Predictions for New Mexico’s 2023 Legislative Session

Read about what lawmakers are hoping to accomplish in two months at the Roundhouse.

Starting on January 17, New Mexico’s state legislature will meet for approximately sixty days to consider new legislation in their first session since the 2022 midterm elections. Since the legislature only meets once a year, the stakes are high and the schedule is jam-packed as members aim to achieve their various priorities, ranging from tackling hunger to gun safety and water conservation.

The midterms reaffirmed New Mexico’s Democratic lean by re-electing Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham by a comfortable margin. In addition, voters also dashed Republican hopes of eating into the State House’s large Democratic majorities, as many Albuquerque-area swing-district Democrats clinched re-election. However, changes will be coming to the leadership of the legislature, as House Speaker Brian Egolf is poised to be replaced by Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, who has been a leading voice on many Democratic efforts in recent years, including last year’s cannabis legalization law.

Another boon to Democrats’ efforts to enact an expansive legislative agenda this session is the state’s large budget surplus, allowing lawmakers to potentially spend up to two billion dollars more than they could in the last session, opening up opportunities for lawmakers to divert funds toward areas like infrastructure and education. The surplus was sourced from record gains in the state’s oil and gas industry, due to last year’s spike in energy costs, and the outsized role the industry plays in state finances.

Atop Governor Lujan Grisham’s priorities for the session is a newly-unveiled initiative to expand free school lunches to all K-12 students in New Mexico’s public schools. Her push is part of a larger plan to tackle youth hunger and child poverty in the state. Though thousands of additional students already qualify for free lunches following the passage of a nutrition law last year, nearly 70,000 New Mexican students still do not, largely because their family falls outside of the reduced-lunch income bracket.

Legislators are also trying to expand the social safety net in other areas. Progressive Democrats’ most notable effort in the legislature is a renewed effort to pass a family medical leave bill, mandating businesses to provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for employees. While the new bill contains numerous concessions to New Mexican small businesses, such as a provision that exempts businesses with less than 5 employees from the bill, many moderate Democrats have balked at the bill, saying that medium-sized restaurants, whose total employees are generally greater than the bill’s exemption cap of five, will face economic consequences if the legislation is adopted. Due to this opposition, any such efforts are fairly unlikely to get enacted by the legislature.
New Mexican environmental advocates are also viewing this legislative session as critical to update the state’s water infrastructure, which many experts say is nearly a century old. Making the repairs more essential is the onslaught of record drought currently affecting the state. The governor has also been focused on the issue, hosting professionals to design reforms to the state’s water systems and brainstorm ways to enhance resiliency earlier this year. Given that the governor and a wide array of state legislators and experts have signaled their desire to act on the issue, the bill is expected to have a good shot at passage. However, as with all climate legislation in the state, one should watch the oil industry’s reaction to any movement on the issue, as they could potentially pose a serious threat given their outsized influence in the state.

The legislature will also consider landmark gun safety laws in the wake of a bloody spate of shootings, both in and out of the state, as the shadow of the August 2021 school shooting at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque still looms large. Though the legislature was unable to pass a bill last year that mandated safe gun storage and prevented youth access to firearms, top legislative advocates, including Representative Pamelya Herndon, are vowing to start a renewed effort to pass reforms. However, some lawmakers, including state Representative-elect Reena Szczepanski, Egolf’s successor in his Santa Fe-area district, are vowing to go further. Szczepanski has pledged to introduce a bill to increase the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21, following a national legislative movement away from weapons commonly used on the battlefield. Whichever combination of measures gets enacted, gun safety is very likely to become a top objective of the legislature in the upcoming session. Moreover, the fact that Herndon, a pragmatic state representative, took over the bill from more controversial progressive lawmakers, and the bill’s growing endorsements from state and local officials, shows that the bill has a clear shot at passage this session. Also, the added pressure of the passage of gun control laws in a group of Democrat-controlled states, ranging from New York to Illinois to California, may also help move the bill forward.

Closer to home, Academy seniors Noor Ali, Sophia Liem, and Mireya Macías are advocating for a menstrual equity bill in the legislative session. They have been working with Representatives Kristina Ortez and Christine Trujillo on legislation that will mandate menstrual products in public school restrooms. After securing a line item in the PED budget they plan to start the bill in the House advancing it with co-sponsors Senators Leo Jaramillo and Siah Correa Hemphill.

Overall, the newly-emboldened Democratic trifecta in the state government is likely to try its luck at a wide array of reforms affecting many aspects of New Mexican life. Whether or not all priorities are able to make their way into state law is an open question, though it seems as if efforts to modernize the state’s water infrastructure, reduce gun violence and tackle child poverty are at the top of the docket.