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Legislature and New Mexico governor meet halfway on gun control and housing, but paid leave falters

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's Democrat-led Legislature delivered on a handful of the governor's major priorities in her calls for public safety reforms, gun control, housing construction and the use of incentives to forge new solutions to climate change as lawmakers adjourned their 30-day annual session Thursday.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised a trio of public safety bills that ban some guns at voting locations, extend a waiting period on gun purchases to seven days and give judges an extra opportunity to deny bail to defendants who are charged with new crimes while already awaiting trial on a felony.

But she also delivered a grim assessment of violent crime across the state, invoking the Feb. 11 stabbing death of a Las Cruces patrol officer at the hands of a man with a record of crime and mental illness.

“I just want to just say to New Mexicans, I don't think it's safe out there," said Lujan Grisham at a news conference, warning she might call legislators back to the Capitol to debate public safety initiatives. “And I don't think they think it's safe out there because it plays out horrifically every single day.”

The Legislature delivered enhanced penalties for second-degree murder, but a long list of gun control and public safety bills languished.

The entire Legislature is up for election in November, and House Republican Leader T. Ryan Lane of Aztec said GOP lawmakers are aggressively defending gun rights as they also pursue public safety initiatives.

“Guns are not the issue,” he said. “Our issues in New Mexico are more foundational.”

Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency over gun violence last year, suspending the right to carry guns in some parks and playgrounds in the greater Albuquerque area, in response to a spate of shootings there that killed children.

Legislators forged an annual budget plan that slows down a spending spree linked to an oil production bonanza in the Permian Basin that overlaps southeastern New Mexico and portions of Texas.

The budget bill, finalized Tuesday, funnels the lion’s share of a multibillion-dollar general fund surplus into a series of trust accounts designed to sustain future spending if the world’s thirst for oil falters, as well as debt-free spending on roadways.

One new $960 million trust consolidates the governor's yearslong campaign to guarantee tuition-free college for residents.

Another new $75 million trust would help state and local governments compete for more federal infrastructure spending from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration’s signature climate, health care and tax package.

“A lot of credit needs to go to President Biden for the infrastructure projects, and then our Legislature stepped up to provide matching funds,” Democratic House Floor Leader Gail Chasey said.

But lawmakers also downsized the governor's spending requests to finance housing construction and narrowly rejected a proposal for paid family and medical leave.

Lane called the defeat of the paid leave bill a "resounding wakeup call.” House Republicans joined with 11 Democrats to defeat the bill on a 34-36 vote Wednesday.

"The fact that that bill came to a screeching halt on the House floor, I think sends a huge message," Lane said. “It's not flexible for business owners, for employees who don't want to participate in that system."

New Mexico lawmakers waded into whether to regulate artificial intelligence in the creation of political ads, sending a bill to the governor that would require disclaimers on campaign ads that feature “deepfake” images, audio or video. The bill doesn’t prohibit those ads.

Legislators balked at a proposal to make it a crime to pose as a fake presidential elector, never bringing the bill to a floor vote. New Mexico is one of the few states where Republicans signed certificates in 2020 falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner.

In the arena of climate change and energy, legislators passed a bill aimed at reducing climate-warming pollution from cars and trucks through financial incentives that reward businesses that produce cleaner fuels. Similar low-carbon fuel standards already are in effect in California, Oregon and Washington. Lujan Grisham indicated she'll sign the bill.

Climate-friendly provisions are threaded into a tax relief package negotiated by Democratic state Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo that also reduces personal income taxes rates across the earnings spectrum and boosts taxes on income from investments. The bill provides refundable credits toward the purchase of new or used plug-in electric vehicles and household car-charging equipment.

“We have decreased taxes for all New Mexicans today, providing the greatest cuts to our lowest and middle-income earners, reducing capital gains tax breaks to ensure our highest earners pay their fair share,” Lente said at a news conference.

Lujan Grisham praised the tax relief bill that would reduce annual state government income by about $220 million. Last year, she vetoed most of a $1 billion tax relief package on worries it might undermine state finances.

The new budget proposal increases general fund spending by $653 million, or 6.8%, to $10.2 billion for the fiscal year that begins in July. That spending increase is a fraction of the anticipated $3.5 billion surplus in general fund income for the same period.

Roads, rural hospitals, public school, housing initiatives and Medicaid figure prominently in the spending plan, along with a 3% pay increase across state government, K-12 schools and public colleges and universities.

The bill includes funding from a settlement with opioid manufacturers and pharmacies to better coordinate services to infants exposed to illicit drugs before birth.

Most New Mexico families with infants exposed to illicit drugs, marijuana and alcohol in the womb have been forgoing subsidized addiction treatment and other voluntary support services since the state’s shift in 2020 that halted automatic referrals to protective services.

Lujan Grisham can veto any and all provisions of the budget bill but can’t add appropriations. The governor has until March 6 to sign bills into law. Unsigned bills are “pocket vetoed.”

Lujan Grisham applauded passage of $125 million to a loan fund to spur housing construction and a companion bill that expands the mission of the New Mexico Finance Authority into residential building.

The governor failed to find sure footing for her proposal to develop a strategic new source of water for industrial purposes by buying and selling water that is harvested from ancient, salty underground aquifers or recycled from oilfield waste.