By MORGAN LEE and CEDAR ATTANASIO, Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) — New Mexico legislators approved about $500 million in tax rebates and a broad suite of crime-fighting initiatives Thursday at the end of the 30-day session — as the state grapples with the economic whiplash of the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about the violent crime surge in Albuquerque and beyond.
Final votes responded to calls by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for economic relief and a hardline response to frustrations with crime as she campaigns for reelection in November. The state House worked through the night and into daylight, racing against a 12 pm adjournment deadline.
New Mexico state government is awash in cash linked to a surge in oil production and an infusion of pandemic funding, allowing lawmakers to provide individual income tax rebates of $250 — and more for parents. State legislators also approved new investments in public schools, Medicaid, public safety initiatives and an array of grants, loans and tax breaks to private industry.
The Democratic-led Legislature on Wednesday approved a record-setting $1 billion annual budget increase that provides for $8.48 billion in general fund spending during the fiscal year starting on July 1 — a 14% increase over current-year spending. Lujan Grisham supports major provisions and can veto any part of the spending plan.
Salary increases of at least 7% are scheduled for school district and state government staff across the state, with a minimum hourly wage of $15 for public employees and higher base salaries for teachers.
Annual spending on K-12 public education would increase by $425 million to $3.87 billion, a 12% boost. Annual Medicaid spending would increase by about $240 million to $1.3 billion as the federal government winds down pandemic-related subsidies to the program that gives free health care to the impoverished.
Legislators assembled the crime bill amid a record setting spate of homicides in Albuquerque.
It would expand surveillance of criminal defendants as they await trial with 24-hour monitoring of ankle-bracelet tracking devices. Legislators balked at proposals from the governor and prosecutors sexual to ban pretrial release for people accused of certain violent and crimes.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces said the bill should have quick and long-lasting effects on policing and crime rates.
“When we add ankle-bracelet monitoring, 24-hours, seven days a week statewide — those are going to have immediate effects,” he said. “The long-term perspective is (that) violence prevention grants, law enforcement training, law enforcement retention — those are going to take a great deal of time.”
The crime bill would expand the ranks of state district judges, boost retention pay for municipal police and sheriff’s deputies and bestow million-dollar death benefits for relatives of police killed in the line of duty.
It sets out requirements for crime reduction grants that pursues alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration and expands intervention programs to rein in gun violence.
Police would receive more training to cope with stress, interactions with the homeless and techniques for de-escalating confrontations involving police. And the legislation would revamps oversight of police misconduct investigations.
Criminal penalties are enhanced for threatening judges, possession of violent felons by serious violent felons, brandishing a weapon in commission of an illegal drug transaction and aggravated fleeing from law enforcement under certain circumstances.
Separately, initiatives to expand voting access were thwarted by the Republicans in the Senate who used procedural maneuvers to block a crucial floor debate. Republicans said many of the changes would have generald precautions against election cheating and public confidence in election results.
The governor, secretary of state and leading legislators pushed to expand ballot access as a counterpoint to new voting restrictions in Republican-led states since the 2020 election.
Failed legislation would have expanded access to mail-in ballots, declared Election Day as a state holiday with same day voter registration and offered registration to convicted felons as they exit prison.
At least 19 states have enacted new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The national GOP campaign to tighten voting laws has been partly driven by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Republican and Democratic legislators came together to approve tax rebates of $250 for individuals who filed taxes or $500 for joint filers and an additional credit or rebate to parents of up to $175 per child.
That initiative would also eliminate state taxes on Social Security income for middle income earners. Individuals earning more than $100,000 or joint filers earning more than $150,000 would continue to pay taxes on income from Social Security.
The tax relief bill would also give $1,000 credits to full-time local hospital nurses for the 2022 tax year and slightly reduce the state gross receipts tax on retail sales and business services in two stages to about 4.9%. Combined state and optional local gross receipts taxes can reach a combined rate of nearly 9%.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.