SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators are preparing to tap into an unprecedented windfall of state income to shore up resources for public education, policing, health care and climate regulation at a 30-day legislative session scheduled to start Tuesday.
Lawmakers will be forced to adapt their working conditions amid a resurgent coronavirus that has prompted new school closures. A blend of online and in-person deliberations are anticipated at the state Capitol, with proof of vaccination — and booster shots — required for members of the public to enter the state Capitol. Legislators are exempt from some requirements.
Gov. Michelle Lujan, a Democrat, will deliver her State of the State address while her reelection campaign for reelection. The state House, where Democrats have a 45-24 advantage over Republicans, also is up for election in November.
Many legislative proposals take aim at violence and urban crime and were stoked by outrage over a record-breaking year for homicides in Albuquerque in 2021. One initiative would roll back provisions of the state’s pre-trial detention system to deny bail to more people accused of serious crimes.
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“There is a massive amount of crime, a crisis in Albuquerque,” Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said in an interview. “It is caused by many different factors. That means we have to have multiple solutions. There’s no one answer.”
Lujan Grisham’s budget recommendations would set aside $100 million to help recruit, hire and retain law enforcement officers and staff across the state. A variety of enhanced sentences for gun-related crimes are also under consideration.
Democratic legislators are drafting legislation would expand access to voting, in coordination with Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who oversees elections.
Legislators could decide to make Election Day could a state holiday in New Mexico to encourage voting, with automated distribution of absentee ballots for residents who want to vote by mail or with drop-off ballots. The initiative counters a wave of new voting restrictions from Republican-led states.
Several New Mexico initiatives take aim at transforming energy production and climate-related regulations in the nation’s No. 2 state for oil production.
Lujan Grisham and her administration’s top environmental regulators are seeking $2.5 million for a new state “climate change bureau” to oversee efforts to reduce emissions of climate-warning gasses.
The bureau may oversee forays by businesses into hydrogen production in New Mexico, using natural gas to make hydrogen, as the federal government jump-starts the industry with $8 billion in dedicated infrastructure spending. Legislators are pushing to approve local financial incentives to increase support for the efforts.
State economists foresee a $1.6 billion general fund surplus for the coming fiscal year, which runs from July 2022 to June 2023, in excess of current spending obligations.
Legislators still have $600 million in federal pandemic relief to dispense from the state’s original $1.7 billion allotment. They are drafting a long list of eligible infrastructure projects, ranging from high-speed internet lines in remote areas to road construction and repairs.
Budget proposals from the governor and legislative leaders would increase annual state general fund spending by about $1 billion to nearly $8.5 billion.
The rougly 14% spending boost would shoring up public school budgets and access to health care as the federal government winds down pandemic-related subsidies to Medicaid, the program that gives free health care to the needy.
Pay raises of at least 7% are proposed for public education workers and for most state government workers. The pay raises include higher minimum salaries for teachers and hefty pay and retention increases for state police officers.
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