Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 13, 2005


SANTA FE – Recently, state legislative leaders conducted a training session for newly-elected lawmakers to acquaint them with the legislative process as it is practiced here in New Mexico.
But often the most valuable of information doesn't get imparted. The following are some of the unwritten, and often unspoken, tricks of the trade I've gleaned from rookie legislators after they have been hardened by their first year of battle.
Trick #1: If you want to know what is wrong with an idea, introduce it as legislation.
Trick #2: When presenting a bill at a committee, always refer to it as simple, non-controversial and designed merely to clean up confusion in a present statute. That's never true, but fellow lawmakers won't realize you have begun explaining your measure until they hear those words.
Trick #3: Your bills will move through the process at a glacially slow pace while others move at the speed of light. A corollary: good bills move slowly; bad bills slide right on through.
Trick #4: Our founders designed the legislative process for defense which isn't all bad. To be enacted into law, your bill will have to clear several committees, the floor of the House and Senate and be signed by the governor. Those wishing to defeat your bill merely have to stop it at any one of those points.
Trick #5: Amendments to your bill are like rabbits: their rate of proliferation is beyond calculation.
Trick #6: Get your bills past both houses before the last week of the session so the governor only has three days to sign or veto them. Otherwise you will have to sweat it out until 20 days after adjournment.
If you lobby the governor, remember a promise isn't a commitment.
Trick #7: If your bill reaches the floor during the final 48 hours of
the session, good luck. Just sit back and watch the pros get around every procedural rule you've just been taught.
Trick #8: The answer to a quick question never is.
Trick #9: Important decisions will be made after you leave the room. In fact, important decisions always will be made where you aren't.
Trick #10: Budget bills are like vampires. They are discussed only in the dead of night.
Trick # 11: The quality and quantity of discussion on budget items is in reverse proportion to the amount of money it contains.
Trick #12: A grunt suffices in the House for what requires a speech in the Senate.
Trick #13: Tax increases earn enmity; tax reductions ingratitude.
Trick #14: Friends disappear; enemies accumulate.
Trick #15: Those who do not manipulate are manipulated.
Trick #16: Legislating is a continuous process. The toes you step on today may be attached to the back you want to slap tomorrow.
Trick #17: If there is subtlety in an idea, the press will overlook it. If there is an idea, television reporters will overlook it.
Trick #18: Every legislative action engenders a new conspiracy theory by political observers.
Trick #19: Conference committee reports are proof of life after death. These committees, which meet in secret, are bound by no rules, so bills that were killed earlier, may emerge in a conference committee report on a related bill.
Trick #20: The session isn't over until the fat guy passes his bills.
Trick #21: Interim committees can be fun. Sign up for several. They meet in between sessions and are held all around the state, where local lawmakers roll out the hospitality. They offer an opportunity to see your new friends and become more familiar with the Land of Enchantment without the pressure of getting bills passed.
Trick #22: New legislators should be seen, not heard. Answer only "yes, no" or "present" for the first two years.


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