Inside the Capitol

Monday, February 13, 2012

2-13 Legisloature must end Thursday noon

21512 sine die
SANTA FE – Ready or not, only one day is left in the 2012 Legislature. This 30-day session ends Thursday at noon – no ifs, ands or buts. The New Mexico Supreme Court decided about 50 years ago that the Legislature no longer could "stop the clock," as it was called, to get its business finished.
Congress and many state legislatures keep going until the leadership decides it has had enough. In New Mexico the watches of the House speaker and the Senate majority floor leader determine when it is noon.
That power used to include stopping the clock for several hours to get business finished. But today, no fudging is allowed. Any legislation passed after noon does not become law. Legislative per diem also stops at noon.
Usually much gets done on the final day. One house or the other often stays in session most of the night. This is true in Congress and virtually every state. But it isn't working quite that way in Santa Fe these days. The rhythm is a little out of kilter.
The fault lies with both the governor and Legislature. Gov. Susana Martinez is accustomed to getting her way. Word floats around the capitol that the first gentleman has been heard to say that he has never won an argument with his wife.
Thus the governor tells lawmakers that unless she gets a bill worded exactly the way she requested, a veto is assured. She fulfilled that threat in spades last year. Even though Martinez says she is communicating better with lawmakers, the conversations don't seem to involve much give and take.
Senate Democratic leaders have reacted by bowing their backs. The almost evenly divided House has tried to work out compromises. But when the answer from the governor is no, the Senate, which is 2-1 Democrat, refuses to even hear the bills.
It would be nice if one out of the 112 legislators could be able to establish some meaningful communication. Or maybe the answer is that it is all political in preparation for the November elections.
Another problem is that compared to our previous governor, Martinez doesn't have much of a legislative agenda.
Halfway through this session, Democrat lawmakers decided they should develop a comprehensive agenda of their own so there would be more to talk about and bargain with.
So this session may not end up as frantic as they used to be. Little need exists for the usual last-minute bargaining because there is no horse trading with this governor.
The only responsibility for this session is to get a budget passed. The House managed to craft a budget that received a first-ever unanimous vote. It even left leeway for the Senate to add its own priorities. If that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Democrats may be cruising for some black eyes. In the House, 26 of them voted against an anti-corruption measure that increased penalties for wayward public officials. The House unanimously passed a package of three constitutional amendments to reform the Public Regulation Commission. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez now says they need to be studied for a year.
Trial lawyers, largely Democrats, killed a spaceport bill to reduce liability of equipment contractors that some of our spaceports biggest competitors have passed.
Gov. Martinez has asked for reconsideration. It could work if there is something Martinez is willing to give Democrats in return. But that's not the way this governor plays the game.
Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera still hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. The excuse now is that there may not be enough time.
House Speaker Ben Lujan has been on the job every day of the session. His son, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan says his father told the family at Christmas that he hoped to be able to last until the first day of this legislative session. The session obviously brought him new energy.


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