Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

9-9 Achieve redistricting agreement and save $5 million

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What is most important about the current legislative special session on redistricting?
Is it getting as much of Gov. Susana Martinez's add-on agenda enacted? Numerous opinion pieces have been written about the importance of various of the items she wants lawmakers to consider.
Is it keeping the session as short as possible? Much has been written about the $50,000 a day cost of the session. If the session is wrapped up in 10 days, as many hope, it will cost a half-million dollars. If it lasts the maximum allowable 30 days, it will cost a whopping $1.5 million.
That's a lot of taxpayer money, isn't it? But the figure pales in comparison to the cost of not getting the redistricting job agreed to by the Legislature and governor.
That's what happened 10 years ago -- and Gov. Gary Johnson didn't add any extra items to the agenda. The legal costs of straightening out the mess that time came to $3.5 million.
A decade of inflation would take that figure to $5 million easily. A handful of lawyers are a heck of a lot more expensive than 112 legislators and all their employees.
So it appears that what should be most important about this redistricting session is to reach agreement on how to redistrict the state House and Senate, New Mexico's U.S. House delegation and the state Public Regulation Commission.
And what are the chances of doing that? Not very good. Gov. Martinez's only interest is in passing nine extraneous items of importance to her. To accomplish that, she is diverting the attention of legislators from what should be their only task.
The result is hostility from the majority leadership of the Legislature. The governor says she is talking with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to push her agenda. But talking doesn't mean agreement.
There doesn't appear to be agreement from the majority leadership of either legislative chamber. If there were, the nine items could be passed quickly and might set a tone for agreement on redistricting issues.
But who is this bipartisan group the governor is talking with? It wouldn't be surprising to learn that the group consists of Republican leaders and some Democrats who might cross party lines to pass some of her issues. That is going to make reaching agreement on redistricting even more difficult.
So what is the likely outcome? One scenario has the Democratic leadership of both houses quickly shuffling the governor's controversial items off to oblivion.
This can be done in many ways. The most common method is to conduct a hearing on unwanted bills and then temporarily table them for further consideration. The temporarily eventually becomes permanent.
A little more controversial is to never hear some of the bills. Even more controversial is to place them on the House speaker's table or the Senate president's table as soon as they are introduced.
Gone are the days of flamboyant bill killings. Legislative rules call for a bill passed by the Legislature to be the original version, not a copy.
In the 1960s, House Education Committee chairman Fred Foster locked a bill in his bottom desk drawer and said it would not come out until the session ended.
In the 1970s, colorful Sen. Tom Benavidez got hold of the original version of a bill he didn't like and headed to Juarez with it.
Another legislative rule states that when a governor puts a subject on the agenda for a legislature to consider, lawmakers can introduce their own bills on that subject. Both houses have a rules committee that decides whether each bill introduced is appropriately on subject.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has suggested that Gov. Martinez's nine bills could turn into 90 bills, or 900 bills.
Since New Mexico never has had a governor add extra items to a redistricting session, predicting its outcome is difficult. My guess is that several lawyers are going to greatly improve their financial health -- at taxpayer expense.
FRI, 9-09-11

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



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