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New Mexico governor's State of the State speech disrupted by protesters

NM Gov. Lujan Grisham outlined her legislative agenda, which includes measures on public safety, public education, and climate, but she was quickly interrupted by protestors.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined an ambitious legislative agenda designed to rein in violent crime, improve public education, expand access to affordable housing and address concerns about climate change and drought in a State of the State speech Tuesday.

The speech marked the start of a 30-day legislative session that determines spending priorities for the coming fiscal year amid a multibillion-dollar surplus in general fund income. It was interrupted repeatedly by shouting from dozens of protesters in the state House gallery calling for solutions to climate change and a cease-fire in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The second-term Democratic governor announced a new proposal to embed experts in low-performing public schools to provide greater support for students, as legislators have expressed frustration with academic proficiency and high school graduation rates that lag below national averages.


"All of us, including our school districts, all of us have to be accountable for the results that we desire," Lujan Grisham told a joint session of the state House and Senate. "We need to guarantee that the Legislature’s billions in public education are going to the right places and leading to better outcomes."

Republicans in the legislative minority want a different approach that fosters greater school choices and competition, pitching a proposal to provide tax credits to low-income families who send children to private school.

In response to jeers from protesters, Lujan Grisham called on the sergeant of arms to restore order — but also suggested a round of applause to "embrace differences of opinion."

"Even though it's a disruption ... the world is complicated," she said.

Escorted from the Capitol, one group of protesters chanted, "Global war is a war of the rich upon the poor. Stop the bombing and the siege. Palestine will be free."

Protester Zephyr Jaramillo, a member of Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, said she joined the protests in defense of sacred land and aquifers. The 22-year-old with ties to the Native American communities of Isleta and San Felipe pueblos accused the governor of putting the interests of industry ahead of residents in promoting carbon-storage and hydrogen projects.

Lujan Grisham announced a proposal to dedicate $170 million from a state financial trust to help develop energy storage projects involving batteries, geothermal electricity production that harnesses underground heat, and hydrogen as a cleaner-burning alternative to fossil fuels. Some environmentalists call hydrogen a false solution because it frequently relies on natural gas as a fuel source.

The state expects to draw in a record-setting $13 billion during the fiscal year that starts July 1 — exceeding annual spending obligations by nearly one-third.

Leading Democratic legislators are calling for a restrained increase of 5.9% in annual general fund spending totaling $10.1 billion, warning of a slowdown in surging income linked to oil and natural gas production. They want to dial back on borrowing for construction projects, while expanding savings and endowments to help sustain critical government programs in the future, including child care and preschool.

Lujan Grisham is recommending a more robust annual spending increase of nearly 10%. Her new spending priorities include a $500 million plan to expand housing assistance and spur residential construction — along with an additional $40 million to launch a statewide effort to reduce homelessness.


House Democrats on Tuesday emphasized a commitment to improving public safety — including tighter gun restrictions — along with increased spending on early childhood education and legislation designed to attract new investments in clean-energy enterprises that may rein in climate-warming pollution.

"We are at a pivotal moment in New Mexico history — record revenues mean great opportunity, and also a tremendous responsibility to deliver for the people of our state," Democratic House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque said at a news conference Tuesday.

Lujan Grisham has emphasized her support for a broad package of public safety initiates designed to address gun violence, retail crime and hazing. Gun-control proposals would provide a 14-day cooling off period for gun purchases, restrict features on assault-style rifles that make them more deadly and raise the minimum age to 21 for purchases of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns.

On Tuesday, she also called on legislators to approve mandatory treatment for addiction for people who repeatedly enter the judicial system for using illicit substances, and she highlighted a proposal to ban panhandling.

"Something must shift," Lujan Grisham said. "We need responsible, accountable and compassionate action that makes a lasting difference. And that means getting these individuals the treatment that they need and, quite frankly, that they deserve."

Republicans in the legislative minority are cautioning against legislation that might infringe on gun rights, while supporting changes to the state's pretrial detention system that would give authorities more leeway to incarcerate some defendants pending trial. Lujan Grisham also voice support for pretrial detention reforms.

New Mexico overhauled the system, starting in 2017, to eliminate money-bail and ensure dangerous individuals can be jailed pending trial.

Republican state Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho said he has met with Democratic officials including the governor on a bill that would bolster laws against organized crime, provisions he says might be used combat illegal sales of guns to minors.

Answering to concerns about climate change and fossil fuels, Lujan Grisham wants the state to provide tax credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles. Another proposal would underwrite development of a strategic new source of water for industrial uses — harnessing treated water that originates from the salty byproducts of oil and natural gas drilling.

The entire Legislature is up for election in November.

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