A month after a lively legislative session ended, two local lawmakers shared their thoughts about the recent legislative session Wednesday at the April meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women.
The 60-day legislative session was the first time in eight years Democrats were in full control of state government. In all, about 310 bills passed both chambers of the Legislature, most of which was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, whose Senate district includes Chaves, Eddy and Otero counties, said some of the battles during the session were between Democrats and Republicans or between the House and the Senate.
The biggest division though that played out on the floors of each legislative session were between lawmakers from urban areas and against those from New Mexico’s more rural parts.
An issue that brought that fight to the forefront was the debate over Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). The law, which passed both legislative chambers and was signed into law by Lujan Grisham, requires federal background checks be conducted for most gun sales in New Mexico, including private gun sales.
The law that is set to go into effect July 1 has generated opposition from the majority of the state’s 33 county sheriffs, many gun owners and Republican legislators who say it will do little to deter crime and only infringe upon the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.
In all, 27 of the state’s 33 counties — including Chaves County and the city of Roswell — voiced their displeasure with the law by passing resolutions and ordinances stating opposition to any law that conflicts with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and that they will not authorize resources to enforce such laws.
Pirtle told the audience Wednesday that he applauded Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington, the Chaves County Board of Commissioners and members of the Roswell City Council for speaking out against the law. He said their vocal opposition made it easy for himself and other legislators to be against the bill.
“It made it super easy to stand up, make the points about why it was bad legislation and why we needed to defeat it,” he said.
Pirtle said throughout the session he spoke out against state legislation that dictates what communities throughout the state should be doing. He said the state government should not be making decisions that are handled best by municipal and county governments.
A bill to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage and another that nullifies local right-to-work ordinances and resolutions were two examples of issues taken up that are best handled at the local level.
“This is what our country was founded on, that a local jurisdiction has the most control over the constituents that they represent,” he said.
Many of the bills, Pirtle said, were attempts to impose a statewide solution on what he called “an Albuquerque problem.”
One such example of a bill that did that but was defeated would have required a private property owner to give 14 days notice before they tow away a vehicle that was abandoned on their property. The bill was ultimately defeated.
“That’s an Albuquerque problem. Why are we looking for a statewide solution? Why are we going to take your private property rights and say you don’t have the right to private property?” he asked.
One of the few clear victories for conservatives during the session was when the Senate voted down a bill that would have repealed a 50-year-old state law outlawing abortion in New Mexico.
House Bill 51 (HB 51) would have repealed the statute enacted in 1969 that outlaws abortion in New Mexico. The law has not been enforced since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion was protected under the right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution.
Abortion rights advocates however, worry the statute could again be enforced if the Supreme Court overturns Roe V. Wade.
Ultimately, a handful of more conservative Democrats joined with Republicans in the Senate to block passage of the bill.
“That is one of those times when you are sitting on the Senate floor and you are really, really, really proud of your colleagues,” Pirtle said.
He said the conservative Democrats that helped block HB 51 are the people that conservative Republicans need to support.
“It’s going to be a Democrat in that seat, we need a good conservative Democrat that will stand up for property rights, for business and for life,” Pirtle said.
It is important going forward for Republicans to build partnerships across the aisle who can help stop what he called bad legislation and support good legislation.
One bill that Pirtle said passed that he was against was a bill that would award the state’s five electoral votes to the presidential and vice presidential candidates who receive the most nationwide or popular votes in a presidential election. The measure would only take place when states with a combined 270 electoral votes adopt similar legislation.
Pirtle said he believes the legislation is unconstitutional and would diminish the political power of rural states and areas in presidential elections.
Last November, Phelps Anderson, a Republican from Roswell, was elected to represent House District 66 in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The district includes parts of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties. Anderson had served in the New Mexico House from 1977 to 1981. As he had during his first two terms in the House, this year Anderson served on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
He said that the state budgets are now about 10 times bigger than they were the last time he was in office.
“We used to argue about tens of thousands of dollars, and now we’re more focused on millions,” Anderson told the audience.
Unlike many other recent sessions, the state is experiencing a record $1.1 billion surplus. As a result, the coming fiscal year that starts in June will see a budget of $7.1 billion.
He said included in that spending is $933 million in capital outlay projects in legislative districts. Chaves County will receive $9.9 million of that money in the coming fiscal year for local infrastructure projects.
Unlike some other legislative years when capital outlay is paid for through bonds, this year the Legislature paid for it through the state’s general fund, Anderson said. He said that is one of the biggest accomplishments this session and that it will leave the state in better longterm fiscal health.
Anderson also defended the way capital outlay funds are allocated to each lawmaker. He said what projects get funded are decided with local input and the system that is in place allows lawmakers from outside major populated areas to get funds.
Southeastern New Mexico sends a great deal of tax money to Santa Fe, but he said that part of the state often has a difficult time getting that money back from the state for local needs.
Despite the budget surplus, the Legislature passed and Lujan Grisham signed a bill that will increase several taxes throughout New Mexico. The state includes, among other things, an increase in vehicle excise tax rates.
Anderson said that in a session when the state has a surplus of revenue and a $7.1 billion budget, it does not make sense to raise taxes.
“Now you lay that logic out and some people just look at you like you are talking to a telephone pole,” he said.
Anderson added that he sees two challenges that were not addressed this session that could have longterm implications for the state.
The first is the state’s film tax credit. He said the tax credit meant to encourage filmmaking in the state of New Mexico only benefits Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The benefits, he said, are not seen throughout much of the rest of the state.
“I think in the state of New Mexico where we have a required balanced budget, this is a credit card that is out there and you need to pay attention to it,” Anderson said.
The second pressing matter he said is the state’s underfunded pensions for teachers and state employees. New Mexico is going to have to make some decisions going forward about those pensions, he said.
“Good decisions today are going to fix it,” Anderson said.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.