I’ll drink to that: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law Wednesday initiating a sweeping reform of the state’s decades-old liquor license laws.

This story also appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican

Among other goals, House Bill 255 offers a $10,000-per-license buy-in for restaurants that want to sell beer, wine and liquor, and allows for home delivery of alcohol with a food order.

Initially intended only as a home-delivery effort to help restaurants hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislation became one of the most prominent during the 2021 legislative session.

Supporters say it will give entrepreneurs seeking to get into the restaurant business a chance to buy in at an affordable price. Opponents say it will diminish the value of existing liquor licenses, which can cost upward of $500,000.

“Like any bipartisan compromise, at the end of the day, most if not all will feel both that they got some of what they wanted and had to give some of what they didn’t,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release issued by her office Wednesday.

“Ultimately I side with those who argued that reform, after so many decades, is more than warranted, and that these reforms, in particular, will move us forward as a state — not only by providing an important new revenue stream for the restaurant and hospitality industry but by making this industry more accessible to more New Mexicans while including important safeguards,” she added.

The news won the praise of Save the Beer Economy, a national coalition of businesses and workers from the hospitality, manufacturing, retail and brewing industry.

That group sent out a news release thanking the governor and state lawmakers for dropping a provision from the bill that would have imposed a 2 percent excise tax on alcohol, which would have been passed onto consumers, to help offset some of the costs associated with the bill. The release said those groups need support through recovery efforts and not higher taxes.  

Shining a light on capital outlay: A transparency bill that would require the Legislature to publish a searchable database showing how each lawmaker spends coveted capital outlay dollars — aka “pork” — received unanimous support Wednesday from the Senate.

The House still has to approve changes to the bill before it heads to the governor’s desk.

“I’ve been working on this for four years, and I plead to the Senate to please don’t let my efforts go to waste,” Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, said before the 40-0 vote.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were surprised such disclosure wasn’t already required.

“Being a newly elected legislator, I wouldn’t have expected it any other way, so I’m pleased to see that we’re making steps to having a more transparent process,” said Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte.

Open and good government advocates hailed the passage of House Bill 55, with the Santa Fe-based think tank Think New Mexico tweeting that it “builds on many other steps the Legislature has made to improve transparency, accountability, and public trust in government.”

The Olympics of oppression: That’s what Rep. Derrick Lente, Sandia Pueblo, called lawmakers’ tendency to claim the schools they represent are in the most need of help because they are struggling to succeed against all odds.

One way to resolve that challenge, said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, a retired educator, is to pass Senate Bill 17, which requires the state Public Education Department to calculate, on an annual basis, a family income index to determine which students are in need of extra support.

The index would provide an aggregated measure of household income for each public school in the state. The 50 schools with the highest rate of low-income families would be eligible for money to help with literacy interventions, evidence-based math instruction and interventions for at-risk students.

The bill’s fiscal impact report says money already exists in the state’s Public Education Reform Fund to support the program at $10 million per year for two years, with each eligible school averaging about $104,000. Schools would get at least $20,000 under the provisions of the bill.

The House Education Committee unanimously approved the measure, sending it on to the House floor for consideration. It has already cleared the Senate.

Quotes of the day: “If you really want to get into the penny ante stuff that we’re getting into with Sen. Brandt’s amendment, I suggest we start looking at the paper clip budget up in the governor’s office. I’ve been given tips that that’s really an exorbitant, extravagant expenditure.” — Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, reacting to proposed budget amendment from Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, to reduce Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s contingency fund appropriation from $96,000 to $72,000 following revelations her office spent money from the account on alcohol, Wagyu beef and dry cleaning, among other expenses.

“We are the only Legislature in the country that has no pay, no staff, no time, and that leaves New Mexicans behind.” — Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, during a news conference she held to discuss the issue of bills piling up in the Senate Judiciary Committee. — Santa Fe New Mexican