A bill to impose a 25-cent tax on alcoholic drinks goes before its first legislative hearing of the session Friday. Looming over it is the 2017 defeat of a similar bill by the alcohol industry.Much has changed in six years. The mood of the Legislature appears different in 2023. Greater awareness of alcohol’s harms seems to have permeated the legislative body. Partly because the stats are so stark.
In February 2021, as New Mexico lawmakers considered landmark legislation to loosen restrictions on alcohol sales, the state’s alcohol epidemiologist Annaliese Mayette set out to assess the bill. Excessive drinking kills people in New Mexico at a faster clip than anywhere else in the country, and the proposal would make it easier for restaurants to serve liquor and allow residents to order alcohol delivered directly to their homes. The intention was to buoy hospitality businesses hard-hit by pandemic-era shutdowns.
Drawing on scientific research and her expertise, Mayette warned in a memo that the legislation would “give underage drinkers more access to alcohol” and “would likely increase harms” including violent crime and child abuse. Her memo was meant for the Legislative Finance Committee, which compiles analysis from state agencies to educate policymakers on the likely consequences of voting a bill into law. Mayette sent a draft to higher-ups in the health department — but they never passed it on, so her concerns were missing from the committee’s report.