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Higher minimum wage among new laws in New Mexico on Jan. 1

December 27, 2019 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — As 2020 arrives, New Mexico is raising its minimum wage, adding protections against surprise medical billing and allowing more people to remove their past criminal records from public view.

New laws that take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, include the first statewide minimum wage increase in over a decade.

Base pay rises to $9 an hour — the first in a series of state minimum wage increases. The increases top out at $12 per hour in 2023 under a law signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Come Jan. 1, New Mexico also is dramatically expanding the range of criminal records that can be wiped from public view — including some felonies — once sentences and restitution are complete.

Sponsors of the legislation said they hope to improve ex-convicts’ chances at finding jobs and restarting their lives after prison. Previously, having a criminal record expunged was limited to false accusations or misdemeanors.

Depending on the severity of the crime, waiting periods of between two and 10 years are required after completion of a sentence.

Though some severe felonies are eligible to be removed from public view, the new law won’t hide past convictions for crimes against children, offenses that caused great bodily harm or death, sex offenses, embezzlement-related offenses or citations for driving while intoxicated.

Once expunged, criminal proceedings will be treated as if they never occurred with the exception of inquiries about employment applications at banks and other financial institutions.

Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, who co-sponsored the legislation, said judges will decide whether to expunge criminal records after evaluating how those seeking the privilege have conducted their lives following the completion of their sentences.

“If you pay your debt to society, we want you to be able to get on with your life as well,” she said.

Also in the new year, the state is increasing oversight of so-called surprise medical billing, which occurs when an insured person inadvertently receives care from an out-of-network provider.

Consumer protections against surprise medical bills have been enacted in at least 28 states, though the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health care research foundation says only 13 offer comprehensive protections — including New Mexico.

There are limits to protections that can be offered by states, which cannot regulate employer-based medical plans. Congress has been on the cusp of approving federal legislation on surprise billing as 2020 approaches.

Another new New Mexico law is closing a tax loophole for homeowners who rent rooms on a short-term basis through Airbnb-style third-party websites. It has the potential to raise more money for local governments to spend on advertising for tourism.

On minimum wages, local governments including Santa Fe, Las Cruces and the county encompassing Albuquerque already have higher minimum wage requirements than the state.

A second-tier minimum wage for high school students 18 years or younger has been set at $8.50 by the state, starting Jan. 1. Minimum pay for tipped workers such as restaurant servers is increasing from $2.13 an hour to $3 by 2023.