MEMO: Legislative Session in Review

TO: Interested Parties
DATE: Saturday, March 18, 2017
RE: Legislative Session in Review

On the most critical issues facing the Senate, including balancing both the FY17 and FY18 budget, the chamber acted in a bipartisan fashion to address the fiscal crisis in a responsible way that demonstrated the unity that continues to exist within the chamber.

Left with no easy solutions, legislators were called to make several difficult decisions necessary to the financial future of our state. Through bipartisan collaboration, the Senate was able to produce a sensible and balanced approach to our budget, all while continuing to pass legislation important to our communities and to the state.

This session, the legislature accomplished tremendous goals that resulted in:

  • Passing a responsible FY18 budget that prevents cuts to critical state services, like public education and public safety
  • Enacting meaningful tax reform that will lead to comprehensive changes that make the system more fair
  • Creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity for hardworking New Mexicans facing high levels of unemployed citizens
  • Protecting and supporting public safety programs and keeping our families safe from harm
  • Overhauling of our state’s campaign finance system and enacting ethics reform to protect public trust
  • Creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity for those struggling to make ends meet
  • Protecting access to healthcare for all New Mexicans
  • Respecting New Mexico women

While this memo could not possibly reflect the entirety of the work of the New Mexico Legislature during the legislative session, it looks to highlight some of the key accomplishments upon its completion.

Solving Immediate FY17 Fiscal Crisis & Minimizing Cuts to Public Education  

The legislature faced an immediate fiscal crisis upon beginning the session. On the second day of the session, the Senate moved quickly to balance our state’s checkbook in a way that earned the approval of an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate.

The Senate passed four bills that addressed our seventy-million-dollar deficit and rebuilt our reserves. Unfortunately, Governor Martinez line-item vetoed parts of the solvency package and left the state with an irresponsible level of reserves which once again jeopardized our credit rating and left the Legislature with an even bigger challenge when addressing the coming year’s budget.

Responsible FY18 Budget that Prevents Cuts to Critical State Services

The Legislature came together to pass a responsible budget and recurring revenue package that prevented further cuts to public education, the various public safety departments, and other critical state services. Once again, the Senate worked in a bipartisan fashion and a majority of Republican Senators voted with their Democratic colleagues to put forth two bills, HB2 and HB202, now on the Governor’s desk, that lay out a practical, long-term spending framework necessary for the success of our state.

Meaningful Tax Reform

A major bipartisan accomplishment of the 2017 session was the passage of the most far-reaching tax reform in 13 years. HB 191, which was amended and improved significantly by the Senate, initiates a comprehensive overhaul of our tax system, closing special interest loopholes, modernizing our complex revenue collection process, and reducing the ‘pyramiding’ of business taxes.  The result of the Senate’s work will make our state tax system more fair and stable in the future.

Creating Jobs & Expanding Economic Opportunity

After addressing the immediate budget crisis facing the state, Democrats in the Legislature made creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities for New Mexico families a priority.

The Legislature passed the most expansive package of broadband legislation in New Mexico history. Broadband expansion has been proven to create jobs and is the number two concern among New Mexico businesses according to an interim Jobs Council report.

Two of those bills have now been signed into law. HB 113, by Representative Jim Smith and Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, will create a statewide broadband network and implement a model proven to increase internet speeds and attract the private providers needed to bring new infrastructure to underserved communities.  The second bill, HB 64 by Representative Jim Trujillo and Senator Jacob Candelaria, would significantly reduce the costs of new broadband network construction through partnerships between local governments and broadband providers.

Another set of bills by Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla are now awaiting signature from the Governor.  SB 53 represents a renovation in our telecommunications framework by lifting regulatory barriers preventing investment while maintaining consumer protections. Senate Bill 308 creates a dedicated broadband fund from the existing and outdated Universal Service Fund to make broadband attainable for all New Mexico families. The now outdated fund was originally created to provide telephone service to rural parts of New Mexico where doing so would come at high costs.

SB 24, a bill that would have that would have streamlined current statutes to facilitate local government investment in broadband infrastructure, was vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez. The bill was passed with only one dissenting vote in either chamber.

The Legislature passed two bills that would have allowed New Mexico to capitalize on the $600 million industrial hemp industry. In particular, SB 6 by Senator Cisco McSorley put forward a narrowly tailored approach to beginning the research and development needed to bring jobs to our manufacturing and agricultural industries.  In the opinion of legal counsel to the legislature, this bill is now law.

