Legislature delivers virus support, civil rights; falters on pot

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – New Mexico lawmakers conclude a 60-day legislature planning an economic exit from the COVID-19 pandemic after progressive priorities on police reform, abortion rights, medical aid in the dying and attacking children have been ticked off poverty by opening up a state trust fund.

In the final hours of the session, lawmakers increased tax breaks for working families – the finishing touches to a broad package of economic relief measures.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has eagerly signed bills granting small business grants and soft loans, a tax rebate of $ 600 for low-income workers, and four-month tax vacation for the food service industry.

Legislators advocated a revision of state alcohol laws to rejuvenate the tourism and hospitality industries, which stalled under aggressive public health regulations during the pandemic. The new law overcame resistance from incumbent liquor license holders to make it easier for restaurants to serve mixed drinks and allow home delivery of alcohol.

At the same time, a year-long push to legalize recreational cannabis stumbled under the divergent views of proponents. The governor supports legalization to create jobs – and can call the legislature back for a special session on the matter.

Legislature responded to nationwide protests against police brutality last year by approving a law to end police immunity from prosecution and allow civil rights claims in state courts on anything from racial discrimination to illegal search and seizure Violations of freedom of expression.

With the support of Native American and black activists, lawmakers approved a bill banning hair discrimination in the workplace and in schools.

But the bills fell flat, calling into question police procedures regarding use of force, chokeholds, and misconduct reviews.

A legislative budget bill is pouring massive new funding into public education as schools across the state prepare to return to face-to-face teaching in early April after a year of online study.

Legislators are calling on the governor to approve a 5.8% increase in general fund spending on public schools in the coming fiscal year for a total of $ 3.35 billion.

Legislators also queued a nationwide vote on a constitutional amendment that would pull an additional $ 250 million annually from the state’s multi-billion dollar trust fund.

Bipartisan efforts to lift the governor’s pandemic health and school restrictions failed when COVID-19 infections subsided and schools were allowed to reopen.

At the session, the shift in attitudes towards abortion in a heavily Roman Catholic state was highlighted as Democrats kept their election promises to lift the state’s dormant 1969 ban on most abortion practices – to ensure access to abortion in case the Supreme Court of the USA knocks down Roe’s decision against Wade.

In a further political upheaval, a bill to ban the use of traps, snares and poison on public land was finally approved by the House of Representatives with one vote.

Magdalena Republican MP Gail Armstrong said the ban highlighted a growing political divide between urban and rural areas.

“It will be devastating to the people in my community who live on it,” said Armstrong.

Environmental advocates welcomed the approval of a law that would allow local governments to introduce strict air quality standards – and beat up democratic lawmakers for rejecting a proposed environmental law.


Attanasio is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program that provides journalists with local newsrooms to report on untreated topics. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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