Las Cruces in Santa Fe: Lobbyist talks 2024 legislative session


A lobbyist who advocates for the city of Las Cruces discussed trends and a slew of changes coming down from Santa Fe after the 2024 legislative session. Those items include new gun control laws, money for brick-and-mortar projects, changes to economic development tools and a phase-out of a tax fee.

Larry Horan, a lobbyist employed by the city of Las Cruces, said this session actually saw fewer bills than others. During a work session, Horan presented updates about relevant legislation to the Las Cruces City Council on Apr. 8.

Horan noted that the 2024 session was a “short session,” or 30-day session. In even-numbered years, the state legislature meets for 30 days.The main goal of the shorter sessions is to pass a budget. The legislature can also discuss, debate and pass bills that pertain to topics deemed germane or called for by the governor.

They meet for 60 days in odd-numbered years. Sixty-day sessions are more flexible regarding what bills the legislature can entertain.

From Jan. 16 to Feb. 15, legislators brought forth 658 bills.

“It sounds like a lot,” Horan said, “but when you factor in the $3.5 billion in excess revenue and include bills called dummy bills that are really placeholders, that’s not a significant amount of legislation.”

Horan said a robust 30-day session sees about 1,200 bills. Horan and the city of Las Cruces tracked 91 of those bills as significant to Las Cruces.

Horan also noted the revenue forecast. For the first time in New Mexico's history, oil and gas revenues made up over half of the state’s income this year. That boom was due largely to drilling and extraction in the Permian Basin.

Drilling and extraction are significant drivers of state revenue. It’s also a source of air and water pollution. According to a 2017 white paper published by the University of New Mexico’s Department of Economics, 638 premature deaths resulted from Permian Basin pollutants.

“With a lot of relatively new legislators, the balance is, how do you sock away $3.5 billion and have a budget that is responsible and acknowledging that, with a dependence on oil, we’re going to have another downturn,” Horan said.

Horan also mentioned a tax reform package. It’s a watered-down version of a package that passed the legislature last year but was vetoed by the governor, Horan said. The new bill included changes to corporate income tax rates.

House Bill 2, which contains the state’s budget, also sent millions for issues important to Las Cruces, Horan said. Those include:

. . .

  • $25 million for Firefighter and EMS recruitment
  • $25 million for local law enforcement agencies
  • $50 million for water project fund
  • $50 million for water trust fund
  • $60.7 million for deficit in employee group benefits plan
    . . .

Capital outlay is another primary source of money for Las Cruces. Each legislator is given a pool of cash to dole out to brick-and-mortar projects, typically in their districts. The amount of money depends on seniority.

Barbara Bencomo, Las Cruces’ chief administrative officer, said Las Cruces courts capital outlay by aligning projects the city wants funded with the types of things legislators wish to fund. This year, Bencomo said the city received about $11.75 million. That breaks down as follows:

. . .

  • $5.98 million for Amador Crossing Health Center
  • $2.55 million for the Mobile Integrated Health Building
  • $1.15 million for Mesilla Valley Community of Hope Distribution Center
  • $650,000 for a Real-Time Crime Center
  • $580,000 for domestic violence shelter
  • $350,000 for active transportation improvements (i.e., bike lanes and walking paths)
  • $300,000 for the East Mesa Public Recreation Center
  • $100,000 for Fire Station 9
  • $100,000 for Lift Up Las Cruces
    . . .

“The amount is similar to what was received last year, but it’s more concentrated on fewer projects,” Bencomo said. In many ways… that’s more advantageous because it really allows us to complete these projects and get piecemeal funding.”

Bencomo also said several previously funded projects had been renewed since the money had gone unspent.

But gun control talk took up a lot of legislative time. Several proposals were made, but just two bills made it to the finish line. The legislature passed a 7-day waiting period to buy a gun and a law that prohibits guns at polling places.

Another bill that received a lot of press was another failed attempt to create paid family leave for New Mexico workers. Like the federally mandated Family Medical Leave Act, the state law would guarantee time off for qualifying reasons. That time off is separate from paid vacation or sick time.

This is the second time a paid family bill has gone to the legislature and failed. The first time, it failed to pass by one vote in committee, and the second time, it failed by two votes in a House vote.  

Horan also discussed a bill that would’ve amended how New Mexico courts handle people accused of crimes but found incompetent to stand trial. Civil rights advocates criticized the bill for not being thoroughly prepared. The same groups said the bill's goals were critical, and they hoped to see a better version presented to the legislature in future sessions.

“It’s going to be back, we know that for sure,” Horan said. “It may be back in the 60-day session, or it could be sooner.”

During an interview on New Mexico PBS, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham floated the idea of calling for a special session over the summer. She said the special session would deal with crime and public safety issues across the state. That might be the venue from which competency reform occurs.

“The governor said it’s about an 80 percent possibility for calling a special session. The legislators, I don’t think, are as inclined to go to a special session this year. The reason being is that they’re all up for reelection this year,” Horan said.

2024 legislative, lobbyist, Larry Horan