Sighing over the 2023 legislative session
Last week, New Mexico’s 56th Legislature convened. I missed the telecast of the first in-person State of the State speech in three years as I was on a plane. I’m sure it said all the right things about our children, our opportunities and our great state.
The session is starting with a lot of new leadership and a lot of new bills that I hate. The leadership is a mixed bag. New faces are, to me, a good sign in general. However, as new House Minority Leader Ryan Lane (R-3), Minority Whip Jason Harper (R-57) and Caucus Chair Gail Armstrong (R-49) show some movement to the center for the GOP, Democratic leadership continues a leftward bent.
The intent of new Speaker of the House Javier Martinez (D-11) was made quite clear as incumbent, moderate, and pro-business House Appropriations Chair Patricia Lundstrom (D-9) was removed from that committee entirely and replaced by progressive legislator Nathan Small (D-36).
The GOP leadership may reflect a more moderate tone, but the Democrats aren’t meeting them in the middle. And they have the numbers – 45 to 25 – to do as they like.
I have an unfortunate habit of emphatic sighing. I don’t need an audience. A dramatic audible exhale is a small mini-catharsis for me throughout the day as I cope with the small injustices thrown my way each hour.
I am sighing a lot as I contemplate this upcoming session.
Our state minimum wage is totally going up. To $16 an hour according to the legislation, having just been raised to $12/hour in 2023 per previous statute.
Here’s why I am against continued state minimum wage increases: first, they kill small businesses; second, in an inflationary economy, they only push prices higher; third, with today’s tight labor market, most employers are already setting wages well above minimum wage.
Finally, the private economy does a much better job of setting wages to attract workers than the government. If you are a business owner, you know exactly what you must pay workers to come to your company and stay there in 2023.
The state does not. I mentioned a very poignant example in a column at the end of last year. The much-troubled Child, Youth and Families Department is advertising many open positions for entry level caseworkers, requiring a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience. The pay is $18-$20 an hour, not much above the proposed minimum wage. Yet these caseworkers are the front line of our state’s child welfare program.
Meanwhile, if you head over to UPS’ and Amazon’s and Target’s hiring sites, you will see that with no degree or experience, you can work in their warehouses in Albuquerque for the same pay.
I don’t think the state really gets the labor market. *exhale* Big sigh.
Then there’s the flurry of gun laws which are going to take center stage and either not pass or be immediately challenged in court. New Mexico, although a blue state, is a gun state. Let’s remember the red flag law that was enacted a couple years ago but for real is never used.
There are only two bills that make any sense – a bumpstock ban (sorry, 2A advocates, but my 10-minute political career ended over my opponent lying about my comments on NM PBS about banning bumpstocks and telling voters that was my view on all gun ownership, so I am dying on this hill) that mirrors the ban Trump administration enacted at the Federal level and was overturned earlier this month by a Federal appeals court, and raising the age to buy semi-automatic weapons to 21 (I don’t love that, but it’s at least consistent with the drinking age).
The rest of the gun legislation is what you would expect and will bring out the typical arguments on both sides. These bills are largely burdens on law-abiding gun owners and will be a tough sell in the rural districts.
Expect maximum shrillness in committee. Heavy sigh.
A couple bright spots in the legislation filed so far, if they can get out of committee:
Two identical bills have been introduced in the House (HB 54) and the Senate (SB 73) that would allow independent – decline to state – voters able to request a political party’s ballot and vote in the primary without registering in a political party. Taxpayer funded elections should allow all registered voters to participate.
Additionally, there is a House joint resolution – HJR 1 – that would establish a truly independent redistricting commission, ensuring that political maps are drawn to represent voters first. I of course wrote a lot about this in 2020 and was active in the process leading to the initial 2021 legislation and also worked with the Citizens Redistricting Committee.
But that process was not perfect. While New Mexico’s tribal nations got a good seat at the redistricting table, Congressional District 2 became a gerrymandered mess. HJR 1 seeks to take the partisan politics out of redistricting – you know, government for the people by the people?
These three pieces of legislation are sigh-mitigators for me. I encourage you to look them up and tell your legislator to support them. Improving our voting process will improve our Legislature.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Sighing over the 2023 legislative session