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State group puts police reform, rural jobs on priority list

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Municipal League outlines goals for legislative session

Law enforcement reform and some new economic development initiatives are among the 13 legislative priorities that the New Mexico Municipal League has identified for the 2021 legislative session, due to begin Jan. 19 and planned as a largely online and remote session.

The group’s goals were discussed during the Friday annual meeting of the board of directors of the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District/Council of Governments, which was held online and by phone.

Not all of the 13 actions pertain to specific bills. Some are ideas are about working groups to advocate for future legislative changes or efforts to improve communication with state departments.

The priorities also were approved by New Mexico Counties, the association representing the state’s 33 county governments, said Judy Stubbs, the governmental representative for the city of Roswell to the regional economic development district and also the treasurer of the New Mexico Municipal League.

“We have more resolutions than we typically do, but, of course, this is going to be a 60-day session,” Stubbs said.

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She added that the New Mexico Municipal League originally decided on its resolutions in the fall and that priorities could change in the days ahead.

Some of the proposals new this year include recommending the formation of a law enforcement reform committee; suggesting changes to the state Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) to allow footage from law enforcement’s body cameras to be redacted or withheld in certain instances for privacy considerations; seeking revenue “safety nets” for local governments, given the economic impact of COVID-19; and supporting the creation of business grants for low-income, small rural communities.

Taxation and Revenue

• Tax Policy Advisory Committee. Members of the league and New Mexico Counties will continue to work together on comprehensive state tax reform.

• Improved Relationship with the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department. Members of the league want to work with the state department to ensure more consistent information from TRD regarding tax collection and distribution.

• Hold Harmless Distribution. Members of the league want the state to continue its “hold harmless” gross receipts tax distribution to municipalities and counties. The Hold Harmless tax was put into place in 2004 to cover some of the lost revenues when the state law changed to prohibit taxing of food and some medical services. But in 2015, the state began a 15-year phase out of the Hold Harmless tax. The league wants the Hold Harmless distribution to continue.

• Revenue Replacement Safety Net. Given the revenue decline many local governments have experienced due to COVID-19, the league is asking the Legislature to provide “safety net” revenue replacement for counties and municipalities.

Public Safety

• Mental Health Interventions and Resources. Having been discussed in prior years, this proposal is to provide funding for mental health professionals to work with law enforcement to help in situations where the first responders encounter people with significant mental health issues. The league also suggests requiring the formation of regional crisis intervention teams to work with the public.

• Public School Safety. Members of the league are recommending that retired police officers be allowed to return to work as school safety officers and keep their retirement benefits, that more funding be allocated for security technology at schools, that increased penalties be established to punish school shooting threats, that new anti-bullying legislation be developed and that legislation be passed to provide active shooter training.

• Fire Protection Fund. League members are seeking assurances that money intended to go to the fund be retained by the fund and used only for its intended purposes. The money goes to local fire departments to aid in their fire prevention and fire-fighting efforts.

• Law Enforcement Reform Committee. The league indicates that many reform bills are likely to be introduced and recommends instead that the governor first appoint law enforcement administrators and other community stakeholders to a committee that would develop goals for reform.

Community and Economic Development

• Library funding. The league supports legislation that would increase the state grants-in-aid to public libraries. According to the league’s resolution, the state per-capita average grant funding is 57 cents, while the national per-capita average is $3.55.

• Rural economic development. Although the league did not originally consider this resolution to be a high priority, according to Stubbs, it eventually decided to support the Rural Job Incentive Creation Program that would be run by the New Mexico Economic Development Department. The program would provide business expansion grants to create jobs in rural communities with populations of 15,000 or less and with annual household median income of 85% or less of the state’s household median income.

• Temporary Expansion of Local Economic Development Act Tax Use. The league recommends changing part of the Local Economic Development Act to allow local governments in communities with populations of 35,001 to 199,999 that have implemented a local LEDA tax to use up to 25% of the funds to support new retail businesses in certain circumstances. The current legislation limits the use of such funds for retail businesses to communities with 35,000 or fewer residents. The recommendation is that the expanded use would expire June 30, 2030.

Conservation

Water Conservation Fee. The state implemented the Water Conservation Fee Act on public water systems in 1993 to fund the New Mexico Environment Department in its collections and analyses of water samples as required by federal law and its development of vulnerability assessments for contaminants. The department also has a new requirement to train public water supply operations to comply with certification requirements. The league is supporting the state department’s request for legislation that would increase funding for public water system monitoring, would ensure that public water systems pay the fees as required, and would allow the department to waive its monitoring and assessment efforts for public water entities that do not pay the fees.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.