New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has lengthy to-do list for 60-day session

By WALTER RUBEL/ Southern New Mexico Journalism Collaborative

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham broke with tradition and dispensed with the annual state of the state address Tuesday, Jan. 19, on the opening day of the New Mexico Legislature’s 60-day session amid concerns for both COVID-19 and potential civil disruptions.

But her to-do list for lawmakers is no secret. These are the Democratic governor’s top priorities for this year’s session, and the legislation that has been introduced to achieve them:

* Expand the Small Business Recovery Act passed in the June special session by providing an additional $100 million in federal funding for small business grants.

No bill filed yet. The bill passed last June provided $400 million from the Severance Tax Fund to provide loans for small businesses, but many business owners were reluctant to take on additional debt. The new bill will provide $100 million for grants. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, has pre-filed a separate bill to provide tax credits and a new fund to assist small businesses.

* Help restaurants through reform of the state’s liquor license.

A pre-filed bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, would allow local elections to create districts that would permit restaurants to sell alcohol that was distilled or bottled in New Mexico. The governor also wants to change the law to allow for alcohol delivery. Past attempts to loosen alcohol regulations have been opposed by both those concerned about health and safety issues and current license holders who don’t want to see their investments devalued.

* Change the procurement code to favor businesses owned by Native Americans, minorities and women; and businesses in New Mexico.

No bills filed yet. The Historically Underutilized Business Opportunity Act of 2019 sponsored by Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, had the same objective. It would have required the state to create a new database of businesses that had been certified as historically underutilized. State agencies would then have had to set a goal for the percentage of work contracted to those certified businesses. The bill passed unanimously in the House but died in the Senate committee process.

* Legalize marijuana.

No bills filed yet. Similar legislation passed the House on a 36–34 vote in 2019 but died in the Senate Finance Committee. Last year’s Senate bill had four committee referrals in a 30-day session, essentially ensuring its defeat. Medical marijuana use was legalized in 2007, and a 2019 bill decriminalized possession of small amounts. Gov. Lujan Grisham was lukewarm to the idea her first year but is now a strong supporter. Past sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said this year’s bill would be similar to last year’s, with the three “foundational principles” being to protect the existing medical-marijuana program, ensure racial equity and establish smart and efficient taxes and regulations.

* Provide “Opportunity Scholarships” to cover full tuition costs for qualifying college students.

No bills filed yet. The new scholarships were created last year after much debate with the Legislature. The original proposal was to use General Fund money to fill in what was needed after both the Lottery Scholarship and federal grants were exhausted. Changes by the Legislature reduced the funding and limited the scholarships to students enrolled in two-year programs. The governor is requesting $22 million this year, which she said would benefit 30,000 students. Rep. Ray Lara, D-Chamberino, has pre-filed HB 101, which would boost the Lottery Scholarship Fund by allowing table games and sports betting at the state’s horseracing tracks. Lara said the bill would generate $40 million a year, with $15 million to the scholarship fund and the rest to the General Fund.

* Fund a pilot project for college students who were on the Lottery Scholarship but had to drop out because it no longer covers full costs.

No bills filed yet. The governor is seeking $4 million for the project. The Lottery Scholarship Fund was started in 1996 and for more than a decade was able to cover full tuition costs for qualifying New Mexico high school graduates. In recent years, the percentage of costs covered has gone up and down, based on lottery sales that year. Many students who entered college relying on the scholarship were forced to leave for financial reasons when the fund dipped. This legislation would target students who are within one or two semesters of completing their degrees.

* Reform predatory lending by limiting annual interest rates and increasing maximum loan size.

HB 99 has been pre-fled by Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. It would reduce the maximum annual interest rate on small loans from 175 percent to 36 percent. In 1981, the New Mexico Legislature abolished any rules limiting interest rates on loans, leading to a flood of lenders moving into the state, according to a report by the public-advocacy group Think New Mexico, which supports this legislation. In 2017, legislators set the maximum interest rate at 175 percent annually, which is five times higher than the national average.

