New Mexico Lawmakers Pass Crime Bill, $500 Million in Tax Refunds | National Associated Press


SANTA FE, NM (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers approved about $500 million in tax refunds and a broad set of crime-fighting initiatives Thursday at the end of the 30-day legislative session as the state grapples with the economic lash of the coronavirus. pandemic and concerns about rising violent crime in Albuquerque and beyond.

The final votes responded to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s calls for economic relief and a hardline response to frustrations with crime as she campaigns for re-election in November. The state House worked through the night and daylight before adjourning at noon.

New Mexico state government is awash in cash related to a surge in oil production and an infusion of federal pandemic funds, allowing lawmakers to award individual income tax refunds of $250, and more to the parents. State lawmakers also approved unprecedented new investments in public schools, Medicaid, public safety initiatives and a host of grants, loans and tax breaks for private industry.

The Democratic-led Legislature on Wednesday approved a record $1 billion annual budget increase that provides for $8.48 billion in general fund spending during the fiscal year that begins July 1, a 14% increase over current year spending. . Lujan Grisham supports important provisions and can veto any part of the spending plan.

Salary increases of at least 7% are scheduled for school district and state government staff statewide, with a $15 hourly minimum wage for public employees and higher base salaries for teachers.

Annual spending on K-12 public education would increase to $3.87 billion, an increase of 12%. Annual Medicaid spending would rise by about $240 million to $1.3 billion as the federal government cuts pandemic-related subsidies to the program that provides free health care to the impoverished.

Lawmakers crafted the crime bill amid a record wave of homicides in Albuquerque.

It would expand surveillance of criminal defendants while they await trial with 24-hour monitoring of ankle bracelet tracking devices. Lawmakers opposed proposals by the governor and prosecutors to ban pretrial release for people charged with certain violent and sexual offenses.

Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces said the bill should have quick and lasting effects on policing and crime rates.

“When we add 24/7 anklet monitoring statewide, that will have immediate effects,” he said. “The long-term outlook is (that) the violence prevention grants, law enforcement training, law enforcement retention, are going to take a long time.”

The crime bill would expand the ranks of state district judges, increase retainer pay for municipal police and sheriff’s deputies, and provide millions of dollars in death benefits for family members of police officers killed on duty. of duty.

Establishes requirements for crime reduction grants that seek alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration and expand intervention programs to control gun violence.

Police would receive more training on coping with stress, interactions with the homeless, and techniques to de-escalate confrontations involving police. And the legislation would renew oversight of police misconduct investigations.

Criminal penalties are increased for threatening judges, possession of firearms by serious violent offenders, brandishing a weapon in the commission of an illegal drug transaction, and aggravated fleeing from the law in certain circumstances.

On the other hand, initiatives to expand access to the vote were thwarted by Republicans in the legislative minority who used procedural maneuvers to block a crucial debate on the Senate floor. Republicans said many of the changes would have undermined precautions against voter fraud and public confidence in election results.

The governor, secretary of state and top lawmakers pushed to expand ballot access as a counterpoint to new voting restrictions in Republican-led states since the 2020 election.

The failed legislation would have expanded access to mail-in ballots, declared Election Day a state holiday with same-day voter registration, and offered registration to convicted felons upon release from prison.

At least 19 states have enacted new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The GOP’s national campaign to toughen election laws has been fueled in part by false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have teamed up to approve tax refunds of $250 for single filers or $500 for joint filers and an additional credit or refund for parents of up to $175 per child.

That initiative would also eliminate state taxes on Social Security income for middle-income earners. Individuals earning more than $100,000 or joint filers earning more than $150,000 would continue to pay taxes on Social Security income.

The tax relief bill would also give $1,000 credits to full-time local hospital nurses for fiscal year 2022 and slightly reduce the state gross receipts tax on retail sales and business services in two stages to about 4.9%. Combined optional state and local gross income taxes can reach a combined rate of nearly 9%.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, a Democrat from Santa Fe, also announced at the end of the session that he will not seek re-election.

“I realize that almost everything I hoped to accomplish in this office has been accomplished,” Egolf said. “We have absolutely put the people of New Mexico first and have made our state a better place for everyone.”

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