Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1-21 The Legislature is ready for Business.

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SANTA FE – The New Mexico House of Representatives quickly got organized for business last week. As usual, it took the Senate a little longer.
Although Rep. Ken Martinez, of Grants, is new to the job of House Speaker, his election by the full House on opening day, last Tuesday, seemed assured. That meant committee appointments could be planned and discussed for public announcement on Wednesday.
Over in the Senate, the selection of a president pro tem remained in doubt until the Senate convened at noon on Tuesday. Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces had been saying for several days that her selection was a sure thing but it would have been bad form to start appointing committees before the Senate actually voted on opening day.
The primary power of the Senate president pro tem is the appointment of committees and their chairmen. The Senate majority leader controls the flow of business.
It is today that the Legislature starts working its way up toward high gear. The one exception is the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which got the bill financing the session under way immediately.
People don't get paid until that bill has made its way through the House and Senate and is signed by the governor. Only once in my 50 years of experience up here has a governor ever vetoed the "Feed Bill." Gov. Toney Anaya was the culprit. Lawmakers retaliated by threatening to evict him from his Capitol offices.
The House Appropriations Committee began hearings on the General Appropriations Act last Thursday. Over the next month or more, the committee will bring every department and state agency, including the governor's office, to defend their budget requests.
In her opening remarks to lawmakers and assembled guests, Gov. Martinez stressed the need to attract private businesses in order to decrease our dependence on federal government money.
A word of caution however, we can't take our eye off our federal installations. The Energy Department and the Base Realignment and Consolidation folks are looking everywhere for cuts. The last time this happened, New Mexicans organized a powerful group to advocate New Mexico's case.
We'll need the same sort of effort again. We don't want to end up with another situation like the spaceport, in which a failure to promote ourselves for a period causes decision makers to forget about our state's resources.
One of the first topics to get attention this year is the package of constitutional amendments approved by voters at last November's general election. The amendments require educational qualifications for the five members of the state Public Regulation Commission and transfer some of the PRC's duties to other agencies.
The bills were prepared with the assistance of Think-New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based think tank which led the effort to get the constitutional amendments drafted and passed.
Introducing the legislation will be House Speaker Ken Martinez and House Republican leader, Tom Taylor.
The procession of New Mexico's five members of Congress to visit the Capitol and to speak to a joint session of the Legislature began last week with Rep. Steve Pearce from the 2nd Congressional District.
Missing for the first time in 30 years will be recently retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Bingaman's name has been mentioned as a successor to Ken Salazar, the retiring Secretary of the Interior Department.
Salazar, who is going back to his Colorado ranch, is a former U.S. Senator from Colorado. Secretaries of the Interior usually are from the West since that is where all the federal land is.
Also on the agenda for both the New Mexico Legislature and Congress are numerous gun control proposals, none of which are likely to pass because of the power of the gun makers and sellers. They have been making a fortune and become too powerful to touch.
The National Rifle Association is credited with the power but it is the manufacturers and dealers who provide the big bucks for political contributions.


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