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New Mexico Democrats tackle climate change, shun marijuana

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By MORGAN LEE and RUSSELL CONTRERAS Associated Press

SANTA FE (AP) — Legislators were negotiating agreements Friday to increase annual spending on public school education by a half-billion dollars after consummating New Mexico's version of a "Green New Deal" that aims for carbon-free electricity production within a generation.

The consequences of sweeping Democratic midterm election victories in New Mexico were coming into focus on the final full day of the state's annual legislative session.

Two successive annual budget surpluses in excess of $1 billion are allowing the Legislature to plot a major economic stimulus package and respond to a judge's order to boost resources to public education.

A bill dubbed the Energy Transition Act was awaiting the governor's signature to provide incentives for electric utility companies to close down a major coal-fired power plant and invest in solar arrays and wind turbines.

"So far so good," said House speaker Brian Egolf, who says fall elections gave Democrats a mandate to pursue campaign promises on education, economic development and progressive social policies. "We are now literally at the tip of the spear in moving toward renewables and carbon-free electricity."

At the same time, ideological divides among Democrats sunk efforts at a bipartisan effort to legalize recreational marijuana through state-run stores. And a bill that would have removed a dormant criminal ban on abortion was defeated on a 24-18 Senate vote Thursday to the dismay of advocates for abortion rights who fear the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn a 1973 decision that made the procedure legal.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose campaign was supported by pro-abortion rights groups including Emily's List, called the vote "inexplicable" and the law a continued source of embarrassment.

The Legislature has allowed the governor to deliver on some promises to institute gun control measures. She signed a bill last week to expand background checks for private, person-to-person gun sales that have been largely unregulated.

A bill designed to ensure that people under protective orders to stay away from alleged domestic violence victims relinquish their firearms won legislative approval late Thursday.

Those initiatives and a stalled bill that would make it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence have generated a backlash among county sheriffs and others — including local elected leaders in Democratic strongholds around the state — who have argued that enforcement would be difficult and that some of the additional restrictions would do little to address gun violence.

"We need to let our Legislature know that we put them in office, we can take them out of office," Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace, told a rally for gun rights outside the statehouse this week, where scores of supporters arrived on horseback behind a "Make America Great Again" flag.

Mace, a Democrat, added: "Keep the irons hot, we got 'til Saturday."

The Legislature adjourns at noon Saturday.

Lawmakers also were trying to broker agreements and vote on bills ranging from new road-rules to protect bicyclists to increased film production subsidies that could pay the industry a half-billion dollars over the next five years.

Republicans have pushed back with fiery floor speeches and filibuster tactics against the Democratic agenda on everything from abortion to gun control and energy regulations.

In a House floor session that stretched into the pre-dawn hours Friday, Democrats pushed through the state's first minimum wage increase in a decade, a deal that would gradually increase base wages outside major urban areas from $7.50 an hour to $9 next year and $12 by 2023.

Efforts to link further increases to inflation were dropped in negotiations.