Inside the Capitol

Monday, February 27, 2006

3-1 No Special Session?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It appears we may not see a special legislative session. Gov. Bill Richardson said he would let us know last week, one way or the other.
He didn't exactly do that, but his actions spoke as loudly as if he had given us the official word.
By executive order, last week, the governor put into play many of the initiatives he wasn't able to get through a balky Senate. Richardson's need for a special session is now greatly lessened.
There is the matter of $250 million of special project goodies left on the table. But there are ways to get money into some of the projects he wants, while making lawmakers suffer the loss of their pet projects.
And there is always the possibility that a majority of legislators could decide they want a special session. There obviously are some who want various of the projects that didn't make it through.
And there are lawmakers upset about the governor bypassing the legislative process who may want to go into session and undo Richardson's executive orders.
But most likely they will decide to just complain about the bullying governor. Election years are not good times to have special sessions.
The biggest failure of the 2006 Legislature was the killing of ethics reform by the Senate. The governor's anti-corruption package was defeated when a majority of Senators voted to strike the enacting clause of the bill, meaning that even if passed, it would have no effect.
At a time when public confidence in government has been eroded by the treasurer's office scandal, movement in the direction of corrective legislation would have been wise.
One of Richardson's solutions was to give more oversight of the treasurer's office to the state board of finance, which he controls.
Many lawmakers didn't like that, but instead of just letting it die and claiming they ran out of time, senators used a cheap tactical maneuver that enabled them to tell their constituents they didn't vote against ethics legislation.
Lawmakers had better get busy in their interim committees during the next few months and develop some tough anti-corruption legislation for next year's Legislature. Otherwise, they may encounter some strong anti-incumbent sentiments in their primary and general campaigns.
Unfortunately, senators don't have stand for reelection this year. And they are the problem. So maybe it will be two years before we see any real reform. In 2008, all 112 legislators have to run.
It also is important to note that the Senate failed to pass a joint memorial, approved unanimously by the House, to create a special interim committee to develop ethics legislation.
However, we can't view senators as the only bad guys. Sometimes, in the middle of their terms, they take the rap in order to protect their colleagues in the House who have to run.
By next year, lawmakers at least should be able to develop and pass laws tightening procedures in the treasurer's office. But further anti-corruption measures need to involve a discussion of reforms that will apply to all public officials. That includes legislative candidates, and lawmakers are always slow to police themselves.
Gov. Richardson's executive order increases state oversight of the treasurer's office, establishes a code of ethics and conduct for the office, sets campaign contribution rules and establishes a whistleblower program,
There will be no problem assuring that this order will be followed for the next 10 months. State Treasurer Doug Brown, appointed by Richardson to serve the rest of Robert Vigil's term, already was implementing those recommendations.
Another executive order issued by Gov. Richardson last week imposes tough, new regulations on payday lenders. He also directed the Energy and Minerals Department to prepare for the creation of a Transmission Authority to get New Mexico's wind energy to market, and announced his support for a minimum wage increase in Albuquerque through the city council rather than by referendum.
WED, 12-6-00

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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