A fence surrounds the state Capitol last month. Republican lawmakers want the barrier removed. Luis Sánchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican

Help on the way: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a pair of bills into law Wednesday that would provide financial relief from the coronavirus pandemic. 

This story also appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican

Senate Bill 1 would give restaurants, bars and other food and beverage establishments most affected by business restrictions a one-time gross receipts tax holiday for four months, from March to June. The bill also would provide one-time, $600 tax rebates to New Mexicans who earn less than $31,200 annually. 

Senate Bill 3 would provide small businesses with low-interest loans up to $150,000 that they wouldn’t have to repay for a few years. The loans could be used for capital expenses, such as building an outdoor dining area at a restaurant to adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The money would go to businesses with a net revenue of $5 million a year or less based on 2019 figures. The first year of the loan would be interest free.

“This pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but the pain has been spread unequally,” the governor wrote in a news release issued by her office. “My hope is these economic relief efforts reach those who need them most, and my commitment is New Mexico will continue to step up and support those who need it now and in the future as we build out a successful and sustainable recovery.”

Finagling finances: According to the National Financial Educators Council, financial management classes mandated for students in the states of Georgia, Idaho and Texas improved their credit scores by 10, 16 and 31 points, respectively.

Some New Mexico legislators want to see the same results here.

On Wednesday, members of the House Education Committee voted 9-4 to approve House Bill 163, which would require middle school students to take a half-credit of financial literacy. Advocates said the bill would help students learn more about the need to maintain and manage their finances, while opponents questioned whether it should continue to be offered only as an elective. The bill is on its way to the House floor for consideration.

“Love wins”: Archbishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe issued a statement Wednesday decrying a new law repealing a 1969 ban on abortion and a proposal to allow medical aid in dying for terminally ill patients.

“Bills that threaten vulnerable life are working their way through the legislature in New Mexico,” Wester said in the statement.

He called the end-of-life bill “the worst in the nation, making it a requirement that all patients in hospice care be offered assisted suicide as an option. This as we struggle to dissuade our young people from taking their lives when they are struggling with depression and despondency.”

The measures are “gravely disappointing but not defeating,” Wester wrote, adding, “… we understand disappointment. And we know that love wins. We work to protect vulnerable life, especially the unborn and those at the end of life, with the hope of changing hearts with love.”

Win for military kids: One problem facing military families when they get reassigned to a new state or city is the challenge of enrolling their kids in public schools. Sen. Harold Pope Jr., D-Albuquerque, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said those families need extra time to enroll their children in schools, especially if they want them in special education or other programs. He introduced Senate Bill 272, which allows military parents to enroll their children in public schools 45 days in advance.

Currently, state law gives those families 10 days to do that. The bill also requires school districts and charter schools to accept electronic applications for enrollment, and it does away with a requirement that a student provide proof of residency in the district at the time of enrollment.

The Senate unanimously approved the measure, which next moves to the House.

“This will do a lot for military families in the state,” Pope said.

Don’t fence me in: Near the close of a Senate floor session Wednesday, Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, asked why a protective fence still surrounds the state Capitol. The fence was erected just before the legislative session began Jan. 19 in response to the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol.

The fence has become a point of contention between many Republicans and Democrats. Republican lawmakers have argued such precautions are unnecessary and deter public participation and peaceful protests.

Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga recently said New Mexico State Police and other security personnel advised keeping all protective measures in place, including the fence, until the session ends March 20. 

“Are we trying to keep us in or trying to keep other people out?” Sharer asked the assembly. 

He said the fence is a symbol of panic, a “symbol that needs to come down now.” 

Then, addressing Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, Sharer said, “Madame President, tear down that fence.”

Stewart calmly replied, “Any other announcements?”

Remembering Sandoval: Legislators on both sides of the aisle reacted with sadness upon hearing of the death of former Rep. Ed Sandoval, D-Albuquerque. He served in the House from 1983-2014, often known for his quick wit and influence on tax issues. He also served in the state Senate in the 1970s. 

Quote of the day: “I hope it works better for them than their power grid.” — Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, on the news that Texas plans to reopen for business and schools next week, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.