New Mexico state senators including newly elected Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, center-left, and the Senate’s new president pro-tem, Mimi Stewart, D-Albquerque, bottom left, stand at the opening of a 60-day legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M. Fences, roadblocks, police and troops encircled the building as a precaution against federal warnings about the potential for violence. Plexiglass partitions have been installed on the floor of the House and Senate to protect legislators from coronavirus infection, and the Capitol is closed to the public to blunt the contagion.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico could become the first state to offer public campaign financing to candidates seeking to serve as judges in general jurisdiction courts that handle the bulk of criminal and civil-law trials, under a bill aimed at reducing reliance on private campaign donations in the judiciary.

The bill from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, of Santa Fe, and Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, advanced toward a likely Senate floor vote this week, after the endorsement Friday of a legislative budget committee.

New Mexico currently offers public financing to candidates in statewide elections to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The initiative would extend the option of public financing to candidates for nearly 100 judicial seats in state district courts that handle criminal trials on charges ranging from murder to burglary, as well as a broad gamut of civil litigation related to personal injury, contract disputes, divorces and more.

New Mexico’s district judges are initially elected in partisan elections to six-year terms, and then subject to nonpartisan retention elections. They also may be appointed initially through a nominating commission.

Alicia Bannon, managing director for the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, says no other states currently provide public financing for lower-court races, while a bill in the Maryland Legislature would extend public financing to state circuit and orphans’ court races.