Inside the Capitol

Saturday, February 02, 2008

2-6 Halfway Through and Nothing's Happened?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Eek. We're halfway through the legislative session and nothing's happened.
Legislatures, like lives, go through stages. The first week is a laid-back time to get reacquainted, go to receptions and introduce some bills. Friday begins a long weekend.
In the old days, Hugh Bishop flew all the bills that had been introduced to his printing company in Portales and used the three days to make all the copies necessary for Monday morning at the Capitol. Technology has speeded up the world, but the holiday continues.
Committees start working on bills during the second week but little action is taken.
And then comes the mid-point of a 30-day session. It's the deadline for bill introductions. At this point lawmakers know what issues they are dealing with -- and not dealing with. Technically bills should have passed through the chamber in which they were introduced and be on their way to the other house.
But that hasn't happened. Many important bills haven't even had their first hearing. This is when lawmakers begin paying attention. And that is when Gov. Bill Richardson stepped in with a news conference to let lawmakers know he'd like to see more action.
Something the governor failed to note, however, was that there is only one bill that has to pass before the session ends. That's the big budget bill to finance state government for the next fiscal year. And that bill is exactly on schedule. It passed the House at the session's midpoint and is now in the Senate.
House leaders did not let that accomplishment go unnoticed, scoffing at Richardson's charge that this is a do-nothing Legislature. The governor may come to regret that comment. He's given lawmakers a battle cry they may use as they take actions contrary to the governor's wishes.
Another example of needing to be careful of what you wish for is lawmakers' request of the governor that he not allow so many extra subjects to be addressed by this year's session. During short sessions, the governor controls what is on the legislative agenda other than financial items.
Richardson agreed to limit the items he put on the legislative plate this year. But now many lawmakers are saying they didn't mean for the governor not to allow the special items in which they are interested.
Next week lawmakers will reach the panic stage as they see conflicts with the governor and other legislators bringing the session to a halt before work is completed. We'll hear much about train wrecks, meltdowns and special sessions. And maybe there will be a few silent wishes they could add in that Friday from the first week.
But almost always it works out. Amazingly New Mexico gets its business attended to in 30 or 60 days while bigger states take all year to accomplish no more. And even with year-long sessions, the phases mentioned here still occur. The final week is just as frantic with late-night and weekend sessions.
The truth is that New Mexico has a system that works and which costs us a lot less than a full-time Legislature. Our unpaid lawmakers put in a punishing one or two months to keep our state running and then return to their lives as citizens.
At this point, no more bills can be introduced. That ends at the midpoint of the session. House and Senate party leaders do introduce a number of blank bills, called dummies, just in case an important, but unexpected, situation arises.
Few of these dummy bills ever are used, however, They are guarded closely by the leadership in order to prevent misuse.
As we begin the downhill slope, some controversial bills on the governor's call already have made it through one house. Stem cell research has passed the Senate and domestic partnerships passed the House.
The big problem is ethics legislation recommended by a task force that has worked for two years. It is going nowhere.
WED, 2-06-08

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



Post a Comment

<< Home