SANTA FE — It’s going to be a busy thirty days. New Mexico legislators are working this year to legalize recreational marijuana, fund free college, address the Yazzie/Martinez ruling and much more. 

In the short session, the state’s budget, appropriations and anything the governor deemed worthy will be addressed.

The governor released her message on Jan. 15, setting forth these “exception” bills and listed education, economy, public safety, and health as priorities. Any bills that are not determined to be “germane” are killed in their first committee. 

Despite the State House democratic trifecta, the state budget and what amount should be funded are not a given. Historically, conservative Democrats from rural areas of the state have opposed progressive legislative proposals such as recreational marijuana, same sex marriage or decriminalizing abortion. 

Last year the University of New Mexico and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center received more than $325 million from the state, according to a report prepared by the Legislative Finance Committee. That’s about 4.6% of the state’s total $7 billion dollar budget. 

Last May, in addition to instruction and general budget requests, UNM departments were asked to submit Research and Public Service Project Proposals (RPSP) to the UNM Office of Government and Community Relations. 

After the ideas were vetted by University leadership, they were prepared for official approval by the UNM Board of Regents. The 2020 RPSP Legislative Priorities were presented to the Board of Regents at their September meeting. 

According to the presentation made to the Regents, this year’s priorities included programs designed to address the Yazzie/Martinez ruling and the University’s three Grand Challenges: Substance Use Disorders, Sustainable Water Resources, and Successful Aging.  

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty one page explainer on the topic said that on July 20, 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that “all New Mexico students have a right to be college and career ready and that the state is failing to meet this obligation. As evidence, the judge pointed to New Mexico’s low high school graduation rate (70%—the lowest in the nation), low proficiency rates in reading and math (70% of New Mexico students cannot read or do math at grade level), and high rates of college remediation (almost 50% who do attend college need remedial courses).”

This ruling led to a number of proposed UNM projects that made it into both the New Mexico Department of Finance and the Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budgets as well as into a number of free standing bills that individual legislators have introduced with the hopes of eventually getting them included into the final budget. 

The legislative proposals that relate to the Yazzie/Martinez ruling include an LFC new recommendation of $300,000 for a ‘Native American Intervention and Retention’ project. And, both the executive budget ($400K) and the LFC ($200K) budgets include new money for a UNM-based “Grow Your Own Teachers Network” project.  

The UNM Regents approved this year’s legislative priorities last September. Since then, the UNM Government Relations office has been working with the LFC, the governor’s office, and with state legislators to try to embed UNM’s priorities into both of the proposed state budgets. 

The Daily Lobo reached out to the UNM Government Relations office for an interview about the process but the interview was cancelled due to inclement weather. 

How a Bill Becomes a Law

New Mexico has a bicameral legislature: 70 representatives and 42 senators. All 112 will be up for election or reelection this year which means the electeds will be especially attuned to working on issues that will raise name their name ID. 

If a legislator agrees that a bill should be drafted, they then go to the legal experts in the Legislative Council Services to write up the language of the bill. That bill is then “introduced” or in the case of the more than 360 bills, memorials, and resolutions that have already been uploaded to the NM Legislature’s website, they can be “pre-filed” or introduced in advance of the session. 

Once the bill is determined to be “germane,” meaning it is allowed to be heard during a short session, the House or Senate leadership will refer it to, on average, two committees. Senate Bills will be referred to 2-3 Senate Committees, and House Bills will be referred to 2-3 House Committees. 

In order to “pass” the bill must get a majority vote in all of the committees it was assigned to, and then get a majority vote on the “floor” of the chamber it started out in, and then it has to go to the other chamber to repeat the process of being referred to committees, approved by majority votes, and then approved by that chamber. 

In the case of a budget item, constituents can work with their legislators to appeal to either the Legislative Finance Committee, who is in charge of drafting the Legislature’s proposed budget or the Department of Finance and Administration who is charged with drafting the governor’s proposed budget. 

The process is referred to as “deliberative” because the framers of the constitution intentionally designed it to ensure that laws were enacted only after having been vetted by a number of the people’s representatives, a number of times, over a period of time. 

In 2020, there are a number of pending bills that are relevant to the entire University community. The Daily Lobo will follow and report on a number of these bills throughout the legislative session, but readers can also track them on their own using the NM Legislature’s MyRoundHouse legislative tracker

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @lissaknudesen