* Increase the state’s annual distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1 percent to provide more money for early childhood education.

HJR 1 has been pre-filed by Reps. Moe Mestas, Javier Martinez and Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque. Maestas has introduced this constitutional amendment every year since 2013. It has passed in the House six times, including each of the past five years. The joint resolution has never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee in the past, but the Primary Election loss of former committee Chairman John Arthur Smith has given supporters new hope this year. It would increase the annual distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund from 5 percent to 6 percent, with that money targeted for early childhood education. Smith and other opponents have said the Permanent Fund was created to fund education in New Mexico after the oil and gas reserves are gone.

* Create a new fund to provide health care coverage for uninsured New Mexicans.

No bills filed yet. A similar bill last year sponsored by Reps. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, Javier Martinez and Liz Thomson would have created a new health care affordability fund by increasing the surtax on health insurance premiums by 1 percent. The bill in a previous session passed 41–25 in the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee. Lujan Grisham has said it would assist 23,000 uninsured New Mexicans in its first year and would drive down premiums for others.

* Establish a new index to provide more precise information for school funding decisions.

The Family Support Index would calculate the at-risk students in each school to provide more precise information for local funding decisions. It also would set a per-pupil minimum for final State Equalization Guarantee payments and ensure that money returned goes to public school support, and not the General Fund. Sen. Bill Soules has pre-filed a separate bill that would require the state Cultural Affairs Department to provide social, racial and cultural impact statements for pending legislation.

* Create a new ombudsman office devoted to special education.

No bills filed yet. The new office would investigate claims of abuse and advocate for positive reforms to the state’s special education system. A newly formed Legislative Disabilities Concerns Subcommittee heard a report on problems in special education last year, including a lack of qualified teachers, delayed screening for students and the use of physical restraints against students.

* Remove an invalid state law making it illegal for health care providers to perform an abortion.

No bills filed yet. A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, in 2019 would have removed existing law passed in 1969 making it illegal for doctors to perform abortions. That law was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, but it was never removed from the books. The 2019 bill passed 40–29 in the House, but it was defeated on a 24–18 vote against in the Senate. Eight Democrats voted against the bill. Six were then defeated in the Primary Election, and one died while in office. Only Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, was re-elected after his “no” vote.

* Enact legislation to address racism in hiring, pay and accountability in state government.

No bills filed yet. A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, would have required state agencies and entities receiving state funding to develop and implement policies to decrease institutional racism. Agencies would be required to report findings, action plans and policies to the Legislature each year. It also would have required the state Public Education Department to advance ethnic studies for teachers, staff, students and families. The bill cleared its first two committees before dying in Senate Judiciary in a previous session.

* Establish a race equity director in the governor’s office.

No bills filed yet. The newly created Council for Racial Justice has proposed that a new position be created in the governor’s office. The governor vowed to appoint a racial justice czar last summer during protests both here and throughout the world following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.

* Creating a new clean-fuel standard.

No bills filed yet. The governor’s proposal would apply to those who refine, blend or import fuel, but not to gas stations. It would require a reduction of emissions of 10 percent by 2030 and 20 percent by 2040. She has said the change would reduce emissions by 230,000 metric tons annually.

* Create a state meat-inspection program.

HB 33 has been pre-filed by Reps. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, Gail Armstrong, D-Magdalena, Andres Romero, D-Albuquerque, Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, and Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque. It would authorize the New Mexico Livestock Board to conduct meat inspections. Ranchers say the pandemic has delayed federal meat inspections. Bringing back state inspectors would allow meat to be sold and processed locally without needing federal inspection.

The session started at noon Tuesday, Jan. 19, in Santa Fe, without many of the ceremonial events that typically mark the first day. It will end at noon March 20.

Walter Rubel can be reached at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Diana Alba-Soular

Southern NM Project Coordinator for the New Mexico Local News Fund | Freelance Writer & Journalist | Chile Lover | Dog Mom