2019 NM Legislative Successes
In a sixty day New Mexico Legislative session that felt like a marathon at the pace of a sprint, the Legislature passed a $7 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 to support state agencies and their programs, the House and Senate “junior budgets” that provide for programs and district initiatives, and a tax reform bill that will raise an expected $70 million for the general fund, and additional funds for roads and local governments. Legislation in various forms to reform and increase funding for education, increase the minimum wage, and push for NM to lead in renewable energy, all made it through the legislative process and to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her signature. These were all priorities of the Governor.
Twenty-three agencies, including two new divisions, early childhood education and outdoor recreation, will benefit from new revenue. Unlike the last administration, all new Secretarys (leadership) were confirmed with little hesitation. The NM Department of Agriculture’s Secretary Jeff Witte, was the only agency director to be retained as farmers, ranchers, conservation programs, and food related organizations advocated for his stay. Returning to lead the state’s top water management job is State Engineer John D’Antonio who held the position from 2003-2011. Refreshing to this legislative session was that many of these leaders including Governor Lujan Grisham and her staff were available to Legislators and advocates alike.
Priorities of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council and partners fared very well. In a last minute push led by New Mexico First and the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Agriculture Workforce Act (HB315 sponsored by Representatives Bandy and John Sanchez) made it to the finish line and onto the Governor’s desk with $100,000 to begin the program. The program’s goal is encourage agriculture professions through a cost-share farm and ranch internship program.
Special thanks to the legislators who sponsored our legislation, and committed their interest, time, and resources to top priorities of the NMFAPC including Representatives Candie Sweetser, Paul Bandy, Nathan Small, John Sanchez, Gail Armstrong, and Rebecca Dow and Senators Liz Stefanics, Pat Woods, and Pete Campos.
In the budgets to be reviewed and passed by Governor Lujan Grisham, the following NMFAPC and partners priorities are included:
NM Grown Fruits & Vegetables for School Meals (HB328)
$200,000 to PED, recurring (HB548 budget)
$50,000 to PED, recurring (SB536 budget)
Develop Market Opportunities for Farmers, Ranchers and Agribusiness (HB327)
$45,000, recurring in NMDA (HB548 budget)
Senior Meal Programs and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SB83)
$100,000, recurring to Aging & Long Term Services/DOH (SB536 budget)
Purchase NM Grown Fruits and Vegetables for a Senior Citizen Meals Program (SB83)
$50,000, recurring to Aging & Long Term Services/DOH (SB536 budget)
Crossing the finish line and on the Governor’s desk to consider for passage is the Healthy Soils Act, HB204 with $100,000 recurring (half to administer) and $225,000 non-recurring to get the program underway. The Hemp Manufacturing Act, HB581 awaits the Governor’s signature including $50,000 non-recurring for the NM Department of Agriculture to administer a program to provide hemp consultations and training to rural farmers.
The NM Food and Agriculture Experiential Education Program, sponsored by Representative Candie Sweetser, in its introductory session, gained much interest and unanimously passed the House Agriculture Committee. After extensive discussions with the sponsor and interested legislators and advocates, it was decided to hold the bill back and work on building it’s momentum beyond this legislative session. In her total commitment to this program, Representative Sweetser said she wants the program to be a statewide permanent program that is sufficiently funded. Taking it to 2019 interim committees and engaging more legislators’ interest will be the best approach to its long-term success.
In a last minute review of the HB2/3 budget passed by the Senate Finance Committee, substantive language had been added to the NM Department of Agriculture’s budget line item, stating the agency would be required to “promulgate rules to solely regulate seed.” The language could have been seen as innocuous, yet could have long-term and broad sweeping implications on the ability for tribal communities to maintain their seed sovereignty, chile producers to maintain and grow unique strains of NM chile varieties, and could constrain organic and heirloom seed sales and purchases. Similar preemption rules have been pushed in other states by the biotech industry. Still in the budget, HB2/3, the Governor has the authority to line item veto.