LAS CRUCES - The 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature, which was conducted entirely on Zoom in a state capitol building closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ended Saturday without passage of legislation to legalize marijuana.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would call a special session on the issue, most likely on March 31.
“I believe legalization will be one of the largest job-creation programs in state history, driving entrepreneurial opportunities statewide for decades to come,” she said. “I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to get the job done right.”
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the marijuana legalization bill, said it came to the Senate floor too late in the process.
“When the bill hit the Senate floor, there were still a lot of priority bills that needed to be considered,” he said. “It would have imperiled a lot of great legislation.”
The bill was stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee until March 17. Committee Chairman Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, opposed the bill and had pulled it off the committee calendar during an earlier meeting.
Rep. Martinez said he supported the governor’s call for a special session
“I believe New Mexico is ready,” he said. “The governor has indicated that she is ready, and I think the Senate is ready. And, I hope we can get that done sooner rather than later.”
Several of the governor’s top priorities were passed, including a constitutional amendment to increase funding for early childhood education that must be approved by the voters; bills to provide both low-interest loans and grants to small businesses impacted by the pandemic; reform of the state alcohol laws allowing for more liquor licenses; and removal of an invalid law still on the books outlawing abortion.
“I would consider it a hugely successful session, especially considering the COVID challenge,” said Sen.Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. “First and foremost, we kept everybody safe, and that allowed us to pursue a very robust agenda.”
Most of the House session Saturday morning was spent on a bill to require employers to provide paid sick leave to their workers. Republicans spent the maximum allowed time of three hours debating the bill before passage. That left little time for anything else on the final day.
House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, said a compromise on a bill to establish an independent commission to lead the redistricting effort opened the way for the House to get a lot done in the final day.
“We definitely at times were more polarized this session. Toward the end, we were able to come through and work together and at the last minute we were able get a lot of momentum to push a lot of important bills through,” Gallegos said. “It took a lot of negotiations and we worked on it all day, and then at about 10 o’clock (Friday) night we were able to work out a deal, and the flood gates opened.”
Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, was sponsor of one of the redistricting bills
“One of the most important pieces of legislation promoting open and transparent government is an independent redistricting commission,” Dow said. “For the first time, the public will have a say in who represents them, rather than redistricting being done behind closed doors, and with partisan data focused on protecting incumbents.”
One of the bills that fell short this year was an attempt to cut the Annual Percentage Rate for small loans, which sits at 175 percent. Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, introduced legislation to lower the APR to 36 percent. That was amended in the House to increase the rate to 99 percent. Soules refused to accept that amendment, and requested that a conference committee be formed to work out the details. He later said the House refused to move off that number.
Rep. Gallegos, who was part of the group that formed the House compromise, said the bill as originally written simply did not have the support to get through the House.
“My job as whip is to count those votes, and I knew that the votes were not there, so we tried to do a compromise,” she said.
Soules said he would keep trying.
“We will be back for the 30-day session (in 2022),” he said. “The governor is committed to get it to 36 percent.”
Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the focus for this session was recovery from the pandemic in the economy, education and health care. And he said they were able to address all three.
“We have a substantial record of accomplishment,” he said.