Rep. Christine Chandler speaks at the Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast at SALA. Also pictured is Sen. Leo Jaramillo. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Now that the hustle and bustle of the legislative session has ended, local legislators are taking time to report back to their constituents on what passed or didn’t pass and how much was accomplished. The first joint legislative update for this recent session was held by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast at the SALA Event Center presented by Rep. Christine Chandler and Sen. Leo Jaramillo. See separate article on Sen. Jaramillo)
As Rep. Chandler anticipated, she had a full plate for the session. She was appointed chair of the House Judiciary Committee. One of the accomplishments she mentioned was the creation of a number of permanent funds in the budget, such as the $100 million placed in the Land of enchantment Fund, which is supported to assist with conservation projects.
“The neat thing about those funds is most of them we can tap into if we have some sort of budget shortfall. Not all of our funds are sensible in that way but many are. For example the Early Childhood Education Fund, which we created separate from the constitutional thing that was going on, that has something like $4 billion in it and that’s way above what projections were, so if we wanted to legislate and tap some of these funds if we were in a crunch, we have the ability,” she said.
Despite the new permanent funds, Chandler said she is concerned about what happened when the budget was sent over to the Senate and the Senate got involved.
“We had a framework that we were working in that was agreed on through the Legislative Finance Committee process and that pretty much was busted and I’m disappointed by that. We need discipline in how we think about these things and it seemed to be much more of an ad hoc what can we spend money on,” she said.
Chandler, who was the former chair of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, said the tax package was also “expensive” with more than $1 billion in tax expenditures.
“About half of that is in rebates so those are not recurring expenditures, they’ll be just this year; $500 for a single, $1,000 for married filing jointly. The House was pushing for even smaller rebates than the $500 truthfully, but it is what it is. It was a negotiation and we’re all behind it. I will say, something that should make you all happy is we are cutting the gross receipts tax by half a point, but because of some of the other things that were added to the tax package it, it no longer is over a two-year period, it’s over a four-year period, because the tax expenditures were growing as well throughout the negotiation processes,” she said.
Chandler is proud of her contributions to the tax package and those include increasing the Child Income Tax Credit, indexing the Low Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate Program for low income people. She was also part of a group that worked on adding progressivity to the income tax, she noted.
“The tax package includes maybe four or five bills that I carried and is the outcome of the work that I did throughout the summer. I’m very proud of that work and pleased to say that it focuses on trying to add progressivity to the income tax code by either providing more credits or rebates to lower income folks or adding some progressivity into the income tax code,” Chandler said.
She noted that this year’s session was not as contentious as sessions have been in the past.
“I think it’s because we have new leadership on both the Democratic side and the Republican side. I had a very good working relationship with my Republican colleagues on House Judiciary; I would confer with them weekly to talk about what bills we were going to be hearing and what bills they wanted to hear to make sure we were both getting the things that we wanted. As a result, we had a cordial working relationship,” Chandler said. “The same was true for the Speaker and Republican leadership; they were consulting on what bills we were going to hear. Were they always in line? No they were not. There were some bills that we insisted on hearing – election bills notably, gun safety bills and some I guess you could say human rights related bills. So those were the big things that came of that.”
She spoke about the passage of HB 9, “the Gun in a Box Bill”, a gun safety bill that makes it illegal to provide access to a child, making that negligence that a child would have access to a firearm.
“To me that’s a no-brainer but there certainly was strong opposition to that bill. Gun bills failed as well and I know a lot about this because a lot of those come through my committee. The 14-day waiting period didn’t make it through the process. Straw gun purchases did make it through and last but not least, the prohibiting of sales of semi-automatic guns failed as well. Those were all things that played prominently in the press but the bills were not well-crafted and not thought out. I feel that’s the reason they did not make it through the system,” Chandler said.
She indicated that a lot of good things happened with election bills.
‘There’s automatic registration now when you renew your license. It’s an opt out program, not an opt in program, which is what we had before. A permanent list will be maintained now of people who want to receive absentee ballots all the time and people won’t have to ask for them. Requiring secure drop boxes in all counties is now the rule,” Chandler said.
She said with regard to abortion care, local communities are now prohibited from attempting to regulate abortion access, reproductive care and gender affirming care.
“That is now that is now the law of this state – so any local government that tries to do so will be out of compliance,” Chandler said.