mhallen headshotMerritt Hamilton Allen, whose work is published previously in the Edgewood Independent, will also provide her columns to the Grant County Beat. 

No winners in 2023 legislature

Saturday noon came and went with a whimper. The New Mexico legislature adjourned sine die, and I couldn't care less.

Child welfare reform? Nope. Meaningful tax reform? Oh, hell no. Good government reform? Talk to the hand.

At first, I was pleased to see the state severance permanent fund funded to almost 30% of the total budget, or nearly $3.25 billion. Then the total funding amount recommended in the House budget to fund the severance permanent fund was slashed 44% by the Senate in the last week of the session to fund even more stuff in a budget bill totaling nearly $10 billion.

I absolutely hate that. The $375 million pulled out of the severance permanent fund funding by the Senate Finance Committee went to fully funding free college tuition and $500 tax rebates.

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Making good on campaign promises

On page 104 of House Bill 505, the capital outlay budget, it is written in clear black and white:
"The following amounts are appropriated from the general fund to the department of finance and administration for expenditure in fiscal years 2023 through 2027, unless otherwise provided in Section 1 of this act, for the following purposes:
1. ten million dollars ($10,000,000) to plan, design and construct a reproductive health clinic in Dona Ana county;"

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her re-election campaign bid last summer pledged to commit $10 million in state funds for an abortion clinic in Doña Ana County. So here it is.

Like millions of women nationwide, I have many concerns about the impact of the repeal of Roe v. Wade on women's health care. While not an abortion advocate, I think it must be legal and I am worried that some routine procedures, like a D&C after a miscarriage, may become harder to obtain in this new post-Roe environment.

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Paid medical leave: a new entitlement program funded by payroll taxes

There's a lot of momentum behind Senate Bill 11, the Paid Medical and Family Leave Bill. It's already passed the Senate and now is moving through the House. Unlike the 2021 Healthy Workplaces Act, the burden of which is borne entirely by employers, this paid medical leave bill is paid for by employees, employers and a proposed new state investment fund.

Essentially, it's a new entitlement program.

It would require all employers with 5 or more employees to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave a year, in increments as small as four hours. The intent is to manage a major illness, take time for parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, or care for a family member experiencing a major illness.

Or, I guess, a half day off for treatment of an ingrown toenail.

SB 11 also requires employers to hold the employee's job or provide an equivalent one upon return to work.

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The health provider crisis could bring the collapse of New Mexico

TNew Mexico can't keep its doctors.

This has long been a problem for smaller communities and in the last five years, our largest metro area, Albuquerque, is also seeing its physicians flee the state.

And it isn't just specialty care. Primary care physicians have also left – 700 of them since 2017 - leaving the state below national provider-to-population benchmarks. This isn't a looming danger. It's a crisis we are in now that will take years to recover from.

It's a grave crisis because of our population. In the last decade our population barely grew. But that growth came from people over the age of 64. The only group of people coming to New Mexico are retirees – the demographic needing significantly more healthcare services than any other.

18.5% of New Mexicans were over 65 in the 2020 census. This number is projected to be 26.5% by 2030. Nationally, the over-65 population is projected to be 19.7% by 2030. Our working population is leaving the state for better career opportunities due to our flatline economy.

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Some Like it Not

There's a hot new trend in some conservative circles: Demonizing drag performers.

There are at least 26 bills introduced in 14 states that seek to classify all drag performances as adult entertainment and zone and regulate them accordingly. According to The Washington Post, the Drag Queen Story Hour phenomenon is largely to blame for backlash against drag performances.

Drag Queen Story Hour is a nationwide movement where public library story hour is hosted by, you guessed it, drag queens. They read children's books. In fantastical costumes and makeup that can take hours to apply.

In fact, if you described it instead as Magic Fantasy Story Hour, "where volunteer readers arrive in elaborate costumes to make the storytelling more fabulous," this might not even be an issue.

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Minor issues to government

Two of the bills currently making their way through the 2023 Legislature are about when young people are old enough to do stuff. House Bill 217 would lower the voting age to 16 for local and state elections. Senate Bill 116 would prohibit New Mexicans under the age of 21 from purchasing or possessing automatic or semiautomatic firearms (with lots of exceptions).

Currently the voting age is 18 across the board. 18 is also the age when one can join the military (there is a waiver for 17-year-olds who have finished high school and have parental permission). 18 is the age, for the most part, when you are kicked out of the foster care system. 18-year-olds accused of crimes are treated as adults in the criminal justice system.

