Roundhouse Roundup: Cannabis, Teacher Retreats, Public-Private Partnerships

SANTA FE, NM (KRQE) — The end of the 2022 legislative session is fast approaching, with less than a week remaining in the session. Few bills have made it through the Senate and House floors so far, but there is a lot on the agenda in the coming days.

On Saturday, February 12, there will be a few more committee meetings where lawmakers will debate details of the bills. On the agenda is a more in-depth discussion of Senate Bill 100, which clarifies the state’s cannabis rules.

The bill provides “technical fixes” to the existing law, according to Victor Reyes, deputy superintendent of the New Mexico Department of Regulation and Licensing (RLD). The RLD oversees the state’s cannabis control division. On February 3, 2022, he spoke about the bill before the Senate Committee on Taxation, Business Affairs, and Transportation.

Among other things, the bill allows the state’s Cannabis Control Division to work with the state’s Department of Environment to regulate the production of cannabis edibles. It also clarifies that alcohol and cannabis cannot be sold at the same place.

Importantly, the bill would also increase the amount of cannabis that so-called “micro businesses” are allowed to grow. Under current law, they can grow up to 200 mature plants. Senate Bill 100 increases this to 1,000 plants.

“It creates fairness within the industry,” Reyes told lawmakers. The Cannabis Control Division has already increased the number of plants for other types of growers, but needs legislative approval to do so for micro businesses, he explained.

At the February 3 meeting, public commentator Jason Barker voiced his opposition to the bill: “This bill does nothing positive for micro-cannabis businesses,” Barker said. And Barker feared that an increased number of factories would increase water consumption and possibly cause licensing issues for applicants, as they are required to show proof of water rights to receive a license from production.

Others spoke in favor of the bill. Dick Wilkinson, the director of the New Mexico Veteran’s Cannabis Alliance, supported increasing the number of plants. “We collectively believe that the ability [for small producers] being competitive in a larger market will be served by change,” Wilkinson said.

The committee eventually proposed a substitute for the original bill and voted in favor of it. Now it goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In addition to cannabis, here are some key topics to watch today:

State budget

  • Today, the Senate Finance Committee will meet to discuss a bill. On the agenda is the latest update of the state budget.
  • House Bill 2, known as the General Appropriations Act, will distribute billions of funds among agencies across the state.
  • The latest surrogate bill includes more than $8 billion. Among the beneficiaries are state and education employees, who would receive an average salary increase of 7%, according to a report by the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).
  • Law enforcement would also get a boost, with nearly $700,000 for officer training and oversight. Victims of crime could also benefit from increased funding; the bill would send $2.6 million more than last year to the Criminal Injuries Reparations Commission, according to the LFC.

Educational retreats

  • Today, the House Education Committee will meet to discuss the legislation.
  • They will consider SB 36, which increases employer contributions to the educational retirement fund by a few percentage points.
  • Defined benefit retirement funds support public school, charter school, and higher education employees. The Educational Retirement Board currently does not have enough money to pay all the retirement benefits it has promised, according to a report by the Legislative Finance Committee. They are missing more than $23 million, according to the report.
  • The increase in employer contributions could help make up for this difference.

Public-private partnerships

  • Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to consider Bill 55.
  • The bill would allow state agencies to partner with private companies to develop public projects. In particular, the bill focuses on public transport or broadband telecommunications projects.
  • New Mexico currently does not have clear statewide guidelines on public-private partnerships, according to a report by the Legislative Finance Committee. As a result, the state may miss out on potential partnerships that could benefit the public.