Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

3-4 Big Smoke. No Fire

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- As the legislature passed its midpoint, it was a case of heap big smoke but no fire. Bills were moving slowly through committee. Some Saturday sessions were being held but not many.
The House had passed some major legislation that has gotten nowhere in the Senate. That's not particularly unusual. Both houses give priority to their own bills until near the end of the session.
The big boasts that the Senate Rules Committee will produce an omnibus ethics bill continue to be made but little progress is evident. The committee is hearing ethics bills but at glacial speed.
Other bills are piling up on its calendar. This is the committee that confirms gubernatorial appointments, some of which are expected to be controversial. As of this writing, no weekend sessions of the committee have been held.
Between the House and Senate, over 30 ethics measures have been introduced. The House is accumulating its bills in the Voters and Elections Committee, which is also talking about an omnibus bill.
If such a bill is created in either or both houses, it will have to survive many committees and pass on the floor of both houses. Some of the committees an omnibus bill can be expected to encounter are the judiciary and finance committees of each house.
All four of those committees, with the huge number of bills referred to them, are known for grinding good ideas to a permanent halt. Do we have a plot afoot here?
It may be that the only real step toward transparency in government will be the broadcasting and Webcasting of legislative sessions and committee hearings.
Amusingly, that has come about not as the result of legislation but because of an act of civil disobedience by a Republican woman. Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones set up her own equipment to transmit audio and video webcasts of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
Committee Chairman Ed Sandoval and Speaker of the House Ben Lujan both requested her not to do it. But she proceeded. Since then, the House has approved Webcasting as has the Senate Committee on Committees, which got the whole hubbub started by taking down the cameras the Senate approved the previous year.
The House approval resulted in the Legislature's website at transmitting the audio of House floor sessions. When the House is in session, click on the red message in the upper right hand corner of the screen and hear the proceedings.
It will likely be next year before the Senate will have its equipment set back up to send out audio and video signals during sessions of the Senate.
Meanwhile webcasts are available from,,,
Cancer claimed two of New Mexico's most committed advocates in the last few weeks. Patty Jennings lobbied for special education and other services for children and families with special heeds and was instrumental in the creation of the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool.
Jennings came to the Capitol many years ago as Patty Ikard, from Las Cruces, lobbying for children with special needs. She became a familiar face around the Capitol over the coming years.
Her bills often were in the Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Tim Jennings, of Roswell. Their mutual interests eventually led to marriage. Patty continued her presence at the Capitol, serving as a valuable source of fresh ideas for her husband.
She earned the respect of leaders from both parties. Capitol regulars will miss her greatly.
Another loss to the state is Los Alamos anti-nuclear activist Ed Grothus. He came to the laboratory in 1949 as a machinist. Twenty years later he decided he was opposed to the nuclear work. He left the lab and opened the Black Hole where he bought and resold surplus material from the lab.
I never met Grothus but I received humorous emails from him for years. He always had a new and off-beat slant to his brand of activism.
WED, 3-04-09

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



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