To purchase cigarettes, other tobacco products, cannabis, or alcohol, one must be 21. Turning 21 also allows you to gamble in a casino.

The only things 16-year-olds in New Mexico can do currently are drive if they've had a learner's permit for a year and be tried as an adult if the felony they're accused of has enough media attention.

We're all over the place on what is a minor and what is an adult. The more subjective we get, the more inconsistent we become.

There is a lot of fluidity among individuals and their maturity between the ages of 16 and 21, I think everyone can agree. I left for college the week before I turned 17 and started supporting myself at 20. As a whole, I feel I am not a (terribly) warped member of society.

But the government felt at the time of my college graduation that I was too young, even as a commissioned military officer, to buy a bottle of wine.

(Although it is fairly universally accepted that girls mature faster than boys – how many friends do you have with a daughter who is "13 going on 30?" Perhaps we should stagger the age of majority by gender.)

Many, many New Mexicans begin supporting themselves at the age of 18. Some enter the military; others enter the workforce. Still others become law enforcement officers. We trust them to defend our nation, apprentice to skilled trades, or protect our neighborhoods.

But purchase tobacco, cannabis or alcohol? That's a step too far.

So, I don't love SB 116. I understand the point: To prevent disturbed young people from buying high-capacity rifles and going on a rampage. It may prevent purchase but is unlikely to prevent possession. There are so many exceptions listed in the bill regarding possession that that element seems impossible to enforce.

More problematic to me is HB 217. I just don't see a need for high school sophomores to choose our next governor. I am all for voter participation, but I don't see this panning out the way the bill's sponsors and the Secretary of State hope.

First, 16- and 17-year-old voters are more likely to opt out of registering with a party, in keeping with Gen Z trends, so will be Decline To State, or DTS. So if the first election they are old enough for is the primary, they are already left out.

It seems to me, like most of the voting reform package put forward by the Secretary of State, lowering the voting age is a solution in search of a problem.

It seems to me, enforcing possession of certain firearms by "minors" is going to be problematic.

18 seems like a good, round number for nearly everything. Or actually for everything.

Given the decades-long 21-year-old benchmark for alcohol (ranked among the highest in the world generally on par with majority-Muslim nations), and the raising of tobacco sales to that age (us, Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Mongolia), and fixing cannabis from the beginning there, I know it's unlikely that our country would lower the age for our "sin" consumptions.

We are a global outlier, without necessarily better outcomes. We rank similarly to other developed nations for deaths attributed to alcohol and tobacco, despite a higher age for first legal access.

Families, the economy, and society generally recognize the transition from minor to adult around age 18. The government should quit affixing arbitrary ages to certain acts to achieve political aims.


Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at

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The debt ceiling fight is a losing battle

We are two weeks past the deadline for the U.S. government to continue borrowing, or the debt limit. For 2023, it is estimated that the nation must borrow $100 billion each month to meet its obligations.

We are now in "extraordinary measures" that must be taken by the Treasury Department to duct tape together finances while Congress and the White House negotiate raising the debt limit. If this limit is not raised in about six months, the nation begins defaulting on some of its financial obligations.

This week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met one-on-one with President Biden for the first time this week to discuss a number of issues, including the debt ceiling. The new House majority has made the debt ceiling its opening salvo in what looks to be a highly combative session.

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Sighing over the 2023 legislative session

Last week, New Mexico's 56th Legislature convened. I missed the telecast of the first in-person State of the State speech in three years as I was on a plane. I'm sure it said all the right things about our children, our opportunities and our great state.

The session is starting with a lot of new leadership and a lot of new bills that I hate. The leadership is a mixed bag. New faces are, to me, a good sign in general. However, as new House Minority Leader Ryan Lane (R-3), Minority Whip Jason Harper (R-57) and Caucus Chair Gail Armstrong (R-49) show some movement to the center for the GOP, Democratic leadership continues a leftward bent.

The intent of new Speaker of the House Javier Martinez (D-11) was made quite clear as incumbent, moderate, and pro-business House Appropriations Chair Patricia Lundstrom (D-9) was removed from that committee entirely and replaced by progressive legislator Nathan Small (D-36).

The GOP leadership may reflect a more moderate tone, but the Democrats aren't meeting them in the middle. And they have the numbers – 45 to 25 – to do as they like.

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