With strong bipartisan agreement, the Senate passed a long-overdue pay raise for working people in New Mexico by raising the state minimum wage to $9 per hour from the current $7.50.  Raising the minimum wage is good for our economy.  More than 600 economists have affirmed that increasing the minimum wage will help stimulate the economy and spur job creation, since low-wage workers now will have more earnings to spend. Senator Clemente Sanchez’s SB 386 was supported by both business organizations like the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and labor unions like AFSCME Council 18.

Keeping Our Families Safe  

After a request for emergency funding was rejected by the Governor’s Board of Finance, the courts were left without enough money to fund jury trials and keep their doors open through the end of the fiscal year. This created a constitutional crisis that threatened the public safety of our communities. Had the legislature not acted, juries would have remained unfunded, criminal cases would have been dismissed, and some criminals would have walked free. Despite two vetoes of appropriations that would have kept the courts running, the Legislature ultimately passed a $1.6 million appropriation that adequately funds the courts through the end of the fiscal year.

Senator Joseph Cervantes passed Senate Bill 259 to give courts the ability to order domestic abusers to relinquish all firearms in their possession for the duration of any protective order. If enacted into law, this bill would assure protection for victims of domestic violence and remove the risk of firearms in dangerous family situations.

Expansion of Civil Rights Protections

The Legislature passed SB 121 by Senator Jacob Candelaria and Representative Andres Romero which, if signed, would protect children by prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy by licensed mental health providers with minors under the age of 18.

Senator Candelaria also passed Senate Bill 120 which would allow transgendered New Mexicans to amend their birth certificates to reflect the gender they identify with, without the requirement that they undergo costly gender reassignment surgery, a procedure out of reach for most people.

Overhaul of Campaign Finance System & Ethics Reform

In a historic moment for the Legislature, the bipartisan House Joint Resolution 8, by Representative Jim Dines, Senator Jeff Steinborn, Representative Nathan Small, and Representative Bill McCamley, would create the framework for an Independent Ethics Commission to oversee the ethical conduct of public officials and serve as a forum where questions and dilemmas regarding ethics can be addressed to prevent inadvertent unethical conduct.

The Legislature passed SB 96, a major overhaul of election law sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Representative Jim Smith. It would require greater transparency from large independent donors by requiring public disclosure of as much information about the campaign spending of PACs and other non-candidate campaign participants as can be compelled without crossing the constitutional boundaries established by the courts.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth also passed SB 97, which would create a voluntary public financing system for the Supreme Court, Appeals Court judges, and PRC commissioners. The shift would allow candidates to focus on the issues instead of collecting money from well-connected special interests.

Protecting Access to Healthcare

Senator Papen’s SB 217, if signed into law, will guarantee that behavioral health and other health care providers who stand accused of fraud will receive their due process rights, the opportunity to review the allegations made against them, and the chance to respond in an administrative hearing and in district court.

Senator Steinborn’s SB 354 would require the State to more vigorously negotiate with pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for lower prices, saving taxpayers potentially up to $100 million per year, and freeing up needed resources for public education and other essential services.

If HB 157, sponsored by Representative Debbie Armstrong and Senator Michael Padilla, if signed into law, a key health care goal of firefighters and paramedics across the state will be met by adding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the existing list of diseases, such as cancers, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, already presumed to be proximately caused by employment as a firefighter.

Respecting New Mexico Women

The Legislature has passed the Pregnant Worker Accommodation Act which would ensure that pregnant women in the workplace can continue to do their jobs and support their families by providing access to reasonable accommodations for needs arising out of pregnancy. The legislation, which was sponsored by Representative Gail Chasey and was sponsored on the Senate Floor by Senator Linda Lopez, will allow workers to maintain a healthy pregnancy while still remaining active, productive employees.

New Mexico currently has the nation’s worst rape kit backlog, leaving thousands of New Mexicans waiting for justice. To address this, the Legislature has passed Senator Mimi Stewart’s SB 475 which would put policies in place for rape kits to be sent for processing in a timely manner.

Ensuring Our Students Receive the Highest Caliber of Education

In addition to producing a budget that fulfills the state’s obligation to provide the best education for our students, and the recurring revenue necessary to prevent what would have otherwise been devastating 5-7% cuts, the Legislature also passed several pieces of legislation that would have helped support our students and their families.

Legislators this session have passed SB 462, a capital outlay bill by Senator Carlos Cisneros, that dedicates $46 million to replenish critical funds taken from school districts and charter schools, putting public schools on sounder financial footing.

Already, Governor Martinez has chosen to veto several pieces of legislation that would have improved the quality of education our students receive. For example, SB 64 by Senator Mimi Stewart would have lifted the sunset clause on our Public School Capital Outlay Council’s ability to invest in broadband infrastructure statewide allowing New Mexico to maximize E-rate matching from the federal government so New Mexico schools can provide our students with necessary broadband infrastructure.

