The 2023 New Mexico Legislative session wrapped up by approving a $9.57 billion budget for the fiscal year, a $1 billion increase over the current level. A $1.1 billion tax relief package, including an array of tax changes, including $500 individual rebates, tax credits of up to $600 per child, and a gradual reduction in taxes on sales and business services, could be partially attributed to that increase.
Socorro County’s state house representation reflected on some of the other 246 bills passed over the 60-day session.
Senator Siah Correa Hemphill said she was pleased overall, highlighting the bills passed she says will help New Mexico families the most.
“For example, we cut gross receipts tax again, putting money back into the pockets of every worker, family, and small business in the state,” Correa Hemphill said in a statement. “We also extended the childcare tax credit and lowered income taxes for every family.”
Adding to that, she said, is the continuation of last year’s cash rebates of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples.
“Several bills I sponsored and co-sponsored this year will help children and their families succeed,” Correa Hemphill said. “Senate Bill 3, the Family Income Index, and Senate Bill 131 – Public School Funding Changes – will increase funding for public schools with low-income populations and give more power to local school districts in Southwestern New Mexico to decide how best to spend public school funding.
“The Guardianship Changes bill will increase important protections for children in foster care,” she said. “And the Health Insurance Mental Health Coverage bill opens up health insurance to cover more mental health and substance abuse disorders.”
She said one new initiative was specifically for rural New Mexicans.
“For our rural areas and agricultural traditions, the Acequia Fund for Disaster Response bill increases funding for disaster relief for acequia infrastructure,” Correa Hemphill said.
She added that she is already putting together priorities for next year.
On the house side, 49th District Representative Gail Armstrong was among those who felt it was a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly.
“The overall picture for me is that we spent way too much money and didn’t keep enough in the reserves, which I believe is now down to 24 percent of the budget,” Armstrong said. “There was too much on recurring spending. I would’ve rather spent more money on infrastructure, like bridges and roads, than create recurring spending. Recurring spending is up about 14 percent.”
She said one high point was the creation of the New Mexico Legacy Fund.
“That would create a dedicated funding stream for land, water, and cultural conservation projects,” Armstrong said. “This benefits watersheds, restoration, and much more for rural New Mexico.
“Another bill I helped pass – with Liz Stefanic and Marian Matthews – creates a fund of $80 million for expansion, or new, healthcare facilities in rural New Mexico,” she said. “The governor felt my help was needed since I represent the nation’s largest house district. I had a seat at the table, vetted it, and got some safeguards in there. It excludes Dona Ana, Bernalillo, and Santa Fe counties.”
Her dyed diesel fuel bill passed, as well. “It concerns the diesel fuel farmers and ranchers use for their equipment. Now they don’t have to pay gross receipts tax on it.”
Armstrong also had a hand in raising the state’s Medicaid reimbursement for healthcare, including transportation.
Elsewhere, she said, “I also helped put a lower cap back on medical malpractice payouts, which is huge. We had doctors leaving the state in droves because they had difficulty getting medical malpractice insurance.”
The cap would be lowered from $6 million to $1 million.
“The other thing I was instrumental in that I stood up and screamed and shouted about was the Film Production Tax Credit,” Armstrong said.
Currently, New Mexico gives out a 25-35 percent tax credit to film production companies that shoot in the state and employ local cast and crew members. The tax credit only applied to the areas in and around Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
“The area they measured didn’t reach down as far as Socorro County. It’s a specified distance from a central spot, and from wherever they measured Socorro wasn’t included,” she said. “I got that line moved, so now any movies made in Socorro are now eligible for the film tax credit.”
One bill she pushed for that wasn’t voted on was to name smithsonite as the State Mineral.
“It was stuck on the Senate floor, and I don’t think they even heard it,” Armstrong said. “It was a request from New Mexico Tech.”
Armstrong said she was disappointed in the passage of several voting bills.
The passed bills include providing for voter registration at MVD offices, helping restore voting rights to felons immediately after incarceration, and efficient distribution of mail-in ballots in future elections.
“Of course, we want everyone to able to vote and make it as easy as possible,” she said. “But we need safeguards, and these bills just removed more safeguards.”
Socorro’s freshman representative for House District 38, Tara Jaramillo, said her introduction to the workings of passing legislation in the Roundhouse was hectic but productive. However, she was disappointed that one bill she sponsored – creating a mentorship program for school teachers did not go through.
“It was stalled in the education committee,” Jaramillo said. “That bill would provide for a mentorship program for those who are going to college to be teachers.
“It had support from all the universities, but what it came down to is the education committee,” she said. “They wanted more time to look at it and get more input from the universities.”
She said, according to a poll, practical teaching methods are what a lot of teachers want, so “rather than getting theory, they would get more time while they’re in school with mentorship on how to teach, as well as working with parents, working with the community, accessing services for the children in the classroom, whether that’s social services or special education services. Practical experience.”
Jaramillo is confident that the program will eventually be approved.
“During the interim, it will be reviewed, and they’ll have time to get testimony and witnesses from those universities,” she said. “Right now, students majoring in education do a semester of student teaching. This program would give them a full year of teaching and give them more practical knowledge and support from the classroom teacher they are mentoring. While they’re learning.”
Jaramillo, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was co-sponsor of a bill for creating an office within the state Attorney General’s Office to help oversee New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department and investigate complaints.
“I honestly believe that’s what we need,” Jaramillo said. “An outside independent evaluator.”
Although the Office Of Child Advocate Act had bipartisan support, with the House voting 56-9 in favor of it and the Senate approving it 30-8, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham indicated early on that she opposed it.
In opposition to the legislation, Lujan Grisham has signed an executive order creating an office of innovation, and an advisory council in CYFD, adding that the proposed Child Advocate Act could create a contentious relationship.
Her newly formed CYFD Advisory Council includes professionals from the child-welfare community, including service providers, families who have interacted with CYFD, attorneys, and behavioral health providers.
“This bill has been proposed for seven years, and it will continue to be my priority,” Jaramillo said. “Much of my work is working with families and children in crises.”