Inside the Capitol

Thursday, March 26, 2009

3-30 Will Bill Get All the Bills?

MON, 3-30-09

SANTA FE - How likely is it that Gov. Bill Richardson will sign the piece of legislation in which you are most interested? The answer is not to bet on anything yet.
Bills that are delivered to the governor's office with less that three days left in a legislative session, and that is nearly all of them, don't have to be acted upon until 20 days after the end of a session. This year, that date is April 10.
No one knows whether the deadline arrives at noon or midnight. Legislative days begin and end at noon but no court has been asked if that applies to the signing deadline. There is a good enough chance the decision would be noon that governors play it safe and finish their work by noon.
Besides signing or vetoing a measure, a third option exists. By doing neither, a governor can pocket veto a bill. You won't find that language in the law but it has been popular parlance for decades. Gov. Ed Mechem, during the '50s was known for his pocket vetoes.
Opponents liked to say he was just too lazy to read the bills. Disinterested might have been a better word. Big Ed had the feeling that lawmakers sent him a lot more bills than were necessary. Govs. Bruce king and Gary Johnson also shared that impression.
So, let's say the bill in which you are interested passed both houses of the Legislature by comfortable margins and the governor has told you he's for it. That doesn't mean much unless his signature is on there.
Governors have been known to change their mind. A tremendous amount of lobbying occurs during the 20 days after the Legislature adjourns. And the rule is to never assume what the governor will do.
The Legislature also is a factor in whether your bill gets signed. Before it gets sent to the governor, it must be proofread, enrolled and engrossed before it becomes official.
Much effort is put into this process by legislative staff to assure that the final draft of the bill is exactly as the Legislature intends. That means some bills barely reach the governor before his deadline. In those cases, the governor's staff may not have time to analyze them and they go into the pocket-veto stack.
According to Marjorie Childress of the New Mexico Independent blog only 40 of the 339 bills passed during the 2009 Legislature had reached the governor's office by Wednesday after the Legislature adjourned. That is 40 bills in about four days. Unless that process speeds up, all 339 bills will not arrive in time for analysis.
In previous 60-day sessions, lawmakers have sent Gov. Richardson considerably more than this year's 339 measures, so it should be easier to get all bills sent on time. That decrease in legislation passed may be due to less money for new government programs that require appropriations.
Another reason for fewer bills being passed this year may be that committees were slower about hearing bills. The House complained about Senate slowness during the last week of the session and stopped hearing Senate bills until it was satisfied that solons had speeded up.
New Mexico has some of the shortest legislative sessions of any state. Many states stay in session all year, just as Congress does. Our Legislature is sometimes accused of dallying but in comparison, it works at a good pace. And all legislative bodies end in a rush regardless of the tie they have had.
This was Gov. Richardson's last 60-day regular session. Thirty-day sessions are confined primarily to budget matters. The longer sessions are wide open. Richardson fired many, many new initiatives at lawmakers during the early years of his two four-year terms.
Six years into his tenure most of those bullets have been fired. Some legislators have observed that Richardson seemed less engaged this session. That could be a reason for fewer bills being generated out of his office this year.

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