Legislature delivers virus aid, civil rights; falters on pot

As New Mexico's annual legislative session came to a close Saturday, lawmakers outlined an economic way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and tested progressive priorities on police reform, abortion rights, medicare in death, and child poverty.

In the final hours of the 60-day session, lawmakers increased state tax breaks for working families - the finishing touch to a broad package of economic assistance measures.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham eagerly signed bills that provide grants and minimum interest loans for small businesses, $ 600 tax rebates for low-income workers, and a four-month tax break for the food industry.

It will decide in the coming weeks whether to pass the provisions of the $ 7.45 billion budget request, which increases spending by nearly 5% in the fiscal year starting July 1, with a 1.5% pay hit for state and public school employees.

On the House floor Saturday morning, a Democratic majority speaker broadcast music through a chamber sound system, dedicating" We are the Champions " to Republican Rep. Randall Pettigrew, Lee County. The Capitol remained closed to the public throughout the session as a precaution against the pandemic, with the Capitol grounds and surrounding streets closed to fencing, police, and troops.

Lawmakers have passed a review of the state's liquor laws in an effort to rejuvenate the tourism and hospitality industries that shut down during the pandemic under aggressive public health orders. The new law overcame resistance from current liquor license holders to make it easier for restaurants to serve mixed drinks and allow home delivery of alcohol.

At the same time, Godin's push to legalize recreational cannabis has faltered amid divergent views among advocates. The governor supports legalization to create jobs - and may call lawmakers to a special meeting on the issue.

The legislature responded to last year's nationwide protests over police brutality with approval of a bill that would have granted police immunity from prosecution and allowed civil rights lawsuits in state court on everything from racial discrimination to illegal search and seizure and violations of free speech.

With the support of Native American and black activists, lawmakers approved a bill that prohibits discrimination based on hair in the workplace and in schools.

But the bills fell flat, which challenged police procedures for use of force, choking and misconduct reviews.

A budget bill from the Legislature directs huge new financial resources to public education as schools across the state prepare to return to in-person learning in early April after a year of online research.

Lawmakers are asking the governor to approve a 5.8% increase in the fund's total spending on public schools in the next fiscal year, totaling $3.35 billion.

Lawmakers also lined up to vote on the state constitution on a constitutional amendment that would use an additional $ 250 million a year from the state's multibillion-dollar trust fund.

Bipartisan efforts to combat the governor's health pandemic and school restrictions fizzled as COVID-19 infections eased and schools were allowed to reopen.

The session highlighted a shift in attitudes toward abortion in the heavily Roman Catholic state, as Democrats made good on campaign promises to overturn the state's dormant 1969 ban on most abortion procedures - providing access to abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision.

In another policy change at sea, a bill to ban the use of traps, traps, and poisons on public lands received final approval by the House of Representatives by a one-vote margin.

Republican Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena said the ban underscores the widening urban and rural political divide.

"This will have devastating consequences for the people in my community who make a living doing this," Armstrong said.

Environmentalists hailed the approval of a bill allowing local governments to impose strict air quality standards - and blasted democratic legislative leaders for siding with the proposed environmental rights bill.

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