Other important education legislation is still awaiting Governor Martinez’s signature. Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton’s HB 125, which was sponsored on the Senate Floor by Senator Howie Morales, passed with bipartisan support would finally develop a system for evaluating our teachers and principals that relies less heavily on students’ scores on controversial standardized tests.  If it is signed into law, HB 125 would convene a council of top educators broadly from across New Mexico to create a new teacher evaluation method that is both fair and effective.

SB 420, Lottery Scholarship Gap Year legislation, was passed with bipartisan support by the Legislature.  Sponsored by Senator Bill Soules, it would allow students to take up to 16 months off before beginning college, and still qualify for the state Lottery Scholarship assistance.  It also extends the scholarship to students who enlist in the military and begin service within 4 months of graduation.

Governor’s Veto of Senate Bill 24 Stands in the Way of Job Creation & Broadband Development

Broadband State

Governor’s Veto of Senate Bill 24 Stands in the Way of Job Creation & Broadband Development

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Governor Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 24 a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Michael Padilla and Representative Jim Smith that would have streamlined current statutes to facilitate local government investment in broadband infrastructure. Once again, the Governor’s veto message contained no explanation as to why she chose to stand in the way of the state’s progress.

“Governor Martinez’s veto will prevent local governments from being able to provide broadband for their communities,” said Senator Padilla.  “After hearing the news that New Mexico has the highest unemployment in the nation, it’s hard to imagine why Governor Martinez would stand in the way of our cities and counties efforts to bring high-speed internet that would attract needed jobs and support local small businesses.”

Currently, New Mexico internet connection speed ranks 48th in the nation and is similar to the average connection speed of Iraq and Molodova. According to Federal Communication Commission study, even a 7% increase in broadband adoption could create an estimated 15,000 jobs to New Mexico.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 37-1 and passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives.

Senator Padilla Lands Bill to Expand Broadband & Help Attract Jobs on Governor’s Desk

Today the House of Representatives unanimously passed Senate Bill 308 by Senator Michael Padilla which would reform the Universal Service Fund to help facilitate the development of broadband infrastructure and the expansion of high-speed internet across underserved New Mexican communities.
Senate Bill 308 creates a dedicated broadband fund from the existing Universal Service Fund to make broadband attainable for all New Mexico families.  The Universal Service Fund was originally created to provide telephone service to rural parts of New Mexico where doing so would come at high costs.
The legislation would set aside 60% of the state’s current Universal Service Fund and dedicate it to a broadband fund for rural New Mexico. The legislation also creates a more predictable revenue stream for the fund by changing the surcharge mechanism from a percentage-base to a flat fee.
“New Mexico families and the businesses they depend on can no longer make do without access to high-speed internet,” said Senator Michael Padilla. “Senate Bill 308 reflects the understanding of all stakeholders that the Universal Service Fund can and must adapt to the changing telecommunications needs of communities across New Mexico.”
During the interim, Senator Padilla chaired a meeting of the Science, Technology, and Telecommunications Committee focused on expanding broadband in New Mexico. At the hearing, Senator Padilla heard from stakeholders about the need to find innovative ways to deliver connectivity to all New Mexicans including the 68% of New Mexicans living in rural and tribal communities that currently lack access to broadband.
The legislation has the support of all members of the New Mexico Exchange Carrier Group, the unanimous support of the Public Regulation Commission, and all of New Mexico’s broadband providers.

Lower drug prices would help N.M. taxpayers

Lower drug prices would help N.M. taxpayers

March 13, 2017

By Senator Jeff Steinborn

As New Mexico struggles to cope with declining tax revenues and cuts to classrooms and health care, it is imperative for legislators to find new ways improve the state’s bottom line. That is why it is time to enact innovative policies to rein in the soaring cost of prescription drugs. It places a growing burden on our state budget each passing year.

With its enormous buying power, New Mexico should be more vigorously negotiating pharmaceutical drug prices to lower taxpayers’ expense, and to free up resources for cash-strapped public education and other essential services. Senate Bill 354, creating an Interagency Pharmaceutical Purchasing Council, will make it happen.

The bill, if implemented, could save New Mexico up to $100 million per year in prescription drug costs, according to Dr. Martin Hickey, CEO of New Mexico Health Connections, the state’s largest nonprofit health plan.

The state, along with publicly funded health care institutions and retiree health plans, is a major purchaser of prescription drugs. Together they spent more than $670 million on prescription drugs in 2016, a staggering 54 percent increase from just two years prior. Spending on prescription drugs now accounts for a large — and the fastest-growing — part of our state’s health care budget. It could grow to a crippling portion in a few years if we do not act.

