The Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Tuesday evening. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
New Mexico legislators will get work going this week to hear about what’s going on around the state. This comes before the official 30-day legislative session starts up in January 2024.
These interim meetings will be held across New Mexico and are a space for lawmakers to get updates from state agencies, hear from experts on various topics, discuss budget ideas and craft policy proposals.
One of the first up to get some of this work done is the powerful Legislative Finance Committee that helps to develop budget recommendations for different state agencies.
Anyone can attend or tune into the finance committee meeting happening Tuesday through Thursday. People can go in person at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, or can watch the livestream here.
Legislators will listen to various presentations from local, state and federal officials and experts. The agenda can be found here.
Topics include New Mexico’s water supply, nontraditional water options, economic development along the border, updates on behavioral health and cultural affairs, information about juvenile justice facilities and different research plans from universities in the state.
Legislators will also discuss the Legislative Finance Committee budget status for fiscal year 2023, recent report cards on different state agencies and staffing updates at state departments.
A big topic spanning multiple days will be water.
Local and state officials will give an update Tuesday morning on the yearslong, multi-million dollar battle between Texas and New Mexico over Rio Grande water.
State Engineer Mike Hamman will discuss a “high-level overview” of the Rio Grande basin, said Maggie Fitzgerald, spokesperson for the Office of the State Engineer.
She said this Legislative Finance Committee meeting is an important opportunity for the engineer’s office to talk about “plans to use the funds received in the 2023 legislative session and provide a roadmap of what we expect for the region in the coming decade.”
The New Mexico Environment Department will also be giving a presentation Tuesday morning. As of Monday afternoon, the agenda didn’t include any specific details.
After that, local, state and federal water officials are slated to talk about the state of water in New Mexico, including a discussion about alternative water sources. On the agenda are topics that include long-term planning, rethinking water supply sources, special appropriations and capital outlay dollars, and federal funding opportunities.
Another presentation on Wednesday will further delve into workarounds for New Mexico’s lack of water amid climate change.
Pei Xu is a New Mexico State University professor with expertise in water and hydrosciences. She’s presenting to lawmakers about desalination, one of her research interests.
Desalination is the process of removing salts and minerals from water. Xu told Source NM this could be a solution to the diminishing water supply available in the southwest.
“In New Mexico, we need water,” she said. “Water is life.”
Xu said she plans to tell lawmakers about how NMSU researchers are exploring treatments for water sources like brackish water — saline water usually found in underground aquifers. This water has to be treated because it has excessive minerals or other compounds that make it unsafe for humans to drink naturally.
The college’s researchers are trying to find more energy- and cost-efficient ways to treat the water, Xu said, a process that’s not cheap to do and can harm the environment. She said she’ll talk about different methods and technology NMSU experts are working on.
Xu said she hopes the lawmakers financially support the work.
The national southern border is New Mexico’s largest export base and second-largest industrial base, according to the Border Industrial Association. Association President and CEO Jerry Pacheco is on the committee schedule to talk more about this to lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon.
According to the agenda, he will discuss progress on “legislative investments” along the border.
In addition, Kathy Hansen will talk about economic development strategies at NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, where she’s the director and CEO. Arrowhead is a research organization that strives to help “innovators, entrepreneurs and small businesses” start or grow their services, according to the center’s website.
She told Source NM that the Legislative Finance Committee “places a very high priority on economic development in our state” and wants to learn more about what’s happening in southern New Mexico.
The final speaker is Joseph De La Rosa, senior advisor for global trade and infrastructure investments at the New Mexico Departments of Transportation and Economic Development. He’s scheduled to talk about “obstacles and opportunities for economic development in the border region.”
New Mexico Human Services Department Secretaries Kari Armijo and Alex Castillo Smith will join Margaret McCowen, director of the Behavioral Health Providers Association of New Mexico, on Thursday morning to talk about behavioral health matters.
They’ll speak about Medicaid and non-Medicaid rates for New Mexicans as well as HSD interagency operations, like workforce support and funding.
The agenda also says they’ll discuss “behavioral health provider startup costs” for fiscal year 2023 between HSD and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego and Deputy Secretary Michelle Gallagher Roberts are speaking Tuesday afternoon.
They plan to talk about upcoming exhibition plans in the state. They’ll also give an update on the status of improving facilities outside of Santa Fe.
In addition, the officials will go over staffing turnover, vacancy rates and plans to hire newly funded staff in fiscal year 2024.
Officials from New Mexico’s universities will be present Wednesday morning to talk about different research interests.
Research vice presidents from the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech will tell lawmakers about current research projects, general priorities and funding awards.
Juvenile justice facilities
The last presentation, happening Thursday morning, will be a progress report on juvenile justice facilities.
John Campbell, legislative finance program evaluator, and Teresa Casados, acting secretary for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will present.
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