Opinion: Legislative leaders make progress toward moving NM forward
This year’s legislative session broke public participation records, with more than 19,000 New Mexicans using technology to offer testimony and comment during the process.
Many of those commenters were from right here in San Juan County, and we reminded the lawmakers to focus on what is most important right now: helping us get back our feet.
That’s exactly what they did.
After a devastating year, New Mexicans desperately needed our state government to deliver relief. During the 2021 legislative session the governor worked with legislators to pass a long list of important bills, all of which will help us recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
First, the Legislature allocated $200 million to go directly to small and medium-sized businesses to help them recover. That money is being given out in grant form — it does not have to be paid back — and can be used for things like rent, utilities and other expenses. Then, they expanded the Small Business Recovery Act, which will make it easier for small businesses to access $460 million in low-risk recovery loans.
Everybody knows that restaurants have had to deal with an ever-shifting landscape over the past year. The Legislature approved a measure that will give restaurants and food-service businesses a four-month tax holiday. That will leave a little extra money in the pockets of those businesses that they can use for payroll, improvements, or other normal expenses.
But state leaders didn’t stop there. They helped our struggling restaurant and hospitality businesses by opening up new revenue streams, including the delivery of alcohol and additional tastings. The bill also creates a new license for restaurants that allows them to serve spirits in addition to wine and beer, and provides tax relief to protect the investments of existing liquor license holders. Our lawmakers remained focused on giving restaurants every possible tool to help them get back on their feet.
The Legislature also recognized that our kids need support after almost a year of learning from home. They passed a constitutional amendment that — if approved by voters — will free up more annual funding for public schools. This additional funding for schools is so important; it’ll be used to hire more classroom teachers and assistants and fund programs designed to give kids the learning opportunities they need.
Lawmakers also passed a bill that reverses nearly five decades of inequity by restoring tens of millions in federal funding to New Mexico’s tribal and historically underserved schools. That means more resources for school districts like CCSD.
When the legislative session ended without successful passage of a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, the governor called the legislators back for two extra days of work. After long sessions of careful deliberation, they managed to get a legalization bill over the finish line. The Cannabis Regulation Act establishes a responsible, tightly-regulated system for the use, production, and sale of cannabis and cannabis products for adults 21 years and older. This will create an entire new industry in the state and we will benefit from the jobs and tax revenue that will accompany it.
Just as important: a companion bill was passed which will expunge criminal records for acts no longer illegal under the new Cannabis Regulation Act. This will support reentry into employment for those with non-violent criminal records.
Each of these bills represents a critical investment in New Mexico’s schools, families, and economy, and none of them would have been possible without the leadership of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and talented legislators like Rep. Anthony Allison and Sen. Shannon Pinto. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that our state leaders are going to put New Mexicans first every step of the way.
Eli Pavlik is the chairman of the Democratic Party of San Juan County.