My bill would require we leverage the combined purchasing power of taxpayer-funded health agencies in New Mexico, including Medicaid, the departments of Health, Human Services, Corrections, retired state government workers’ benefits, University of New Mexico Hospital and other public health organizations to drive hard bargains with pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for lower drug prices.

Using state buying power and bulk purchasing to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs works. Some states are using this strategy on their own to save millions for their budgets. Other states have joined together in multistate cooperatives to create even larger purchasing pools and larger savings. It is long overdue for New Mexico to take a hard look at these successful strategies.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs negotiates for its drug purchases. It pays 40 percent to 50 percent less on average for the same drugs purchased by Medicare, for example. Bulk purchasing of critical pharmaceuticals in the form of vaccines for children is used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It extracts steep discounts from manufacturers and distributes the vaccines at no cost.

The pharmaceutical industry opposes state government price negotiation, because it hits its profits. We have seen the price-gouging practices of some manufacturers, as in the case of EpiPen injections devices. The industry makes billions in profits. The industry is the nation’s most profitable, in fact, with margins several times the average Fortune 500 companies. To address this unfair economic equation, the state must begin to bargain in earnest directly with the manufacturers, using its size and market share to get the best possible price from manufacturers on the prescription drugs it purchases.

Prescription drugs are valuable tools for health care and in protection and treatment of disease in our state. Spiraling costs and spending on pharmaceuticals is crowding out other key priorities in the state budget. We need new and effective approaches to get dramatically lower prices now. It can be done. That is exactly what will happen if we enact SB 354.

The bipartisan Senate passed this bill unanimously. We urge the House of Representatives to do the same, and the governor to sign it into law.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Democrat, represents Las Cruces, District 36.

[This piece was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican at http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/reader-view-lower-drug-prices-would-help-n-m-taxpayers/article_8b099c23-418e-5fc2-b8a9-b3ff38137ca3.html]

Yet Again, Governor Martinez Vetoes Job-Creating Hemp Bill Without Explanation

Today, without explanation, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 6, legislation which would have created jobs and capitalized on the $600 million industrial hemp industry. The bill was narrowly tailored by the bill’s sponsor Senator Cisco McSorley to address concerns expressed when Governor Martinez vetoed similar legislation in the 2015 session.

“After leading our state into a jobs crisis, Governor Martinez has again shown a disregard hardworking for New Mexicans struggling to find a job and provide for their families,” said Senator McSorley.  “Now because of Governor Martinez, our state’s farmers and rural communities will continue to fall behind as producers across the nation move quickly to capitalize on this versatile crop. She owes unemployed New Mexicans an explanation for her years of mismanagement and she owes the public an explanation as to why she continues to reject this common sense job creation measure.”
The legislation passed overwhelmingly in both chambers by a vote of 37-2 in the Senate and 58-8 in the House of Representatives.  Senate Bill 6 was supported by New Mexico Farm & Ranch, New Mexico Cattle Growers, the Farm Bureau, and was constructed by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, New Mexico State University, and the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service.

Senate Passes Fiscally Responsible Budget & Revenue Package

Together Would Prevent Dangerous Cuts to Public Education & Protect State’s Bond Rating

Santa Fe, NM – The Senate today passed the 2018 Fiscal Year 2018 budget and a package of new recurring revenue needed to prevent further cuts to critical state services like public education while leaving our state with a responsible level of reserves.
The revenue package in HB202 will generate an additional $363 million in recurring revenue in Fiscal Year 2018. The funds fill the projected shortfall of $120 to $125 million and generate 3.1% of cash reserves in FY18 and 5.7% in FY19. Maintaining a healthy level of reserves is critical to obtaining a favorable bond rating – any reduction of this amount could result in a further downgrade to the state’s credit score.
The budget passed by the Senate includes nearly $5 million dollars more in funding for public education through the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) distribution than what was previously passed by the House of Representatives. In addition to the added infusion to the SEG, the budget includes a $15 million increase in funding for early reading initiatives, interventions for struggling schools, and funding for the potential lawsuit on the sufficiency of public education. The total $2.69 billion appropriated for public education accounts for an increase of $13.3 million compared with the final appropriation in Fiscal Year 2017.
“This budget and revenue package reflects the desire of the legislature to produce a plan that supports New Mexico families and makes practical long-term spending decisions necessary for the success of our state,” said Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith. “By raising new recurring revenue, we were able to prevent dramatic cuts and strengthen our support for critical state services like public education all while leaving an appropriate level of reserves necessary to reassure bond companies that we have financial stability needed to protect our credit rating.”
Both House Bill 2 and House Bill 202 return to the House of Representatives for Concurrence.

