- Associated Press - Saturday, January 13, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The state budget and criminal justice issues will be the top priorities when the New Mexico Legislature convenes this week for a 30-day session. Here are some things to know:

THE BASICS

The state House has 70 members: 38 Democrats and 32 Republicans. The Senate has 42 members: 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

New Mexico has the nation’s only unsalaried legislature. Lawmakers receive $161 a day during the session to reimburse them for expenses. Travel is reimbursed separately by the mile, allowing for one round-trip per session.

THE AGENDA

Under the state Constitution, legislative sessions are shorter during even years and focus on budget, revenue and taxation measures. Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez also is opening the agenda to criminal justice initiatives.

Lawmakers and the governor want to increase spending this year on public school education, Medicaid, public safety agencies and economic development incentives.

They’ll have more money to assign than last year, when spending was slashed at several government agencies and public universities and colleges. Martinez wants to raise an additional $99 million by changing tax laws for nonprofit and government hospitals.

She is calling for stiffer criminal penalties for violent crimes, while Democratic lawmakers are emphasizing community policing initiatives.

Constitutional amendments also can be considered, and several already are proposed to boost public education spending, increase funding for law enforcement, legalize and tax recreational marijuana sales, and reform the nomination process for university regents.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Lawmakers introduced 620 bills and passed 101 during the last 30-day session in 2016. The governor signed 92 of the measures into law and vetoed nine.

A constitutional amendment approved by the Legislature last year would create a seven-member independent ethics commission in an effort to shore up trust in government after a string of corruption scandals. That amendment goes before voters in November.

ELECTIONS

All House seats are up for election in the fall, while state senators won’t be up for re-election until 2020. At least four lawmakers are running for statewide office or U.S. Congress.

The 2018 campaign already is underway to replace Martinez, who leaves office at year’s end.

November elections also will decide who serves as attorney general, state auditor, state land commissioner and secretary of state.

LEARNING MORE

Contact lawmakers by calling the legislative switchboard: (505) 986-4300. Find bills, committee schedules, lists of members and a link for webcasts of House and Senate proceedings on the Legislature’s website: www.nmlegis.gov .

The session begins at noon Tuesday and ends at noon on Feb. 15. The governor has until March 7 to sign bills.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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