Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

3-6 Lingering Issues

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Lawmakers have gone home, having passed many bills and killed many more. Gov. Bill Richardson still has a few more days to decide on whether to sign or veto the bills they did pass.
But regardless of whether the bills were passed or killed, signed or vetoed, many issues remain unresolved and will continue to fester until they are resolved.
We'll start with the issues that passed the Legislature.
1. A return to paper ballots. Many lawmakers call it a return to horse and buggy days. Many county clerks say it won't work and is a waste of money.
But the governor and secretary of state say it is the only way to create a paper trail that will regain the confidence of voters. And two types of electronic machines were going to have to be replaced by the end of the year because they don't meet new federal standards.
Could those county clerks be covering their backsides in case anything goes wrong? The disagreements will continue.
2. Katie's Law, named after Katie Sepich, a New Mexico State University student, who was raped and murdered. Her mother successfully lobbied the Legislature to require fingerprinting of everyone charged with a felony. Civil rights advocates contended that fingerprinting of those convicted of a felony is as far as it should go. Court challenges are a certainty.
And now, those issues that didn't pass the Legislature.
1. Kendra's Law, named after Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a New York subway by a schizophrenic, would allow judges to order outpatient treatment for the mentally ill. It was prompted by Albuquerque killings by mentally ill persons who weren't on their medications.
Family members testified on both sides of the issue. Some said it would help them deal with relatives they no longer can handle. Others said it will drive people away from treatment. The solution, they said, is not mandatory treatment, but the availability of better treatment. Lawmakers decided the $2 million earmarked for improved treatment was woefully short of meeting that need.
2. Misconduct by public officials. This package of bills ranged from anti-corruption measures to ethics reform. At least 99 percent of the state's citizens would support all the components of the package, but lawmakers chose to pass only one minor bill. Voters are likely to have a good memory on this one.
3. Open conference committees. Granted, it is those of us in the media who feel most strongly about this one. But members of the public do feel they have a right to know what is going on when the doors of government are closed.
4. Conference committees iron out differences between the two houses of the Legislature on specific bills. Since they are closed sessions, anything can happen, and often does. It often is an opportunity for the majority party to create much mischief at the expense of the minority.
Since these committee reports come out at the end of a session and cannot be amended, they usually pass and result in laws that have not been heard in public. I can assure you that we will keep knocking on that door until it is opened.
5. Medical marijuana doesn't affect many people. For those whom it can help reduce the pain and suffering of terminal illness, it is said to be a blessing. But others have nagging suspicions that this isn't a medical bill, it is a marijuana bill. That argument isn't going away.
6. And finally, coming to a public body near you, local attempts to raise the minimum wage. Opponents of an increase were ecstatic when attempts to raise the minimum wage were defeated at the end of the legislative session.
But they may not be as happy when the divisive debate comes to their town. Bills before the Legislature would have prevented local increases, except in Santa Fe, where city council action already has blown wages through the roof.
MON, 3-06-06

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



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