Governor Continues to Show Contempt for Education Professionals Through Vetoes

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 200 by Senator John Sapien which would have encouraged licensed school professionals, such as counselors and school administrators, to improve their professional practice to better meet the needs of New Mexico. Had this legislation been signed, all licensed school professionals would have been eligible for a one-time salary increase for completing certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“Earlier this week Governor Martinez used her veto pen to show her contempt for New Mexico teachers and today she used it to show her disrespect for other education professionals who are striving to improve their skill set and better serve New Mexico students and their families,” said Senator Sapien. “The Governor should understand that it takes an entire team of education professionals to meet the needs of the New Mexico students but this veto shows her lack of comprehension about what goes on in and out of our classrooms.”

Senate Bill 200 passed unanimously through the New Mexico Senate and by a vote of 68-1 in the House of Representatives. This is the second veto regarding education that passed the legislature nearly unanimously. Earlier this week, Governor Martinez vetoed the “Teachers are Human Too” bill a move that was criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Two Bills to Expand Broadband Access Signed Into Law

Santa Fe, NM – Today, Governor Martinez signed two bills to encourage business development by expanding broadband access to underserved communities across New Mexico.

House Bill 60 by Representative Carl Trujillo and Senator Jacob Candelaria will spur broadband development across the state and significantly reduce the costs of new broadband network construction through partnerships between local governments and broadband providers.

“This legislation will have an immense impact towards the goal of ensuring every New Mexican family and business has access to high-speed internet no matter their zip code,” said Senator Jacob Candelaria. “Now local governments will be able to work hand in hand with broadband providers to ensure communities have the connectivity they need to attract new businesses and spur economic development.”

House Bill 113 by Representative Jim Smith and Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto will create a statewide broadband network and make it more attractive for providers to invest in broadband infrastructure by combining demand for internet access among public and education institutions.

“Access to broadband is vital to the success of New Mexico businesses and to the growth of every industry across the state,” said Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto. “New Mexico will soon see the increased speeds and expanded access that other states across the region who have adopted this model have seen.”

“Investing in our state’s broadband infrastructure is an important step toward ensuring our state’s economic recovery,” said Representative Jim Smith. “Taking these simple steps will help attract investment to underserved communities.”

Expanding access to high-speed internet has been a priority for Senate Democrats this session.

Narrowly Tailored Industrial Hemp Research & Development Makes Its Way to Governor

This morning, the Senate unanimously concurred with amendments made to Senator Cisco McSorley’s Senate Bill 6 by the House of Representatives.  The legislation, which now goes to Governor Martinez for her signature, allows for research and development of industrial hemp in New Mexico. The legislation was carefully drafted to address previous issues brought up by Governor Martinez in her veto message of SB 94 passed by Senator McSorley during the 2015 legislative session and mirrors language in federal law to ensure no conflict.
“The bill we see today is the result of years of work and addresses concerns raised by Governor Martinez when she vetoed previous hemp legislation,” said Senator McSorley. “We can’t wait any longer to begin the research and development of this potential cash crop for our state that will help our agriculture and manufacturing industries bounce back.”
To date, 32 other states have begun operating under provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill which allows licensees of universities and the state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp.
The bill is supported by New Mexico Farm & Ranch, New Mexico Cattle Growers, the Farm Bureau, and was constructed by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, New Mexico State University, and the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service.

Senate Passes Bill to Protect New Mexico Families from Gun Violence

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Senate Passes Bill to Protect New Mexico Families from Gun Violence

Santa Fe, NM – Today, the Senate passed Senate Bill 259 sponsored by Senator Joseph Cervantes to assure protection for victims of domestic violence and risks of firearms in dangerous family situations.

The legislation would allow a judge to make a determination as to whether or not the subject of a protective order, who presents a credible threat of domestic or family violence, should possess firearms. If the judge determines the possession of a firearm could cause an elevated danger, the judge would prohibit the offender from possessing a firearm while the protective order is in place.

“Senate Bill 259 gives judges an important tool to protect the victims of domestic abuse, and reduce risks of gun violence that cause too many tragedies across New Mexico,” said Senator Cervantes. “A cooling off period, where a judge can assure there is not a gun in the mix, will undoubtedly help save lives.”

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health detailing factors that lead to the homicide of women, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of a woman being murdered by 500 percent.  Senate Bill 259 passed by a vote of 25 to 15 and now continues to the House of Representatives.