Governor praises lawmakers’ work on health issues, cites unfinished crime cases

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham laughs alongside Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, left, and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales during a press conference Saturday after lawmakers wrap up a legislative session of 60 days. The governor said she has no immediate plans to bring lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special legislative session. (Eddie Moore/Diary)

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham didn’t get everything she wanted during this year’s 60-day legislative session.

But, freshly re-elected to a second term, the Democratic governor said she was able to work with lawmakers to secure approval – with few exceptions – for most of her top priorities.

Shortly after lawmakers wrapped up their work at noon on Saturday, Lujan Grisham said she had no plans to bring lawmakers back to the Roundhouse for a special session.

She also praised lawmakers for approving a slew of bills dealing with health care access and abortion protections, saying New Mexico would be a national “beacon” as d Other states are enacting restrictions on abortion drugs and gender-affirming care.

“If you’re looking for a shining moment for this legislature, look no further than their work on health care,” the governor said, citing the creation of a new state health authority, drug changes prescription and approval of a fund for rural hospitals. .

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Lujan Grisham also praised lawmakers for approving legislation providing free school meals for all K-12 public school students and for crafting a bipartisan compromise to resolve — at least for now — a fight against state medical malpractice laws.

She was directly involved in the negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said in a proposed phone call to insurance industry officials. This led to a deal being struck soon after.

However, Lujan Grisham has been less enthusiastic in his praise for lawmakers on crime issues.

She said only about a quarter of total public safety bills had been approved by lawmakers and pledged to continue to push for policy changes to make it easier for defendants to stay in jail. accused of certain violent crimes while awaiting trial.

Proposals to revise the state’s pretrial detention laws have stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature in each of the past two regular sessions, due to concerns about the legality of such a change and whether it would even be effective in reducing violent crime rates.

“I know you want me to say I’m disappointed, but I’m motivated,” Lujan Grisham said at a press conference at the state Capitol. “I’m very motivated to find additional ways to make sure we’re really doing everything we can to make our communities and our state safer.”

“I think each of us is dedicated to this, but we come at it a little differently,” she added.

House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, defended lawmakers’ handling of crime issues as a $9.6 billion budget bill includes $100 million for a forces recruiting fund of the order and $10 million for a roundup of outstanding warrants, among other provisions.

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

He also said changes to the state’s remand laws will not solve the state’s high rate of violent crime, saying, “I’m telling you, it’s not the silver bullet.”

The session featured turmoil at the Cabinet level

It was not quite a smooth legislative session for Lujan Grisham as three Cabinet Secretaries left their jobs during the session, including the heads of the state’s Department of Public Education and the Department of Social Services. .

Additionally, confirmation hearings were not held on two of the governor’s appointees – Indian Affairs Secretary-designate James Mountain and Cultural Affairs Secretary-designate Debra Garcia y Griego – who both faced a widespread opposition.

The governor’s office did not formally submit Mountain’s nomination to the Senate Rules Committee amid an uproar over past sexual assault charges that did not result in a conviction.

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

Meanwhile, some legislative initiatives the governor has opposed — such as creating an office of children’s advocates to help oversee the Department of Children, Youth and Families — have not passed this session. , even after early momentum and bipartisan support among lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said the Legislative Assembly should more eagerly assert its independence from the governor’s influence.

“There has to be a healthy tension between the legislative and the executive, in my view,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that’s been lost in this building.”

Lane said the abortion legislation sought by Democrats this year was unnecessary, given that abortion is already legal in New Mexico.

“It’s just inserting partisan politics into a space that we don’t need,” he said.

No special sessions on the horizon

Since taking office in 2019, Lujan Grisham has convened at least one special session every year, except for his first year as governor.

She suggested a special session on crime bills would not be underway, although she warned lawmakers to expect public pressure on the issue after an election cycle in which crime has played a role. a leading role.

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

But she said she would have called a special session on medical malpractice issues, had lawmakers been unable to broker a compromise late in the session.

Looking ahead, Lujan Grisham also said she would continue to press for additional gun legislation, specifically citing proposals to impose a waiting period on gun purchases. and raising the minimum age to purchase certain types of weapons from 18 to 21.

“New Mexicans should know that as long as I am governor, I will continue to try to reduce gun violence and violence in particular as much as possible,” the governor said.

She also indicated that she would not give up on attempts to change state remand laws after high-profile cases involving defendants who are released pending trial and then arrested for another crime. .

“Everyone here knows I’m presenting it again – and again – and again,” said Lujan Grisham, who jokingly said she could pursue a constitutional change that would allow her to run for a third consecutive term as governor. .

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