support they need.”

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A third bill in the suite also passed the House of Representatives this week. The bill creates distinct crimes of terrorism, cyberterrorism, possessing a terroristic weapon and making a terrorist threat, including a threat of a school or church shooting.

“This legislation provides a much-needed update to New Mexico statute to better deal with 21st century realities,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release. “We all understand the threat of terrorism. We understand it is unacceptable. We can reduce the impact of terrorist actions, and I salute the House members for standing up on this well-intentioned criminal justice and public safety measure.” 

The other two bills in the suite would criminalize dismantling of stolen vehicles and make it illegal to sell parts to a chop shop, and increase penalties for human trafficking

Community solar, cannabis bills die

But not all of the governor-backed legislation has made it through this legislative session.

A bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis died in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 12.

Solar panels are pictured on Monday, March 12, 2018 at the Aztec solar farm.

The House of Representatives rejected the Community Solar Act on a narrow vote of 36 to 28 on Feb. 13. The bill would have increased access to solar power by promoting community solar gardens. These community arrays allow people to purchase subscriptions for solar power. 

The Community Solar Act called for the Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department to develop and manage a community solar program and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission would have developed rules for that program.

Johnson, Allison carry bills to improve Native American education

Legislation aimed at improving education for Native American communities received a do pass recommendation on Feb. 12 from the House Education Committee.

This legislation was sponsored Reps. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Gallup, and Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland. 

This legislation includes House Bill 363 and House Memorial 48. Both are focused on closing the educational achievement gap.

House Bill 363 would appoint a Navajo education liaison.

“House Bill 363 works towards that goal by making sure that Native American students in New Mexico receive an education that incorporates their own history and culture,” Allison said. “I am proud to sponsor this bill that preserves the linguistic and cultural history of the Navajo Nation.”

Meanwhile, House Memorial 48 would convene a working group to study the needs of Native American students who have special needs or disabilities.

The legislative session ends on Thursday, Feb. 20.

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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