2019 Legislature supports soil, parks, babies, little league, new license plates needed

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By Harold Morgan

One Catch 22 was removed from state government during the 60-day 2019 legislative session (maybe more, I don’t know). 

Public safety officers, people who work for police departments but aren’t full-fledged cops and who get to take intoxicated and/or incapacitated people to treatment centers or jails, can now ask the facilities to take the individuals. Curious situation for the public safety officer—being employed to take people to the facility but unable to seek commitment to the facility.

This enlightenment, via House Bill 234, is one result of the session that saw 309 bills passed with 281 signed by new Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, double the approvals compared to former Gov. Susana Martinez in 2017, Martinez’ final 60-day session.  These new laws are now in effect. The numbers come from the Legislative Council Service’s annual “Highlights” publication that, LCS says, “summarizes much, but not all, of the legislative action.”

“Busy” is the LCS word for the session.  Indeed. Lots of new money from the Permian Basin oil boom explains the activity.

For the budget year that started July 1, the budget calls for spending $7.3 billion from the general fund, the operating cache. Throw in all the money and the spending total goes to $19.4 billion. Much of the additional money comes from the feds and goes to human services tasks. 

The big stuff has been reported elsewhere. I will review some little things to illustrate the scope of state government. 

Hiring people to fill vacant but approved jobs is happening across government. The assumption has to be that the work allocated to the approved positions was somehow essential. The Martinez administration had left the jobs vacant, a sort passive aggressive approach to reducing government, but the world hadn’t ended, for the most part, with the undone work. 

However, for sure, too few people in areas such as children’s services has meant people being hurt. 

There is the Healthy Soil Act (HB 204), a new department of agriculture program to “increase soil organic matter,” among other things.  Outdoor tourism now is a division in the Economic Development Department (SB 462).

The list of capital outlay projects continues the mystery of using state money for local items such as parks and parking lots. The Manuelito Chapter House will get a land use master plan for $100,000 and a $60,000 motor grader. A $220,000 multipurpose building is set for the Mariano Chapter House. In Albuquerque it will be $160,000 for improvements at Sunrise Terrace Park with $100,000 for construction at the Westgate Little League fields and $120,000 for improvements at Zia Little League. So far as I know, little league organizations are private, non-profit entities. Why the state money?

One vetoed project was $60,000 for roof repair at the Catron County Sheriff’s office. Tough luck, guys, you’re a long way from anywhere.

Water isn’t usually legislatively interesting, but 2019 “saw an abundance of bills.” One, SB 12, made “nuanced changes” in the rules for publishing notices affecting water rights. 

Local building departments “must” now require baby-changing tables in all restrooms (HB 205). The Gender-Free Restrooms Act is HB 388.

The 2018 session repealed certain requirements that the Department of Transportation maintain “fencing and signs related to cattle on highways.” This year SB 121 reinstated the rules including cattle underpasses.

My suggestion is to spend some of the new money to replace the faded license plates across the state that are annoying and a safety hazard because cops can’t read the plates. The Taxation and Revenue Department, parent to the Motor Vehicle Department, is thinking about it. This would affect everyone, not just little leaguers.