Governor praises lawmakers for work on health care, cites unfinished business on crime

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham laughs with Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, left, and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales at a news conference Saturday after lawmakers wrap up the 60-day legislative session. The governor said she has no immediate plans to return lawmakers to a special legislative session in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham didn’t get all she wanted in the 60-day legislative session this year.

But, in winning re-election for a second term, the Democratic governor said she was able to win approval from lawmakers for most of her major initiatives — with a few exceptions.

Shortly after lawmakers adjourned at noon Saturday, Lujan Grisham said she did not foresee lawmakers returning to the Roundhouse for a special session.

She also said New Mexico will be a national “beacon” as other states pass restrictions on abortion drugs and sex care, praising lawmakers for passing several bills on health care access and abortion protections.

“If you’re looking for bright times for this Legislature, look no further than the work they’re doing on health care,” the governor said, citing the creation of a new state health care authority, prescription drug changes and approval of rural hospital funding. .

Lujan Grisham praised lawmakers for passing a law that would provide free school meals for all K-12 public school students and forging a bipartisan deal to resolve the fight over the state’s medical malpractice laws, at least for now.

She was directly involved in the negotiations, said Senate Minority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who once made a phone call to insurance industry officials. This soon led to a contract.

However, Lujan Grisham has been less effective in impressing lawmakers on crime-related issues.

He said only a quarter of bills related to public safety had been passed by lawmakers, and he pledged to continue policy changes aimed at making it easier for defendants charged with some violent crimes to stand trial.

Proposals to reform the state’s pretrial detention laws have stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature in each of the last two regular sessions, amid concerns that such changes could be ineffective in reducing the legality and violent crime rate.

“I know you want me to say I’m disappointed, but I’m motivated,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference at the state Capitol. I’m motivated to find more ways to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our communities and states safe.

“I think we each set out for that, but we came at it a little differently,” she added.

House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, defended lawmakers’ handling of crime because the $9.6 billion budget bill includes $100 million in funding for law enforcement officers and $10 million for outstanding warrants and other provisions.

“I think we’ve done very well in terms of public safety,” Martinez told reporters at a separate news conference.

“I’m telling you, that’s not a silver bullet,” he said, adding that changes to the state’s pretrial detention laws will not solve the state’s high rate of violent crime.

The session was marked by cabinet-level unrest.

It hasn’t been an entirely smooth legislative journey for Lujan Grisham, with three cabinet secretaries resigning during the session, including the heads of the state Department of Public Instruction and Department of Human Services.

Additionally, confirmation hearings were not held on two of the governor’s nominees — Indian Affairs Secretary nominee James Mountain and Cultural Affairs Secretary nominee Debra Garcia Griego — both of whom faced widespread opposition.

The governor’s office has not formally referred Mount’s nomination to the Senate Rules Committee because of the uproar over his last sexual assault conviction.

But Lujan Grisham has stood by both nominees, with a spokesman saying this month that the governor has “full confidence” in both nominees.

Meanwhile, some legislative initiatives the governor has opposed — such as creating an office of child advocate to help oversee the Department of Children, Youth and Families — failed to pass this session, even after bipartisan support among lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said the Legislature must more diligently assert its independence from the governor’s influence.

“In my opinion, there should be a healthy tension between the legislature and the executive,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that’s missing in this building.”

He said abortion legislation sought by Democrats this year was unnecessary because abortion is legal in New Mexico.

“It’s just putting party politics where we don’t want it,” he said.

There are no special sessions on the horizon

In the year Since taking office in 2019, Lujan Grisham has called at least one special meeting every year except her first year as governor.

She urged lawmakers to wait for public pressure on the issue after an election cycle in which crime played a major role, but noted that a special session on crime bills would not be in effect.

“I try not to use special sessions as a tool to force issues where we don’t have good cooperation,” Lujan Grisham said.

But she said she would have called a special session on medical malpractice if lawmakers hadn’t been able to negotiate a late deal.

Looking ahead, Lujan Grisham said she will continue to advocate for more gun-related laws, specifically to approve gun purchase waiting periods and raise the minimum purchase age for certain types of guns from 18 to 21.

“New Mexicans know that as long as I am governor, I will continue to work to reduce gun violence and violence in particular,” he said.

She indicated that she would not give up on attempts to change the state’s pretrial detention laws, which allow defendants awaiting trial and those charged later to be arrested for other crimes.

Lujan Grisham joked that she might push for a constitutional amendment that would allow her to run for a third consecutive term as governor, saying, “Everybody knows I’m going to introduce this again – and again – and again.”

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