Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Legislative leaders put up a fuss when Gov. Bill Richardson announced on the final day of the 2010 session that he would call them back into session six days later.
The governor now has given them an additional six days to work out their differences before calling them back into session. March 1 is the new date.
Several senators had said they thought a quick return was a bad idea. And they really won't have any more information with a second six-day extension than they had at the close of the regular session.
There's also no reason to believe they would be any closer to compromise than they were at the close of the session. They have been back home listening to special interest groups that believe compromise is a sign of weakness and that anything short of 100 percent support for their cause is no support at all.
But they are coming back. They could do to the governor what he has been doing to them. They could refuse to return and then call themselves into extraordinary session and set their own rules. Gov. Richardson has been doing that with vetoes followed by executive orders doing it his way.
A Democrat-controlled Legislature called itself into session when Gary Johnson was governor. A Republican controlled Legislature went into session and then immediately adjourned when Toney Anaya was governor.
A surprising amount of mail has crossed my desk suggesting that since the Legislature did not complete its one and only job in 30 days, lawmakers should be forced to work for free until they can produce. None of this $50,000 a day for a special session.
It is highly unusual for a legislature to not get its job done. Very often, lawmakers will talk budget impasse but at the last minute they always will come up with something so they can go home.
On a related issue, restaurant owners want Gov. Richardson to veto the bill allowing guns in restaurants that serve beer and wine. Some propose that lawmakers pass a bill allowing concealed weapons into the state Capitol building.
The same arguments used to pass a bill by heavy margins allowing guns in restaurants serving alcohol would also apply to carrying them into the Capitol. Lawmakers wouldn't require anything of others they wouldn't require of themselves. Would they? Let's share the pain.
The special session may end up with some additional items to discuss. An ethics commission may be one of them.
In the form in which the legislation existed when the regular session ended, citizens who file complaints with the commission and then go public with their charges would be punished much worse than those found guilty by the commission.
Because of that feature, many groups that had been pushing for an ethics commission withdrew their support. The death of such legislation would be just fine with the Senate leadership, which let the bill languish on the final day's calendar without being heard.
The possibility of frivolous or malicious complaints to the commission does exist. But the protections against that are far greater than the likelihood of catching someone doing something wrong.
This is further evidence that a long political career is uppermost in most politicians minds.
The day after the regular session ended, Gov. Richardson was off to Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association. Governors heard their association's longtime executive director, Ray Scheppach, tell them that states are far from bottoming out.
It will be a decade before anything like normalcy returns, Scheppach warned. States will have to downsize permanently. Some states already are selling assets, consolidating services and combining agencies.
The era of ever stiffer prison sentences will have to end, Scheppach said. Aging inmates are turning prisons into nursing homes. Small schools will have to be consolidated and college faculties will have to increase teaching loads, he added.
Was our governor paying attention?
FRI, 2-26-10

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



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