02-22-18 RMFU: New Mexico Lawmakers Deliver For Farmers, Ranchers, And Rural Communities

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RMFU: New Mexico Lawmakers Deliver For Farmers, Ranchers, And Rural Communities

By Pam Roy,  RMFU New Mexico Government Relations 

With the New Mexico Legislative session just finished, here are a few important wins for farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and local foods. In last minute negotiations by the House and Senate on the final budget, lawmakers offered more support for the NM Grown Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for School Meals: the Senate Finance Committee committed $225,000 to add to the House Appropriations budget of $200,000 making the total funding $425,000. This is more than the legislative request to restore funding to the program HB 62 and SB 106. Thanks to our sponsors Representative Jimmie Hall and Speaker Brian Egolf, and Senators Howie Morales,  Pat Woods and Pete Campos. The goal to create a permanent program within the New Mexico Public Education Department is about to be realized with support from the NM School Nutrition Association, Farm to Table, the NM Food and Ag Policy Council, CPLC New Mexico, COPE the NM Departments of Ag and the Department of Health.

Groups anticipate the support of Governor Susana Martinez and the Legislative Branch, yet 20 days of review are still ahead.  Future plans include expanding the program to include Farm to School education-related programs and to explore how to add New Mexico beef to the school lunch plate.

A memorial to support the future of frontier and rural communities, known as Senate Joint Memorial 2, passed with flying colors.  The purpose of the memorial is to convene a working group to identify the challenges unique to frontier communities and seek a broad array of opportunities to strengthen the future of these communities. Frontier communities are the remote and geographically isolated settlements and villages that, over centuries, evolved into the Land of Enchantment. They face unique economic and social challenges. The group will focus on employment, aging population issues, education attainment, less access to health care, healthy food availability, adequate housing, broadband, and reliable transportation.

Another memorial, HM61, focuses on priority programs in the federal Farm Bill that benefit New Mexico’s agriculture, nutrition, and conservation programs. Sponsored by Representative George Dodge, the memorial passed the Agriculture Committee and went on to gain unanimous support of the entire House  on a 66 to 0 vote. The memorial and legislature’s passage of this supports the efforts of the New Mexico Resilience in Farming and Ranching initiative led by NM First, NM State University and a team of organizations and agencies working together on a set of priorities to strengthen the economic viability of family farming and ranching. Soil and water conservation districts led the way in program support and future needs.

A memorial to initiate a hunger task force came late in the session and was passed in the last moments.  This follows previous efforts over the last 15 years to stem the tide of hunger in New Mexico, a state that continues to be plagued by some of the highest hunger and poverty in the nation.

All legislation having any content to reinstate a food tax did not pass.

The Governor and Executive Branch now have twenty days to focus on their priorities in the $6.4 billion bipartisan budget and decide what will ultimately receive state funding and agency support.  Increased education funding and state agency and teacher employee raises are part of the package. A spokeswoman for Governor Martinez stated that she is receptive to the budget.  Legislative leaders worked with the Governor to prioritize economic development, public safety and crime reduction initiatives.

More details of the final progress of the budget and bills in and additional food and agriculture related bills and their outcomes will appear in an upcoming LegisLetter.

We thank all of you who supported the priorities of the NM Food and Agriculture Policy Council, NM School Nutrition Association and partner organizations and agencies.  We appreciate all of you who participated in the New Mexico Food and Farms Day and School Nutrition Day at the Legislature. The event enjoyed an incredible turnout and incredible enthusiasm and support.  It truly takes us all to create change and support important programs.