The second session of the 55th New Mexico Legislature convenes Tuesday, Jan. 18 in Santa Fe, and 49th District Representative Gail Armstrong and 28th District Senator Siah Correa Hemphill are pushing forward a handful of bills to be considered in the 30-day session.

Thirty-day sessions are limited by the Constitution of New Mexico to budget and revenue bills, bills authorized by a message from the governor, and veto overrides, as opposed to 60-day sessions where any type of bill can be introduced. With record-high revenues, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to push to increase spending for education, public safety and economic development.

Lawmakers representing the people of Socorro are in fairly close agreement on what issues are the most pressing, and what needs to be accomplished.

28th District Senator Siah Correa Hemphill

As Socorro’s voice in the state Senate, Correa Hemphill, a Democrat from Silver City, talked about what she hopes the upcoming legislative session will accomplish.

“With the 30-day session, we’re prioritizing goals that are germane to the budget,” Correa Hemphill said. “I won’t be carrying so many bills this session.

“This is going to be a historic year in that we have a record amount of reserves and revenue,” she said in an interview last week. “We’ll see prioritizing our infrastructure, supporting our education system, improving access to healthcare, especially in rural comminutes. Those are the things that will always be my priority.”

She said the trick is coming up with the right legislation to address issues.

“My priority is helping to address the needs of those most vulnerable in our communities and to making sure that we’re working on improving our education system,” Hemphill said. “That is fundamental.”

In that regard, she said she wants to see funding to help support outdoor classrooms.

“The development of outdoor learning spaces. That’s going to help create more stability insofar as our ability to keep students in school,” Hemphill said. “If we have those outdoor learning spaces, even if we see a rising number of COVID cases, we will have safer places for students to congregate outside and receive their education.”

She said outdoor learning spaces could include permanent amphitheaters on school grounds.

“The stronger our institutions are the stronger our communities are, and keeping kids in school is paramount to that,” she said.

Representative Gail Armstrong, a Republican from Magdalena, said she will continue pushing for a Social Security tax exemption bill, something she has wanted since she took office.

49th District Representative Gail Armstrong

“It looks like we’re going to have more money than we did last year,” she said. “We’re flush with money and I think it’s time to be able to give our retirees a break.

“It’s a piece of legislation I’m co-sponsoring with Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) that would repeal the state’s income tax on Social Security benefits across the board,” Armstrong said. “I’m on the Legislative Finance Committee and we’ve got $400 million set aside for tax incentives and tax breaks. And I’m really pushing for it to include the Social Security exemption. AARP is also backing us.”

She believes the initiative would also be attractive to people wanting to relocate to New Mexico. “We’re one of seven states left in the country that still taxes Social Security payments,” she said.

Another bill Armstrong is carrying with Meredith Dixon (D-Bernalillo) is called Any Willing Provider and “what it does is allow anyone who wants to, can go to any doctor they want to as long as they have insurance.

“Basically what it’s doing is telling insurance agencies they have to contract with doctors,” she said. “For example, if I go to Presbyterian and I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield, they have to take my insurance.

Armstrong concedes the bill is controversial.

“I’ve been meeting with a lot of insurance agencies, but you know, 20 percent of New Mexicans carry private insurance and those people can’t go locally,” she said. “Like, my daughter can’t have a baby in Socorro because we have a different insurance and Presbyterian doesn’t take our insurance.

“And so I think it would be good for all New Mexicans. It might not be so good for insurance companies because from what they’re telling me is that they only contract with large groups,” Armstrong said. “On top of that, new private practice doctors can’t even contract. They’re too small. They’re too minute. They don’t even want to deal with them. Our private practice doctor has trouble getting a contract, so this is something that was brought up in a group of doctors that called me, and spoke with some of the other legislators about some of the issues in the state of New Mexico.”

The New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration last week released the FY23 Executive Budget Recommendation from Lujan Grisham’s administration totaling $8.4 billion in recurring spending, a 13.4 percent increase from the last fiscal year. The executive recommendation will maintain reserves at 36.4 percent, among the highest in the state’s history, while increasing key state investments in priority areas like education, public safety and economic development.

Also from the governor’s office, last Friday Lujan Grisham announced a proposal that will protect voting rights and make it easier for New Mexicans to vote in fair and free elections. The proposal includes measures like expanding online voter registration, increasing voter protections for Native voters and creating a permanent, voluntary absentee ballot request list. The proposal also extends early voting and designates Election Day as a state holiday.